"Bro Jed" brings his confrontational evangelism to the Quad

(Originally published in the Daily Illini on 9/16/05)

Students passing through the Quad Monday saw religious activists holding signs, including one that read: "Warning to all drunkards, rebellious people, bar owners, money lovers, atheists, prostitutes: God will judge you."

Students and activists were present on the north side of the Quad from 10:30 a.m. to about 5 p.m. Jed Smock, the 62-year-old leader of Campus Ministry U.S.A., addressed students. Smock, nicknamed "Bro Jed," used colorful speeches and stories to illustrate his religious views of correct living.

Some students stood in awe, captivated by Smock's anecdotes. Others yelled obscenities at him and labeled him a cruel bigot. One student even spilled a cup of soda on Smock. Many students just shook their heads and smiled.

Steven Marovitch, freshman in LAS, was not fazed by Smock."(His purpose) is to scare people away from Christianity. That's basically what he's doing," Marovitch said. Originally from Brookings, S.D., Smock considers himself a born-again Christian. He is the author of the book "Who Will Rise Up?" and has spread his message at universities nationwide for more than thirty years. Smock grew up in a Methodist family and was forced to attend Sunday school and church. He said he did not embrace Christianity until his late twenties."In the sixties I became a hippie," Smock said. He admitted to abusing alcohol and illegal drugs during this period of his life.Smock said his conversion began Christmas Day 1971. He had been partying with friends in a North African hippie commune when a man dressed in Arabic garb carried a cross in front of Smock's group and preached about Jesus."I started to wonder what would possess a man to do that," Smock said. Smock said he stopped doubting the truth that had been right in front of him. He wrote to his parents requesting a copy of the Bible and by spring, had returned to the United States.Smock then began what he calls his "confrontational evangelism" method of preaching. His ministry is based on the idea that there are strict rules one must follow in order not to be condemned. In addition, Smock encourages the judgment of others in order to show them the right way."Sin is a choice," Smock said. "We are born innocent. From birth we are able to choose good over evil, but no one does."Smock said that people must change to be saved. They must confess their sins, which Smock said college students are reluctant to do. He said that once a sinner chooses salvation, he could become a new person.Many local religious leaders criticized Smock's message and approach."His confrontational style and 'adaptation' of the message of Christ bears little resemblance to the good news of the bible that Jesus preached so long ago," said Mike McQueen, an advisor for the Illini Chinese Christian Fellowship.

"Jesus had some hard things to say, but he always balanced it with grace," said Rev. Bill Meier of Twin City Bible Church.

John Roeckeman, team leader of the Illinois Intervarsity Christian Fellowship staff, said campus religious leaders have tried to reason with Smock, but Smock would not listen to them.

"I'm not sure he looks at us Christians on campus favorably," Roeckeman said. "He's a lone ranger and not accountable to anyone."

Jacob Hess, president of the Latter Day Saint Student Association and graduate student, said Smock was too bold, brazen and offensive. Hess said he is also worried that Smock gave students a negative impression of all Christianity.

"It was like a show he was putting on," Hess said. "If Christ were here, he would tell everyone that this was not of him."

Despite the criticism, Smock is free to express his opinion under the First Amendment, said Gregory Meves, College Republicans president and senior in LAS.

"Does this make him right?" asked Meves. "Not necessarily. Does this make him sane? Also not necessarily. He is more than welcome to say (his opinion) as long as he doesn't interfere with the rights of others."

Smock returns with Campus Ministry U.S.A. to the University almost every year.

The Campus Ministry U.S.A. headquarters are located in Columbia, Mo. More information on Smock's ministries can be found at http://www.brojed.org.