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Monday, October 16, 2017

Christians clash on campus

The presence of Brother Jed and his following is nothing new, but some campus Christian groups disagree with his method.

Sept. 1, 2006

If you haven't run into Brother Jed or his crew in Speaker's Circle this past week, you're probably not getting out enough.

Jed Smock is always a constant presence at Speaker's Circle, but this week he has invited some followers to join him in evangelizing, arguing and training MU students.

Smock started preaching on campuses across the nation in the '70s after being a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse. He founded Campus Ministry USA in 1984 when he realized he wanted to make evangelism his life's work.

In 2004, the CMUSA's headquarters moved from Ohio to Columbia — which makes MU what Smock calls the organization's "flagship campus."

This week marked the second annual CMUSA School of Evangelism convention, an offering of seminars, classes and real-world experience. Most of the preachers appearing in Speaker's Circle this week attended the evangelism school last year.

Blocks away on College Avenue, Christian Campus House is home to 40 students, and its ministry includes work with prisoners and language help for foreign students.

"We meet benevolent needs," director Lance Tamerius said.

Christian Campus House Minister Steve Hagemeyer and Women's Ministries Director Kathy Gray agree with Tamerius. All three said Smock's method is "shock evangelism" and that his message does more harm than good.

Smock said his goal is to make Christianity an issue on campus.

"(Students) are talking about the great issues and questions in life: 'Who are we?' and 'Where are we going?'" Smock said.

The conversation turned ugly Monday night, when there was an altercation between one of the CMUSA's preachers and a student in Speaker's Circle.

Dismissed by Smock as "much ado about nothing," an incident occurred when junior Andy Stroup sat in Clarence Cope's chair. According to Stroup, Cope pushed him three times until he fell out of the chair.

Cope contends that though he did place his hand on the student's shoulder, the rest of the crowd blew the event out of proportion. The event was recorded by the MU Police Department, but no charges were filed. Cope returned to his daily job and flew out of Columbia Tuesday afternoon.

Hagemeyer, Gray and Tamerius were not aware of the size or existence of Smock's support base or Monday's events at Speaker's Circle, but Tamerius said they're frustrated with Smock's continuous presence on campus.

They have taken their complaints to the MU's Association of Campus Religious Advisors (ACRA) in the past, but nothing has been done to prevent Smock from preaching in Speaker's Circle. Smock continues to be a fixture there.

Tamerius, Hagemeyer and Gray said they don't want students to think Christian Campus House is affiliated in any way with Smock or CMUSA. Hagemeyer likens their own ministry to "service evangelism," the type of outreach that he said treats people with respect, regardless of religious, sexual or social background.

"It's all about involving people in ministry," Tamerius said.

Getting people involved is a common goal among campus Christian ministries, such as the Baptist Student Union.

Tiffany Malloy, the Baptist Student Union's associate campus minister, estimates that barely 50 percent of its members are Baptists. The Baptist Student Union is a part of ACRA, whose next monthly meeting on Sept. 20 is open to various religious groups in charge of the campus' spiritual life, Malloy said.

Malloy has spoken with a number of "confrontational evangelists." One-on-one, she said, "they are nice people," even though she said they can put a "bad taste" in many people's mouths.

"I think it has a possibility of being a good thing because it gets people talking about belief systems," Malloy said.

Monday's episode has done little to dampen the spirit of debate in Speaker's Circle. Students paused and listened to the preachers between classes; others camped out all day to express their views. The most vocal of these ventured into the circle, sharing the space or attempting to drown out other speakers. Others just enjoyed the debates.

"This is the most interesting part of my week," freshman James Barton said. "I spent an hour debating with (a preacher) today. A lot of his arguments were circular, which is what I told him."

Senior Bill Jenkins said he enjoyed confronting the "Jed-Heads," which is a nickname Smock uses to describe his following of preachers. Jenkins said he came out daily for the debate as well as for to listen to the speakers themselves.

"I disagree completely with what (Smock) is saying, but he does a good job," Jenkins said. "He brings people out of the cracks to speak. He's a great orator."

Malloy said Cope and Smock might disappointingly fulfill people's expectation of a "stereotypical Christian."

"There is a call to share Christ, to meet needs and serve others in a way that cannot be stereotyped," Malloy said, in response to Smock's practices.

Emily Wenzlick, another campus minister, represents a program at the Newman Center that focuses evangelism on hospitality. The program hosts both religious and social events.

Wenzlick said the goal of the Newman Center is to "preach Christ's gospel and to bring people into the heart of the church."

Students are not the only people from MU getting involved in this week's discussions. Michael Acuff is an assistant professor in the physical medication and rehabilitation department, and he is also a member of Smock's flock. He took part in the week's evangelization.

"I'm here just to learn," Acuff said. "Obviously, I don't have the exact same style (of speaking), but I understand why they do what they do. I'd say they have a purpose and a function. That's why I'm here with them."

Smock said he is happy about the student turnout and response to CMUSA's work.

"I think people all over campus are talking about evangelism," Smock said. "I'm happy we got a lot of attention. The students are enjoying it. It's kind of an event."

Although he disagrees with Smock, Jenkins said his presence is not entirely negative.

"I like having him around," Jenkins said. "Campus would be less lively without him."

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