Fire and Brimstone

The typical sort of campus preachers made their rounds at my school this past week, and normally that wouldn’t be particularly notable. In fact, normally I hardly pay any mind myself. For one reason or another, there was a stronger reaction this semester, which could be due to any number of reasons that I am not particularly interested in exploring.

I have been going to my current school for several years now, the first few as a part time student. Campus preachers are part of the norm, especially during the warmer months of the semester (even God’s chosen apparently can’t handle the cold). In my experience, most people walk away or entirely avoid the quad when the Quad God is out. Thankfully, this semester the preachers have been attracting a large number of people, which I find highly entertaining. If people are arguing, then I have the opportunity to gauge people’s thought processes; if they are mocking and shouting, that alone can be amusing. After class a few days this week I walked out to the quad and observed the goings-on, and I picked up on a few differing points of view.

The most vocal group of people most of the time was of course those who simply reversed the rhetorical strategy of the preacher. By that, I mean that while he was shouting that all sinners were damned, that “homosex is an abomination” (that’s an exact quote!), or that women should “keep their mouths shut,” there were those who would fling right back. Some shouted obscenities, one person plugged in his guitar and amp with some hefty volume and blared noise, and so on. The details are less important than the reaction. The reaction was anger. The reaction was that this person was being offensive, so he ought to be silenced. Indeed, someone called the campus police to remove him. This seems wrong. If I believe that all people should be treated with love and respect (as these people seemed to think), then I am not allowed to renege on my beliefs at some moment at my convenience. That alone is reason enough to give people with even the most vile of speech the right to say as they please.

There were plenty of folks who stopped by out of pure curiosity, yours truly among them. Most in this group seemed content to discuss among themselves what they believed about what people were saying. Some found the situation goofy, others were troubled, and occasionally a few tried to inject some calmer language into the gathering, which brings me to my point.

As the throng ebbed and flowed throughout the afternoon, there was usually one reason that it began to build up: someone had something different to say (and it wasn’t someone screaming about Hulkamania). There seemed to be three distinct responses. The first two I think are actually the most related. Some people claimed to be Christians themselves, but objected to what the preacher was saying. The preacher, they would say, does not know how to win souls – he was condemning people, not loving them. In other words, these people disagreed on a matter of method, not of substance. The second group were irreligionists who rejected outright the claims of God altogether. They also agreed with the substance (that the Bible calls for an eternal hell for the unsaved/unrighteous), but disagreed in that they believe the Bible is not a depiction of truth. These people also agreed with the substance of the matter, and disagreed with the method (they believe there is no need for a method at all, as the substance is unimportant).

There was still a third, smaller group, of which I am a part. These people, by all accounts, were Christians, but they disagreed with the preacher on a matter of method and of substance. At a couple points these people spoke out, but mostly I overheard agreement among conversation. These people seemed inclined towards a belief that “God is Love,” and that the Bible and spiritual experience should be interpreted from that. I want to draw this line quite clearly – they are in opposition to the view of the first group I mentioned. The first group believes there is such thing as a wrath of God (wrath is a sin, no?) and that wrath will be incurred upon people who do not accept Jesus Christ. I believe this is an inconsistent and illogical view, but the reasons for that belong in a separate post. The third group disagree with the first strongly. They believe in the priority that God is Love, and reject the idea of eternal hell (and usually hell altogether). I believe this distinction is of the utmost importance.

My point has been largely made, but I also want to explain one last key bit of information. I do not consider the first group of people to be in favor of tolerance. While a man spouts hatred of gays, women, and all people (dubbed “sinners”), they tell the man, “No, you can’t say that!” When the other groups are saying, “No, you are wrong!” Disagreeing with a man’s vocabulary because it is too offensive does not change the idea behind the words. These people believe that God will overlook the fact that you are gay, that he will forgive when a woman disagrees with her husband, that he indeed does not love all equally, unconditionally. In biting their tongues and playing games with semantics, they prove themselves no allies of love amongst all. I believe this view is cowardly and uninformed. For those who disagree, I welcome you to read the Bible, or at least 1 John 4. If God’s love is truly unconditional, he does not hate, and he does not condemn. Think critically, deeply, and peacefully, friends.

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Fire and Brimstone