Speaker's Circle's biggest feud rages on
Aug. 31, 2007
According to the practitioners of a style of preaching called "confrontational evangelism," all fornicators, liars, hip-hoppers, gay men and lesbians, among many others, are on their way to burning in the fiery pits of hell. The practitioners, who use hostility to convert individuals, spoke in Speaker's Circle this week.
Often standing in the center of Speaker's Circle is self-taught Minister George Smock, more commonly known as Brother Jed, whose confrontational and hostile style of preaching has made him a talked-about and highly controversial figure on campus. Passersby can often hear Smock's impassioned shouting before he even pops into their line of sight.
A preacher who calls himself Reuben Israel is a board member of Smock's School of Evangelism. He said he believes the provoking tactics work.
"Our method looks vicious, but we do care for the students," Israel said. "We do it for shock and awe. We're in the Jerry Springer era, and if there's no clash, the students will walk."
Graduate student Olena Watanabe disagreed.
"The funny thing is that the more aggressive he is, the less his words get through," she said.
Watanabe referred specifically to Brother Jed pointing out seemingly random people to tell them they are sinners and are going to hell.
Sophomore Emily Israeli, who is pursuing a minor in religious studies, likes to watch and argue with Smock.
"Brother Jed is someone who understands a student's right to say something," Israeli said. "Talking to him puts in perspective others' opinions and beliefs."
Smock said he likes to compare himself to a matador in a ring and the students he antagonizes to the bulls. He hopes people will be interested in what he says and later come and talk to him one on one.
"I want the students to know that I was once like them," Smock said. "I thought like them. I made the same empty arguments that they do. I want them to know that I can empathize with where they are."
Most of the people who travel from school to school have been doing so for many years, but spectators were shocked when Smock placed 15-year-old Jennifer O'Connell in Speaker's Circle to preach. Cries that O'Connell had been "brainwashed" rang from the crowd. But O'Connell said she does not believe she is brainwashed.
"I'm not brainwashed — I'm heartwashed," she said. "If I felt that I'd been abused, I could tell my audience so."
Smock said he does not think O'Connell, or other youths like her, are brainwashed.
"She volunteered," Smock said. "She wanted to speak. Anyone who talks to her can see that she has her own mind. She stood face-to-face with big guys and showed no fear."
Smock said college students are the ones who have been brainwashed, not the members of his School of Evangelism.
"It's the students that need a brainwashing," he said. "They've got dirty minds."
Although Smock's tactics can be harsh, he said he is doing it because it is what college students need to hear.
"We're committed to reaching the students," he said. "They need to start reading the Bible, and if they think about it, they'll see we're right."
THE PROFESSOR AND
Smock began the week with a debate against communications teacher and doctoral candidate Brian Naylor. They debated whether "confrontational evangelism" is really an effective way of getting God's message across. Smock was on the affirmative, and Naylor provided the counter-argument. Many students watched the debate.
Freshman Mike O'Connell said he watched Smock for a while during the week and felt that while he speaks in Speaker's Circle, he often pushes away counterarguments to his beliefs.
"I wanted to see him in a real, moderated debate," he said. "I think that his tactics cause more harm to campus ministries than good."
Naylor argued that Facebook.com would be a better way to communicate with the students than shouting to them at the corner, but Smock disagreed. He said shocking students is the only way to get through to them.
"I think that Jed did well toward the beginning," O'Connell said. "But especially during the Q-and-A session, he seemed to have some rather weak answers and, other times, he appeared to avoid answering the question directly. I think that Jed lost the debate overall, but he did make a few good points. But a lot of his answers almost appeared to hurt his cause."
Cookin' With the Smocks
Smock also played host to a barbecue at his house. The barbecue was open to most students, but he did give what he called a "satirical" warning to some when he extended the invitation in Speaker's Circle.
"If you have a Middle Eastern look, you're liable to be frisked before coming into my house," Smock said.
About 10 students showed up to the barbecue. Upon entering the kitchen, guests could see Brother Jed's wife, Cindy Smock, cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for the guests.
Senior Ryan McDowell, whom Smock claims is his biggest heckler, made an appearance at the dinner. Although he disagrees with what Smock preaches, McDowell is still friendly toward him and holds no grudges.
"In the circle, you won't hear anything but condemnations," McDowell said. "But on the sidelines, you get real conversation."
McDowell is Agnostic and said Smock's tactics have not yet converted him.
Many of Smock's colleagues also attended. Israel has street preached for 28 years and said he feels he is effective. He said his confrontational way stirs the pot and gets people to really think about how they are living.
"You have people repent on the sidelines," Israel said. "You get really good conversations because of the person preaching in the center. These conversations are more fruitful. People don't realize that."
The dinner was about making friends, not converting people.
"These are good, normal people," junior Nathan Salmon said. "I had a good experience and will probably come back. It's a more comfortable atmosphere than in Speaker's Circle. It wasn't confrontational."
After the dinner, street preacher Jeremy Sonnier stood up to give a speech. He spoke of his experiences in preaching to the masses and about how much he loves helping people.
"We don't get a lot of positive feedback from the world," Sonnier said. "It feels like the whole world is against us. The worst is when people claiming to be Christians heckle us."
He said he thinks he is not doing any harm by spreading his message, because the people who heckle him are going to hell anyway.
"People say we're making it worse, but how much worse can it get?" Sonnier said. "Are you going to go to hell No. 2?"