Brother Jed may give preaching a bad name


Lily Katz

Brother Jeb “preaches” to university student on the Main Quad and the University of Illinois on August 23, 2016.

By Meral Aycicek, Contributing Writer

On a casual walk through the Main Quad, one can expect to see RSO fundraisers, friends throwing around a Frisbee and one too many squirrels. About once a month, students might also expect to run into a large group of people surrounding a figure who has been iconic on this campus for more than three decades: Brother Jed.

Brother Jed Smock has been touring college campuses across the U.S. since the early ’70s, practicing his “confrontational evangelism.”

For five hours a day, Monday through Friday, Brother Jed can be found on campuses all over the country confronting college students with what he refers to as “the truths of God.”

Each campus has a unique reaction to the controversial preacher. Brother Jed publicly claims a dean of students at Princeton told him that he was a “persona non grata,” an unwelcome person. A few years ago, students at Purdue started a petition to stop Brother Jed from preaching on their campus; the petition was later pulled because of freedom of speech concerns.

There are a variety of opinions on this campus concerning Brother Jed’s presence.

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Anna Blackledge, freshman in LAS, said the term “heckler” is an accurate description for Brother Jed and his group of preachers. A heckler is generally defined by Miriam-Webster as “a person who harasses and tries to disconcert others with questions, challenges or gibes.”

Ari Kazan, senior in LAS, disagreed.

“I don’t think that by definition these people (on the Main Quad) are hecklers, but I do think that they are putting students in an uncomfortable position,” Kazan said.

Blackledge said she sees different groups advocating different causes on the Main Quad every day. She said there are RSOs fundraising in front of the Union, Christian RSOs that pass out free coffee and men and women who pass out New Testaments.

“The nice people and RSOs are more successful at advocating their message, but Brother Jed’s group is just ridiculous. I definitely don’t take them seriously,” Blackledge said.

Kazan said Brother Jed should participate in dialogue rather than aggressive preaching in order to be more effective.

In his 40 years of preaching on college campuses, Brother Jed has likely heard this advice.

His website claims, “In spite of insults, scorning and constant haranguing, he never grows weary of well-doing. In spite of being pied, egged, mobbed and even physically abused, his love for the students has never failed.  Even now at age 72, he joyfully enters the battlefield hoping to snatch more souls from the flames.”

There are a variety of reactions from the Christian world as well. Beth Urton, a resident of Waukegan and Bible teacher since 1998, said she would not take Brother Jed’s approach in trying to spread the word of God.

“It’s contrary to how I engage with people of other thought systems,” Urton said. “I think that if I saw someone being hateful and representing Jesus in the wrong way, I would try to engage him and show him how Jesus wanted to share his ideas through love. The motive behind what people are saying is really important.”

Although each have different opinions, Kazan, Blackledge and Urton all agreed that Brother Jed and his group, as well as the various advocacy groups around the quad are entitled to speak their mind.

“I think that it’s important that we do have freedom of speech in this country. It makes us stronger when we encounter other ideas and we are forced to question and defend our own beliefs in contrast to other beliefs,” Urton said.

“We all understand the fact that these people are allowed to speak but that they are offensive to others. This is influential on our lives because we understand what it means to have freedom of speech,” Kazan said.

Blackledge restated her belief that the hecklers have their rights, but she warned that if a person is riling up a crowd with offensive speech, someone might get hurt. Urton agreed.

“He needs to be sure that he’s motivated by Jesus’s love and tender care. I would encourage him to go before God and ask Him to make sure his motive is to preach out of care for the sheep … he is likely to find much more success,” Urton said.

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