Street preachers draw crowd, police attention in Myrtle Beach during Bikefest

"Oh no. Who are you? What Bible you read? I'm a Christian. You don't talk to me that way. You don't know me. You are wrong. I am a sinner, but Jesus forgives me of my sins. You're sinner too. You going to hell? You going to hell with me?" a woman said after being told her clothes are inappropriate and she is going to hell. A group holding signs and yelling insults to passersby on Ocean Boulevard would not say where they were from other than refer to tracks they handed out as BibleBrian.com/Brian Cranford and Friendship Baptist Church located at 608 6th Ave. South in Myrtle Beach. The men were asked to move off the sidewalk due to a city ordinance of not blocking a public right of way. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

An otherwise calm and uneventful BikeFest Saturday night in downtown Myrtle Beach’s Plyler Park was interrupted by a group of street preachers yelling and name-calling random passers-by, sparking confrontation from other Christians and prompting police to intervene.

The speakers’ message, although claiming to be about love and salvation, was tinged with racism and misogyny as they took turns name-calling everyone on the street, claiming that women in the crowd were whores and that people smoking marijuana would go to hell.

At one point, police and SLED officers had to surround the speakers, who did not have a permit, in order to protect them from an increasingly frustrated audience. 

The proselytizers refused to give their names when asked, although they handed out cards advertising the website “Biblebrian.com” as well as the Friendship Baptist Church on 6th Avenue South in Myrtle Beach.

“You go up and down these streets and you lust after one another like dogs,” said one speaker who called himself “Elijah” but gave no other details. “Nasty women, you come down here shaking your behinds. Why? Because you’re wicked. You’re a by-product of the fake phony baloney churches in America today.”

When challenged by a woman across Ocean Boulevard, Elijah screamed into the sound system, “Shut your mouth woman, a man of God is preaching.” 

The speaker called Elijah told the crowd that they were “dirt” in the eyes of God, and that all sinners will burn in hell, a common theme throughout the night. 

“You’re going to cry and you’re going to weep later,” Elijah said. “Why did Jesus say that? Because Jesus is God.” 

Despite that assertion, another speaker in the group wearing a black “Jesus Saves” t-shirt told anyone who would listen that they had been “showered with Jesus’s love your whole lives,” and that it “didn’t work for you.” 

A white man in a USA shirt and red hat told the predominately black crowd that abortions were invented to wipe out black people and that they were all the enemies of God. 

He claimed that his message was the crowd’s only hope at redemption, and accused everyone of not going to church, even though several people walking by said they had family members who were pastors.

“Jesus shed his blood so that you could be free from sin,” the red hat man yelled. “He shed his blood so that you could be free from all your drug addictions, your pornography addiction, all of your pot smoking and your gang-banging and your drug running and your whore-chasing.”

Patrice White of Statesville, North Carolina, got into a confrontation with Elijah.

"That's not right to call people names," White said after the argument. "How do they know someone is a, whatever? You know? They don't know anyone here. They don't know me. It's racist. Just pointing at black people and calling them names based on what? The color of their skin and they way they're dressed? I don't know what Bible they use or what church they go to, but my Bible does not say to call people names like that."

Maggie Stein and Raymond Hart, both baptized Catholics from New York, sat on a concrete wall nearby watching the speakers. 

“We made friends with some women up the street who own one of the stores, and they’re married,” Stein said. “And I guess they walked by and they’ve been told they’d be going to hell for being married, being gay."

Hart suggested they take a chill pill.

“Not a literal chill pill, but figuratively,” Hart said. “In my opinion, everybody sins so there’s no legitimate way that you can go call out other people when you yourself are a sinner.  They are judging and they’re breaking their own rules.”

Added Stein, “God is the only person who can judge you.”

Michael Herron, a speaker who previously made headlines by claiming he wanted to kill the Easter Bunny, got into a confrontation with Stein. 

“All Catholics going to hell,” Herron yelled. “Every Catholic. There’s not a man alive can forgive you of your sins. I can tell by your dog ring you got in your nose.”

Herron later claimed that 75 percent of people on Ocean Boulevard that night would wake up the next morning with a hangover. He then changed that number to 90 percent. 

The speakers were constantly challenged by people pointing out the multiple Bible verses that say God is the only deity that can judge, as well as verses saying that sinners shouldn’t judge other sinners. 

In response, one man with a dark hat, beard and sunglasses claimed he wasn’t a sinner.

“I don’t sin anymore,” he said. “I don’t even sin anymore.”

Stein called the speakers’ behavior “terrible.” 

“I went to Catholic school for half my life and this is definitely not the way to go about converting people to being Catholic or Christian or anything like that,” she said. “It’s the worst way possible.” 

The incendiary rhetoric caused lots of heated arguments, and although the speakers did not have a permit, they were permitted to stay while an impromptu dance party about 20 feet away was broken up by SLED agents. 

The speakers moved on around 11:30 p.m. as police prepared to close Plyler Park.

Myrtle Beach Police Capt. Joey Crosby said the city has an ordinance that authorities have enforced for many years that aims to stop congestion caused by gathering on the sidewalk at a standstill.

However, he said, police understand people may have short conversations with others where they stop and chat. When a conversation becomes prolonged though, it can force people to walk around those talking, possibly into the road.

Typically, officers ask them to keep it moving or simply advise them about the statute. Law enforcement seeks voluntary compliance, Crosby said.

When it comes to complaints regarding what is spoken, police must take into consideration what is said and which words are protected by the Constitution.

Crosby pointed out there are state laws that surround speech, not just city rules.

It is unlawful for any person in the city to “intentionally engage in any act or conduct inciting public disorder or a breach of the peace in light of the surrounding circumstances of time, place or nearness of other persons,” the city’s code of ordinances states.

Among what is prohibited is “making, uttering or directing toward another person any lewd, obscene or profane or libelous expletive or epithets or ‘fighting’ words, which as a matter of common knowledge, when addressed to the ordinary citizen are inherently likely to provoke violent reactions, including but not limited to calls, threats and invitations to immediately engage in physical violence, fisticuffs, duel or personal combat,” the code says.

In last night’s case, measures were taken with one of the individuals, though Crosby said he was unaware of specifics.

Several times during the evening law enforcements officers mingled in the crowd and quietly asked the passersby and those standing around not to engage with the speakers.

Janet Morgan is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. Contact her at 843-488-7258 or at janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com.

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