'Confrontational evangelist' evokes student discourse
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 17:02
He stands on stone benches in a tweed coat, screaming “you’re gonna die, sinners.” And the crowd around him keeps growing.
He calls himself a “controversial evangelists” — the traveling preacher who often finds himself in a curious and sometimes heckling crowd. Brother Jed Smock visited academic plaza again Wednesday and spoke to a stop-and-go crowd that sometimes numbered about 200 students. Jed travels to speak at college campuses across the country to spread his message.
“Our mission is the same mission Jesus had: to seek and to save those that are lost,” Jed said.
But Jed’s tactics may be a bit different than most mainstream evangelicals that students encounter. He is characterized by phrases such as “whores and whoremongers” or “you deserve hell,” and warns against premarital sex, homosexual attraction and straying from traditional gender roles.
Many students who also identify as Christian found his message to be contradictory to the beliefs they personally hold. Maci Greene, a freshman bilingual education major, said she was deeply upset by the theological concepts that Jed was presenting to the crowd.
“Nobody is hearing this and feeling the love of the Lord,” Greene said. “They’re just feeling condemned and that’s not the point.”
Freshman allied health major Kate Scott stood in the middle of the crowd that had formed around Jed and presented her own message, calling him a liar.
“I think he’s spreading lies to our campus, and I’m just really not okay with that,” she said. “And don’t think that I won’t stand up and say something to those people too, because when there’s a voice of lies I’m not just going to stand there and listen. I’m going to say some things so people hear truth.”
Christian students were not the only ones in the crowd that opposed Jed’s message. Rachel Reddig, senior chemistry major and vice president of the Atheist and Agnostic Student Group, AASG, said she found the ideas promoted by Jed to be distasteful.
“I think that his message is very rude to most of our Aggie family,” Reddig said. “Regardless of what you believe, he’s going to offend someone. His message isn’t to actually try to help people, he just wants to hurt people.”
AAGS created a program called “Donations against Damnation,” and provided a bucket into which students could make monetary donations to support the GLBT Resource Center and the AAGS.
“It’s a way of saying, ‘We don’t agree with what he says,’ and it’s a way to let other people say they also don’t agree with him,” Reddig said. “It’s going to [the GLBT Resource Center] because [Jed] preaches actively against gay students, so we’re trying to give them money to help repair any damage he might do with his hate speech.”
Other students simply found the event amusing and entertaining. After Jed’s wife, Cindy Smock, repeated the phrase, “spend eternity burning in a lake of fire,” multiple times, the crowd would join in to yell out “lake of fire” along with her. Students would frequently yell back insults or innuendos to Jed’s messages. Some students even printed out “Brother Jed Bingo” sheets that had been created by a student group from the University of Illinois.
Paxton Albert, freshman general studies major, said even though he is a Christian, he found the entire event humorous and fun.
“It’s the most entertaining thing I’ve ever seen,” Albert said.
Though many students said they thought Jed’s messages were humorous at best and disgusting at the worst, almost all agreed that he should be allowed to share his views on campus, because a . A public university functions as a limited public forum.
The university does not have to allow Brother Jed, a self-proclaimed controversial figure onto campus. The University of Texas, for example, doesn’t protect the speech of those who are not directly affiliated with the university, regardless of message or ideology.
Brad Goodine, graduate lecturer in the Department of Political Science, said allowing all ideas to be expressed is a very traditional belief rooted in our ideas of freedom and liberty in the context of the legal system.
“There’s an old belief in what we call the ‘market place of ideas,’” Goodine said. “It’s the idea that it is not the function of the state to ascribe value to any belief. If it’s a bad belief, there’s a faith that once it gets thrown out into the world, people will be able to put it through the gauntlet. Rarely is any good achieved by suppressing ideas prematurely, no matter how bad or how many people think they’re inappropriate.”
Tyler Kern, an intern at Grace Bible Church Southwood Campus, said though he does not agree with Brother Jed’s message, he appreciates the conversations that his presence sparks.
“It makes our job of trying to share what we believe to be the true message of the Bible and the Gospel a little bit harder to preach because people automatically associate us with guys like him,” Kern said. “But when he’s on campus, people are much more willing to talk about spiritual issues and you can have really good conversations.”
Reddig said she often found herself much more interested in the conversations that would begin on the outskirts of the crowd about religion than the actual message from Brother Jed.
“I love that we have such a great free exchange of ideas in this area,” Reddig said. “Some people listen to him, some people argue with him. A lot of people have side conversations about religion that are actually more interesting than what he has to say. So you actually get a lot more positive encounters on the side. Those are a lot more interesting and productive than what he says. But he brings them together, so that’s really cool.”