Gromotka: Silencing Brother Jed


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Without fail, George Edward Smock Jr. — better known as “Brother Jed” — draws quite a crowd when he visits campus. His preaching, appropriately termed “confrontational evangelicalism” in his autobiography, is loud, aggressive, and takes a conservative stance on a number of topics, with a strong focus on sexuality. And people notice.

The students surrounding the preacher and clogging up the T. Anne Cleary Walkway last week can vouch for that.

The vast majority of onlookers were simply there to gawk — Brother Jed’s colorful brand of preaching isn’t something you see every day, after all. Still, there were many others who stood and challenged Jed. Some held signs. Others made it their mission to refute each sentence that left his mouth, shouting alongside him, putting on an exhibition.

The disappointing truth is that while these students’ hearts are perhaps in the right place, attempting to challenge someone you disagree with by shouting louder is an extreme display of self-gratification and only makes the situation more obnoxious.

Maybe if Brother Jed brought along a large group of apostles, heckling and harassing passersby on campus, I’d support the student reaction I saw last week  — I’d write about how the university should actively ban his visits. But Jed is only one man.

It’s almost pathetic that one man — the Howard Stern of campus preachers — can cause such an uproar in a typically calm and collected student body.

While watching Brother Jed work up a crowd with his unabashed sexual moralizing, I learned more about one outspoken student’s sex life than I did about anything in my classes earlier that day. The number of signs held by students outweighed Jed’s 5-1, and they were held by students who not only took the time and Sharpie ink to make them but were also taking the time out of their afternoon to smirk and hold them.

One group led a game of Bingo, handing out cards and actually encouraging students to listen more closely to Jed, to mark down when he used certain buzzwords or vulgarities.

Through I certainly disagree with Jed’s caustic anti-gay, anti-sex, anti-masturbation message, the general sneering, jeering, and devilishly anxious faces of the students — ready to debate Jed through the entirety of the day — are all counterproductive. Why all the fuss over a single person?

When you speak out, you become part of the show. You fuel the fire. You give other people reason to stop and listen. If you take a second to do some research, you’ll see that Jed does this for a living, and he has for a very long time now. He annually visits northern college campuses in the fall and southern ones in the spring. You’re not going to change his mind. He thrives on your outrage.

Now, assuming the students who protested Jed with such vigor actually want to make a difference, they have to change their behavior. They have to drop the desire to be seen and heard, to put on a show and draw in massive crowds of people who wouldn’t otherwise give Jed the time of day. It’s like the philosophical question about a tree falling in the forest. If no one stopped to listen, it wouldn’t matter if Brother Jed made a sound.

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