The obligatory Bele Chere street preacher post

Two locals whistle at a street preacher in Pritchard Park Saturday during Bele Chere. Photo by Bill Rhodes

It’s Bele Chere, so no one bats an eye at the crowd gathered in Pritchard Park early Friday evening, throwing metal horns with scattered shouts of “Slayer!” every time the street preacher mentions “hellfire” as he lambasts “this debauchery called Bele Chere.”

But during this spectacle an odd, uncomfortable moment happens: the preacher mentions how he started doing this after he lost his child. The way he set it up, it seemed like it was meant to be a single note in the sermon before he rolled into another condemnation. But overwhelmed by emotion, his voice cracking, he instead pauses, momentarily unable to continue. The crowd is nearly silent. For one moment, the narrative both sides expected is broken. But then everyone’s back in their places, and fighting resumes.

Bele Chere means street preachers, and it means Ashevilleans confronting them (and buskers making bank by playing over their remarks). In a much more in-depth look at both the preachers and their opponents back in 2010, I observed that “Bele Chere provides an opportunity for locals to cut loose against their ideological opponents in relative safety, with a built-in audience nearby. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what the preachers get too.”

That’s pretty much still the case (I even recognized some of the same preachers making the rounds). What’s changed this year is that some of the preachers have discovered the bele chere hashtag, leading to sights like this:

Yes, that’s Council member Gordon Smith (cut off at the bottom) and local beer maven Julie Atallah alongside a street preacher calling for Asheville to repent.

What’s also notable is what hasn’t changed: many of the preachers still tote personal megaphones. Last August, the city contemplated stricter rules (or a ban) on amplification, but reconciling such restrictions with the First Amendment is tricky, and the head of the state ACLU cautioned the city to be careful about such a move.

At the July 24 Council meeting, Smith noted that the city had backed off such a move due to legal worries, but hoped Ashevilleans would enjoy the festival anyway. But while plenty of locals can’t stand the bellowing tirades, others seem to relish the confrontation as part of their Bele Chere experience. I doubt that will change any time soon.


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6 thoughts on “The obligatory Bele Chere street preacher post

  1. Dale Martin

    Hello Asheville and Street Preachers Abroad,

    I went down to Prichard Park last night as a local resident that actually obeys the bible to the very best of my ability. I have been doing this diligently for over half of my life. Studying the scriptures and gathering twice a day, everyday with the people in my household of faith where I have given up everything to follow Him. I went into that scene last night and confronted many of the misguided street preachers who, for the most part, wanted to hear themselves talk. They were not filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with compassion and mercy, walking and talking the same way that Christ himself did when He walked into the cities. He was loving, kind, He healed people, fed them, ate with the “sinners”, prostitutes, tax collectors, the “bad” people. He taught them by example, he did not condemn them – John 3:17. I called on many of the so called preachers, asking them about different scriptures finding only that they don’t obey the words in the scriptures – like giving up everything to follow Christ quoted in Luke 14:23, Acts 2:44, Acts 4:32, Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30 and many, many more! If they are not obeying these things, then they do not love Him, they do not belong to Him, and they do not have the authority from Him to preach. 1 John 2:4 He who says,

  2. Dear belligerent and self-absorbed street preachers, thank you for driving people even further away from Christianity.

    • bill smith

      Indeed. Belligerent and self-absorbed people can be very off-putting.

  3. Doug Sahm

    I usually don’t mind them too much, but this year they are just getting out of control. They are EVERYWHERE at the festival and I can’t even have a conversation with friends due to very loud megaphones.
    City Council has got to come up with some idea of how to at least control these guys better. If they can’t come up with something, then they need to consult someone who is smarter than they are to do it.

  4. Dionysis

    If their messages were so powerful and compelling, they surely would not need to get in people’s faces with megaphones, insult others and try to scare people.

    Creeps and whack jobs.

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