Saturday, October 1 on Prospect Avenue: state night at TI, boxers and blazers at Cap and Gown, and a middle-aged man on the sidewalk, preaching to students.
As I was walked along the Street shortly after midnight, I saw Don Karns, an evangelical street preacher, yelling at a girl about her sinful ways. She was yelling back, but she seemed to be a little drunk. It was clear to me that she was an unlikely candidate to start reading the gospel at that moment, in the rain.
“You need a new birth,” Karns yelled into a bullhorn, straight into a teenager’s face. “We’ve all had an original birth, you need a spiritual birth. When you’re born again, you’re not going to want to have sex and drink.”
He would later say that Yale has a less sinful student population than Princeton. Thank God.
When interviewed that night, Karns bemoaned the “sinful selfishness” of Princeton students, which manifests itself as “sexual immorality.” In his view, the sins of humanity, including gay marriage, are the root cause of all diseases and other forms of human suffering.
More specifically, boxers and blazers night at Cap was sinful, Karns said, since the men were dressed in an “effeminate” manner. When pressed for further explanation, Karns could explain neither how men being effeminate is a sin, nor how wearing traditionally masculine clothing makes someone effeminate.
As of press time, Princeton scientists have yet to establish a causal link between gay marriage, sodomy, effemininity, and human suffering.
Jews, Muslims, and everyone else who has not accepted the word of the Gospel will be “cast in a fire” at the time of the rapture, Karns said.
To be fair, he told me that he does not judge Jews, Muslims, or gay people. In his own words, “only God can judge”; however, he believes members of those groups will go to Hell.
Most of the people walking to TI’s annual bacchanal and the other eating clubs seemed not to listen to his message. Occasionally, someone would stop and ask Karns a question about his theology or say that they disagreed with him.
Karns suggested that people act more like the biblical figures Moses and Abraham. One of them was forced to die before the Israelites entered the land of Israel to atone his sins, and the other almost killed his son.
Holding a sign reading “What will you do with your sin on judgement day?”, Karns said that he had been standing on the street and yelling since approximately 11 p.m., and might stay until 1:30 or so.
Karns’ full-time occupation is to drive around the country as a street preacher, according to his website. News reports online place him on multiple college campuses, occasionally creating controversy.
Of his three daughters, one is an evangelical. The other two are unrepentant sinners, he said, who would “lock the door and hide in the garage” if they were to be judged in a hypothetical rapture.
On his website, Karns says he supports the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, which was called to renounce the then-new principle of religious freedom in the United Kingdom. The Confession also stated that the Pope–the reigning one in 1689 and all of his successors–was the Antichrist.
To say the least, I disagree with Karns on most points. Freedom of religion is fantastic. Nobody, including Karns, should be persecuted for their religious beliefs. I seriously doubt that the current Pope is the Antichrist, given his track record of humility and kindness.
Certainly, people wearing only boxers and blazers, dousing each other in beer, or engaging in premarital sex might offend some; however, there are more sinful things currently happening in the world.
I think Karns and many other street preachers have views so extreme as to be directly incompatible with the educational mission of a secular liberal arts university. During our interview, I got the sense that there is no such thing as a gray area for Don Karns. Everything is either good or sinful, and those delineations are derived literally from books written up to three thousand years ago.
Although math and science problems often have a single, exact answer, moral debates are quite different. Before entering into any productive discussion of values or morality, all sides must recognize that people are not inferior just because they have a different opinion.
Practically everyone I have met at Princeton seems to recognize this. Karns, on the other hand, is a zealot.
His worldview’s stark boundaries between good and evil make it impossible to have a two-way conversation about values. He primarily communicates his message via signs and a bullhorn. Instead of engaging in debate, Karns remains in the pulpit.
Thankfully, we do not see many street preachers on Princeton’s campus. Most days, we can go about our business without being told that after death we will be whipped by demons. Perhaps the best way to overcome the hate and ignorance of people like Karns is to ignore them and deny them an audience.
“It’s interesting to see how these types of people think,” said Princeton first-year Aidan Donahue, after speaking with Karns for a few minutes. “We should just ignore him. That’s how you get rid of those people.”