Traveling freelance preachers bring their message to SEMO campus

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Some say they're preaching hate, others claim they're spouting un-Christian values and some believe they're just looking for attention.

The answer might be all of the above.

Husband-and-wife preaching team Jed and Cindy Smock have been drawing crowds all week at Southeast Missouri State University with fiery and provocative rhetoric. The family is based out of Columbia and travels to college campuses all over the country preaching a firebrand version of Christianity.

The Smocks began preaching Tuesday on the patio of the University Center -- a university-designated free-speech area -- but were asked to move by campus police when the crowd grew large enough to be deemed a safety hazard.

Some students believe it was the speech that was hazardous.

"As a Christian on campus, these people are working against what Christ taught with the word of God," said sophomore Brian McDonald. "God doesn't preach hate, God teaches love and redemption."

In a silent protest, McDonald sat and held various signs next to the speakers. One read "false prophet."

That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment of the crowd of 30 to 40 listening to the preachers Friday.

The Smocks condemned students to damnation for infractions such as sex before marriage, drug use and drinking. But students shot back, airing their own beliefs, quoting passages from the Bible and once broke in by singing "Our God is an Awesome God."

Jed Smock seemed to enjoy the confrontation. He grinningly provoked the audience by picking out girls and demanding to know the status of their virginity, claiming Jews killed Jesus, and branding all fraternity members as hell-bound.

"Tri-Delt, I've always called it try-a-Delt," he said to loud jeers.

Cindy Smock spoke graphically about the sin she believes to be present on SEMO campus. "God sends you a message through herpes," she said. "But you don't get it. You're not sorry you hurt God, and you're not sorry you dishonored a girl's body. No, you're just sorry you've got those little red sores."

In a peaceful effort, freshman Sherry Mattingly sat on the hill and quoted passages from the Bible to the speakers. But she said they ignored her attempts at reason.

"I first came yesterday, but what prompted me to come back today was when I heard her say 'Salvation is a secret.' I thought about it for a long time and I couldn't sleep last night because of it," she said. "They are leading people away from Christ. The Bible teaches: 'If someone is caught in a sin, you should restore him gently.'"

Mattingly also said she was offended when Jed Smock called her "a silly girl."

Andrew Allen, a student, wondered whether students were playing into the Smocks' hands by watching and reacting to their statements.

"I think he does know what he's doing. He wants to be seen and wants all this attention," he said.

Bryan Mattingly agreed, but said the spectacle was too good to pass up. "Most people just see this as a freak show," he said. "It's fun to come out here and heckle them."

The university has designated four free-speech zones on campus. They are located to the south of Scully, in the Johnson/Rhodes/Magill quadrangle, on the terraces outside Academic Hall and on the patio of the University Center.

Doug Richards, head of the Department of Public Safety on campus, said anyone is allowed to speak in the zones as long as "it does not become a health and safety issue where people in and around are in danger of bodily harm. Then we would intervene."

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