Brother Jed to leave Columbia, return to Indiana

Jed Smock still plans to return to Columbia for a week every year.
Jed Smock, known on campus as "Brother Jed", preaches in Speakers Circle on Monday afternoon. Smock announced he will be leaving Columbia to return to his hometown of Terre Haute, Ind. 

After about a decade of confrontational evangelism, Speakers Circle will no longer serve as Jed Smock’s regular pulpit.

Smock, commonly known as Brother Jed, announced that he would not longer call Columbia his home Monday, as he preached against gay marriage while a neon green sign lay next to his feet that read "YOU DESERVE HELL."

He plans to put his house on the market next week and hopes to buy a house in his hometown of Terre Haute, Ind., by mid-summer, now that his kids are grown.

"I'm kind of homesick, really," Smock said. "I spent 40 years of my life in Indiana. We've raised our family now, and Cindy and I are empty-nesters."

Terre Haute will also provide a more strategic location for preaching his message to as many people as possible at large schools including Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Illinois, Smock said.

Smock, a former history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, began preaching on campuses throughout the nation in the 1970s. He founded Campus Ministry USA, a para-church group whose mission is to “declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the college and university students of America and the world,” in 1984 when he realized he wanted to make evangelism his life’s work. In 2004 the group moved its headquarters from Ohio to Columbia.

"My main message is Jesus's first public message: the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, repent and believe the gospel," Smock said.

Smock’s preaching have often included warnings about homosexuality, masturbation, rock 'n' roll music and other religions.

Smock's preaching receives a multitude of reactions ranging from mockery to religious debate. The reactions always spur him on, Smock said.

"I am always encouraged by the reactions," Smock said. "I am encouraged that certain people get disturbed. I get people thinking along the issues of our day. I teach them what the biblical point of view is on that. Also, I deal with the great questions of life: What is the meaning of life? What is the origin of life? What is man's final destiny and the moral and ethical questions?"

Despite negative reactions to his beliefs, Smock has faith.

"I think people get disturbed because deep down they know I'm right," he said. "I'm telling them things that their parents told them. Missouri is in the Bible Belt. I would venture to say that the majority of college students at Mizzou have either been baptized or confirmed … where they made some sort of commitment to Christ, so they have an elementary knowledge of it. And they know they ought to be living it, but they refuse to do so. "

Freshman Mary Parker has listened to Smock speak on various occasions. The conversations he sparks with students are insightful, Parker said.

"I enjoy it a lot," Parker said. "It helps you develop what you do and do not believe in with regards to religion. It's nice to have the sense that you have a bunch of people around Speakers Circle giving a bunch of perspectives."

Junior Taylor Birk enjoys engaging Smock in conversation to gain other opinions on religion and Christianity.

"I get information and I get other points of views," Birk said. "I don't come just to mock him. I always ask him questions, although he doesn't always do a good job of answering questions because he tends to go off on other tangents."

However, the way Smock spreads his message can turn people off, Birk said.

"I think he puts people off because he is so fundamentalist," Birk said. "It's sort of hypocritical because he tells us not to do things that he did when he was younger."

MU Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists and Agnostics passed out "Brother Jed Bingo" sheets Friday in order to give students a fun way to participate in the conversation, MU SASHA President Tony Lakey said.

"We love to table when Brother Jed is out there to give some balance to the conversation," Lakey said. "The turnout was great. A lot more people stopped by to play and gave us a thumbs-up."

Although he doesn't agree with what Smock preaches, Lakey will miss his visits to campus, Lakey said.

"He is a very good source of entertainment," Lakey said. "Granted, a lot of what he says is very hateful, but I still find him pretty entertaining."

Smock often participated in debates with students and community members, including a 2011 debate hosted by Columbia Atheists and MU SASHA, and debates hosted at Smock's home.

Smock said he'll miss living in Columbia and speaking with MU students, but he plans to visit Columbia for one week every year.

"I'll miss the students here," Smock said "I'll miss Speakers Circle. The university has established a wonderful free speech tradition here at Mizzou by building Speakers Circle."

As he told students in Speakers Circle of his plans to move from the city, he also added that no celebrations on his behalf are necessary.

"Don't feel you have to throw a party (on) behalf of us leaving despite the 10 years of hard labor I've put in here,” Smock said.

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