Two or three times a semester, we are visited by traveling evangelists who see our campus as a hotbed of sin in need of some fire and brimstone. Many of them hop from college campus to college campus, hoping to goad the administration into acting against them, so that they can file a lawsuit and trumpet their martyrdom on their ministry homepages. Some come with an entourage of women and children bearing signs with pictures of aborted fetuses. Some come alone. All stand on the steps of the chapel, in the center of campus, which has been designated the free speech zone. And they preach.
Today it was one of the lone wolves out there, in a dark suit with the coat unbuttoned. When I first walked by on my way to pick up lunch at the student center, he was talking loudly to an empty courtyard, listing off the people who are not going to heaven (fornicators, pot-smokers, homosexuals, etc.). Later in the day I walked back by, and he had gathered the usual crowd of jeering, combative students. He was screaming "Do you masturbate?!" at them as I ducked into the building.
I'm no big fan of the "free speech zone" notion. It was implemented on our campus after one of these preachers poked a finger in a student's chest and called him a faggot. (He was actually arrested by city police and eventually fined.) But I'm also sick and tired of listening involuntarily to someone sing about being a "happy homophobe" and accuse every female within earshot of being a whore.
My students tend to tsk-tsk excitedly every time one of the preachers makes an appearance. They give Christians a bad name. Their methods are hateful, not loving. They should preach by example, not by words. They pass judgment, as Jesus explicit told us not to do.
But at that point I want to push back a little bit. Many of my students share the preachers' convictions that homosexuality is immoral and abortion is murder. The only thing they don't share is the willingness to shout about it in public to strangers. Much as I think their tolerance makes the campus a more pleasant place, I have to wonder whether it is internally consistent. How can you believe that homosexuality is a sin dooming its practitioners to hell, and that abortion is a national tragedy, and still consider them private opinions or alternative lifestyles that shouldn't be called out or condemned?
For all the self-righteous, equal-opportunity hatred they spew, at least the preachers have a valid syllogism behind their behavior. I wish I knew how the live-and-let-live behavior of my students jibes with their moralistic, purity-obsessed Christianity.