Every morning, Paul Mitchell gets out of bed, and drops to his knees in prayer. The sixty-seven year old retired fireman prays for strength and courage in his ministry to young college students. He prays for them because he knows them, and because he used to be one of them—searching for that next party, those next bong hits, or that next piece of ass. But for the last forty years, since he became a born-again Christian, Paul has been wandering the southern California college circuit with a giant picket trying to win over students’ souls for Christ. According to Paul, the world is festering in a stink of sin, and only Jesus can cleanse us from the desolate wasteland of immorality.
To Paul, nothing better exemplifies the work of Satan than a college. Santa Barbara to San Diego is his Jerusalem, and he likes to catch young adults at the crossroad in their lives, imagining his 3x5 foot vinyl banner as a fishnet for salvation. According to the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, Paul is called to be a watchman, Heaven’s hall monitor held responsible for pointing out the sin in others. He takes serious this responsibility of preaching the Gospel truth to homosexuals and Muslims and covetous money-grubbers. After all, they’re the ones destroying the vision of his Christian America.
As a street preacher, confrontation is a daily occurrence, and there are no smooth days for Paul. Everyday is a clash of words and egos, and Paul is aware that 99% of the people he encounters are going to blow him off. He is continuously mocked, and derided for the hate-filled words of his banner. Sometimes he is spit on. Once, he was physically attacked, and earlier this year, he was arrested for antilocution. Despite daily struggles, Paul cheerfully alludes to everyday being a success because he has never failed as a communicator. As a faithful servant of his master, Paul bears his cross, and leaves a business card in passing: “REPENT OR HELL” is the message, directing visitors to purchase a PDF booklet he has written on his website, PreachTruth.org.
“HEY, YOU BIGOTED PIECE OF SHIT! WHY DON’T YOU SHOVE THAT SIGN UP YOUR FUCKING ASS?!“
Paul is not cool and collected when verbally attacked. Rage reddens his leathered face, and his voice quivers with an awkward, raised response. The scowl on his lips gives his words a sense of pomposity and arrogance. The other kids laugh and point and make fun of him like it was grade school, but his eyes are fiery and alive with unfettered passion. As the fury escapes him, Paul gestures toward the student with his free hand like he was casting out a demon; the kid flips him off, foaming curses and insults before being escorted away by campus police.
Despite the confidence, Paul looks tired and worn out from the same questions and perverted jeering he sees everyday. Those who gather to watch are amused by the entertainment, silently perusing the freak show activity from a distance. Out of curiosity, they smile, and take pictures of the crowd with their cell phones while secretly hoping for violence. Other students engage in a frenzied debate, flailing their arms endlessly about. To Paul, Jesus Christ is the only man who ever rose from the dead. Christianity is the biggest religion in the world, and the Bible is the best selling book of all time. To Paul, it’s a no brainer—just connect the dots. He says people don’t understand because they don’t want to understand. They already have their position, and God is proactive in keeping them blind. They will not have the ability to understand the message, unless they want to understand. Yet, for the same reason, he is hostile to the reckoning of those who argue with him. To those around him, Paul is backwards, close-minded, and intolerant of anything other than himself.
When Paul was two years old, his father died. At twelve, his stepfather died. Later, in the formative years of his adolescence, he watched his mother wreck her life with an addiction to alcohol. Without much influence in his life, Paul turned to college to have a good time. It wasn’t long thereafter that he dropped out, eventually finding himself confronted with the realities of the world. That is when he turned to Christ. That is when he willingly became narrow-minded to follow the moral guidelines of what he believes is God’s written word.
Through various incarnations of the sign, Paul continues to “preach from the rooftops.” Four schooldays a week, he travels, putting him in position to be martyred for the provocation of hate and intolerance. “One day this will all be over” he says, “and I’ll be in heaven. We’re in a depression, headed for inflation. Obama is an idiot, and we are in a freefall. We are on the downside of the greatness of this country. And when Jesus comes back, he won’t be a little lamb bouncing around. He’ll come back as the lion of the tribe of Judah, ready to execute His judgment.
You better repent.”