ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Evangelists that visited the largest free festival in the Southeast this past weekend say that police looked on while event-goers engaged in openly lewd acts and turned hostile toward the message of the gospel.
Christians from at least nine states traveled to the Bele Chere festival in Asheville, North Carolina to witness to the thousands that were expected to attend. The music and arts festival, which began in the 1970’s as a means to generate income for the community, is said to draw upwards of 350,000 people every year from across the country.
However, those who have been attending the annual festival for some time say that the event has become more perverse with each passing year.
“There seems to be an underlying real dark feel to people’s reaction when they hear people preaching or when someone tries to hand them a gospel tract or even just approaching them,” stated Asheville resident Tom Pethtel, who came to the festival to evangelize. “Very, very hostile [and] bitter, just a dark hatred, just foulness coming out them.”
He said that Asheville has been dubbed “The Freak Capital of the World” and “The Little San Francisco.”
“[Last fall], there was a topless protest in the county square right in front of the sheriff’s department, the jail [and] where the court hearings go on at the courthouse,” Pethtel explained. “They had a whole evening-long display of women baring their breasts [and] performing lewd acts … and policemen simply standing around and watching.”
State Senator James Forrester called Asheville “a cesspool of sin” in 2011 while speaking at a local church. Since then, residents have been reveling in the remark, and even selling t-shirts that celebrate the city as being “a cesspool of sin.”
“This year, the people of Asheville seem to be wearing that as a badge of honor,” Pethtel stated. “And it’s just really sad.”
“I am vexed and so sorrowful this morning after yesterday’s preaching experience at Bele Chere in Asheville, my first real [opportunity to preach] since coming home to America,” lamented missionary Jesse Boyd of Full Proof Gospel Ministries. “I really believe I can understand just Lot’s vexation as described in II Peter 2:7-8. Last night, I attempted to preach on the love of God as displayed toward us in Christ. The crowd became so vile that it seemed as if such had already been given over to a reprobate mind.”
“I have never been to this particular festival to preach before,” commented Nick Blevins, who traveled from Knoxville, Tennessee. “I was not prepared for the type of God-hating, open abhorrence for the word of God [that I saw in Asheville].”
Boyd and others at the festival told Christian News Network that women would flash the preachers by lifting up their shirts, men would walk around in their underwear or completely naked, public sex acts would take place on the streets and other lewd acts were performed in front of women and children. Some of the preachers were reportedly assaulted or threatened with violence. However, they state that police did nothing to stop it.
“What I am beholding with my eyes defies description. A black preacher is being assaulted by a group of white kids, and the police refuse to do anything,” Boyd explained Saturday night. “We are trying to get the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department or the NC State Troopers to help. No one cares. There is no protection for the law-abiding citizen or any Christian.”
Boyd and another evangelist stated that they were informed by an officer that the chief of police sent out an order to all officers on duty not to intervene in any situations pertaining to street preachers. When they expressed concern to law enforcement over the lewd acts and assaults that were occurring, they were told, “Don’t come back to Asheville.”
They outlined that Lieutenant Gary Gudac, the West District commander for the Asheville Police Department, advised that North Carolina has no laws against public drunkenness or toplessness, and that if any of the Christians attempted to defend themselves against assault from an event-goer, both would go to jail.
At one point, a senior citizen was seen attempting to cover a woman walking around topless, but several officers restrained her from covering the woman. At other times, fights broke out in the streets.
“We have resorted to reading straight Scripture. Crowds too hostile to try and engage,” wrote Nathan Magnusen of Virginia Beach, Virginia, who stated that he questions whether he will return to the festival due to the public nudity that is allowed to take place.
Pethtel, however, said that the wickedness displayed at Bele Chere is not isolated to that particular event.
“There are different festivals in cities that are getting more and more like this, and its a growing thing,” he explained. “The darkness is literally growing and its because there is not enough light being shed.”
He lamented that although there seems to be a professing Bible-believing church on nearly every corner in the area, almost none evangelize at the event. Instead, Christians from outside of the region gather to reach the lost in Bele Chere from as far away as New York and Florida.
“All in all, it was a true joy to preach with dear brothers in Christ and to stand alongside men of God in the face of pure evil,” Boyd concluded.
“May God bless this country to repentance,” Magnusen added.