Column: Extreme preachers abolishing apathy

By Brenda Kay Zylstra

Last week hundreds of U of I students were exposed to yet another radical group of evangelical Christians, preaching a message that seemed wholly insistent to focus on the wrath and justice of God’s character while dismissing the aspects of grace and mercy.

Michael and Tamika Venyah founded Soulwinners Ministries International in 2004 and two months ago embarked upon an eight-month journey across the United States, bringing their message to 64 campuses in an effort to open students’ eyes to their sin and the necessity of immediate repentance.

Initially drawn to the Venyahs by the spectacle of Michael’s “All homos go to hell” t-shirt and their fifteen-foot banner, I listened to this preaching for hours. I skipped class, ignored urgent homework and wasted what precious little free time I had. Even though my beliefs about Christianity, sin, heaven and hell have long been cemented, I found myself unwilling to walk away.

Why? Why did anyone listen to these people? No one was agreeing. No one was asking to learn more. Everyone seemed focused on disproving all the Venyahs had to say, either by citing scripture or questioning the validity of the Bible in the first place. I doubt if a single person was pushed even an inch closer to Christianity from listening to the way the Venyahs presented their message and the way they portrayed God.

And yet, I stayed. I listened to the Venyahs twist and pervert the story I love the most while I racked my brain for a rebuttal, a contradicting Bible verse, an easy answer that would shatter their hateful message apart and elucidate how the endearing, comprehensive message of the Bible is neither hate nor judgment but Christ’s perfect love.

And as they maddeningly and casually doled out damnation to their listeners, it dawned on me that perhaps these people were accomplishing something after all.

I was not the only one whose mind was furiously racing for a refutation of the Venyahs’ message. I was not the only one upset by this somewhat frightening and previously unheard of version of Christianity. I was not the only one fascinated by these people and their fiery spirit, which, however misguided it may be, is incredibly strong and resilient.

Christians of all stripes and styles stood shoulder to shoulder, sharing Bibles and searching God’s Word together. They handed out New Testaments and entreated those who had questions to read and find out for themselves what God really says. Catholics and Protestants forgot their differences, encouraging and defending one another. People who professed not to be Christians still knew enough of Jesus’ love and character to know that the Venyahs’ version did not reconcile with what the Bible says.

I watched proudly as two people I know did a beautiful job of confronting the lies of Soulwinners Ministries Internation. One did so by a thorough and systematic breakdown of what the Venyahs were preaching according to careful Biblical exposition. It was obvious that he had an excellent command of scripture and the way he also refused to get angry or be ruffled was not only admirable but also done so in a mature and respectful way.

On the other hand, another friend of mine became so incensed after being told by Tamika Venyah that she is going to hell for listening to non-Christian music that she delivered a passionate outburst with such vehemence that the entire crowd quieted to listen. Proclaiming that Christianity is “about love” she railed against Venyah for having the audacity to doom others to hell and ended by promising to pray for their entire ministry.

As a Christian, I believe God uses every word and deed to accomplish His good purposes. Although the Venyahs’ methods for spreading the Gospel are innumerably flawed, they prevailed in getting people to listen, to be passionate and to think for themselves.

In a country often characterized as intellectually lazy, obese and generally inattentive, that in itself is an accomplishment.