"Hypocrites, Liars, Thieves!" On the Scene as the Religious Right Pickets a Hollywood Red Carpet

Public Reponse

"Some tell us to shut up, some tell us to move, some don’t like us," picketer Mark Stevens grants. "But we have the right to stand here under free speech."

Two hours before the SAG Awards got underway at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium on Jan. 25, a crowd already had gathered behind barricades across the street from the red carpet. Most of the hundred or so bystanders screamed with excitement each time a star stepped out of a limo. But at least one claimed to not know any of them. A muscular middle-aged man clad in combat fatigues, sporting a shaved head and rumpled beard, was there to scream at celebrities, not for them, while holding a sign that read on one side, "WARNING GOD HATERS, ADULTERERS, GREEDY THIEVES, LIARS, DRUNKS, MOCKERS, FORNICATORS, HOMOSEXUALS: JUDGEMENT," and on the other, "CRY TO GOD. JESUS SAVES."

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His name is Mark Stevens. He says he's a 57-year-old businessman from Orange County, "a God-fearing American... from a military family" and a proud member of a "preachers group" called Bible Believers. "It's been around for 40 years," he explains. "There's three, four hundred of us now." Stevens, who brought along his brother, is not the only Christian at the scene. Another crew of Christian protestors amiably fist-bump him as they pass. Next to him, a man in a soldier's uniform spends two solid hours hurling invective against the likes of Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis. "Time to repent for your sodomy!" he chants.

When he's not calling out the stars, Stevens is bantering with the crowd of annoyed USC students who share his stretch of sidewalk. Responding to catcalls, he yells: "Newsflash: Don't invite a Christian to the party!" Someone shouts back: "No one invited you!"

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What compels these Christians who obviously disdain movies to come to an awards show and scream at celebrities? And when I say scream, I mean scream — loudly — cautionary warnings ("Don't forget the God of the Bible! Don't forget Jesus!"), minor insults ("You're a bunch of hypocrites, liars, thieves!") and incendiary remarks: "Robin Williams! Burning in hell! Quite frankly, he was no talent in my book."

Stevens says his mission in life is to "get people saved," so he travels America spreading the word. "Look, there are a lot of people walking around here wondering, 'Hey, is there any hope?' And finally a guy shows up with hope. They may not like the message, but they may go home and think, 'I need to get my life in order.'" Though he's on the road more than most rock stars, Stevens prefers picketing events closer to home. "Anywhere there's a big event in L.A., that's where we go," he says. Where might you have seen him recently? "Let's see: the People's Choice Awards a couple weeks ago. Lakers games. Wherever there's large crowds." He offers the same message to everyone: "Repent! Get right with God! Quit your drunken drug abuse!"

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Is he hoping to save the big stars who show up at events, the fans or reporters like me? "Everybody!" he insists, though he admits the stars rarely acknowledge him. "Some tell us to shut up, some tell us to move, some don't like us," he grants. "But we have the right to stand here under free speech."

As I head off for the Shrine, Stevens says he'll hold his ground until all the guests go in. "Then I'm out of here," he says. After shouting a few more insults toward the red carpet, he asks me if I'm going to the Academy Awards. I answer in the affirmative. "All right," he says. "I'll see you there!"

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg