Evangelist preacher sparks controversy

GVL / Any Zentmeyer
Students gather to listen and protest a outspoken preacher that visited the Grand Valley State University campus

Anya Zentmeyer

GVL / Any Zentmeyer Students gather to listen and protest a outspoken preacher that visited the Grand Valley State University campus

Fridays are often full of distractions for college students eager for the weekend, but students crossing by the Transitional Links on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale Campus on Friday got an additional diversion in the form of evangelical preacher Jed Smock.

Smock, who has spent the past 37 years travelling to college campuses across the country to spread his mission, arrived on campus around 11 a.m. and stayed for several hours. Armed with a crucifix and signs with slogans such as “You deserve Hell” and “Fear God — repent — turn or burn,” Smock and his companions attempted to spread their message to the Lakers.

The preacher remained under the Transitional Links, the designated free speech zone on the Allendale Campus, for the duration of his time on campus.

However, Smock’s reception was not a warm one. Members of the Center for Inquiry at GVSU arrived shortly after Smock for a silent protest, holding signs telling bystanders “You deserve hugs” and with quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Gandhi.

Kevin Kiss, a Center for Inquiry GVSU member who recently transferred to the university, said the group wanted to promote tolerance and rational discussion with the protest.

“I definitely think he has the right to be here, just like we have the right to be here with our signs,” he said.

A number of students challenged Smock’s religious declarations, which included discriminatory statements about women and gays. GVSU junior Caitlin Stoltman, a therapeutic recreation major, questioned Smock’s views.

“Why not focus on Jesus’ love and forgivenes?” she said. “Why focus on the negative?”

Jaylen Reynolds, a freshman computer science major, echoed Stoltman’s concerns, calling Smock a “heretic” and “blasphemer.”

“I think it’s to get attention,” Reynolds said. “It’s a show.”

While many students crowded around Smock, shouting out their oppositions to his views, some disagreed with the crowd’s reaction. Brandan Bilski, a GVSU sophomore, stepped into the ring beside Smock to defend the preacher.

“This man is here because he has a belief,” Bilski said. “If you want to stand here and listen to what he has to say, then stand here and listen to what he has to say. … How many of you have actually stood in front of a crowd like this and expressed what you believe?”

Despite a general consensus that Smock had a right to express his views in the free speech zone, many onlookers left the site with a negative reaction. For sophomore Michael Sickle, a product design and manufacturing engineering major, the primary problem was Smock’s representation of Christianity.

“I’m pretty sure the general opinion of a lot of the Christians that are here, find it offensive to what we believe in general,” Sickle said. “I mean, I guess, I’m offended in the way it’s being misconstrued – the same way my friends that are Muslim don’t like Muslim extremists, because it really gives them a bad name, and it’s the same way for Christians.”

To view a video of the event, visit www.lanthorn.com.

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