Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A voice crying in the wilderness

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.


Timothy said...

Whaddya know? The preachers are at UT this week, too! And they have their elementary school aged children passing out CD ROMs about homosexuality and abortion. Isn't it interesting how those are the two issues they attack the most, which, in my opinion, are two of the least pressing issues Americans--Christian or otherwise--face today. Why don't they attack war-mongering government officials or rich power-wielders who keep people impoverished in their own backyards?

I understand your ideas about the live and let live mentality, and that's how I approach the ministers. I walk by, recognize that I disagree with them, and they have a right to say what they want. But I really wish I was more radically outspoken when I see a seven-year-old in a sandwich board emblazoned with "Faggot burn in hell." That's child abuse, plain and simple.

Maybe we should push our students to be more politically outspoken. But then maybe that's not our place. It's something I struggle with as a teacher.

fjohn said...

I like that Caleb D. is in the third picture. Have you pointed this out to him?

I also appreciate that he looks just as annoyed as everyone else.

Adam Villani said...

Man, I had no idea this sort of thing happened.

Needless to say, there weren't many itinerant preachers at Caltech.

Eric Grubbs said...

I realized I finally "arrived" at TCU when I was stopped by a couple of people asking me if I knew exactly what happened when you die. They weren't convinced with my response of "something happens."

Other than a yearly visit by a fire-and-brimstone prophet who stood on the main walkway for students, I never saw that stuff again. Then again, I never went by the Brothers Under Christ place . . .

Victor said...

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?

Christian tolerance is not based on the belief that abortion and homosexuality are matters for private opinion or an alternative lifestyle.

And saying THAT they should be condemned (or not) is a principle question that doesn't even speak to HOW (or what follows, if not), which is a prudential question.

Donna B. said...

Well, that's just my point. My students are not practicing Christian tolerance. Their inaction is based on the belief that it's none of their business, different strokes for different folks, that's "their truth," etc. Frequent questioning on the matter reveals that their moral relativism in practice is counteracted by a personal moral absolutism -- and that's why I say it's inconsistent.

the secret knitter said...

We get regular visits from the people. For all I know, they're the same ones since the language and topics are very familiar. With the improved weather, I expect an appearance will be in order this week.

I know the students get a kick out of the show and yelling back at them, yet I wonder if they'd keep returning if no one paid them any attention but walked by without acknowledging their presence.

Victor said...

Well, Donna, they either (1) obviously have not sufficiently decolonized their minds from the effects of the degraded hell-bound ambient culture, or (2) are giving answers they don't really believe to short-circuit an interrogator and get him off their backs

Victor said...

Yes, Timothy, using children in political demonstrations is child abuse, plain and simple.

And also ... by what standard of "pressingness" are abortion and homosexuality "two of the least-pressing issues."