Why we should leave the blue-structure preachers alone

Nikki Fisher

It’s a sight that has become commonplace on the GVSU campus: a man (sometimes two, sometimes with small children) preaching (sometimes, yelling) under the giant blue structure called the “Transformational Link” between AuSable Hall and the Little Mac Bridge. One of these blue-structure preachers (BSPs) who frequents this spot usually carries a cardboard sign which lists the various sins which, he believes, send you to Hell. Refuse to accept Jesus as your Savior, he says, and you’ll go to Hell. Smoke weed, and you’ll go to Hell. Embrace your homosexuality, and—well, you get the picture.

Whenever, I walk past this man and his sign, I imagine them as checklist. If the BSPs are correct, I am certainly Hell-bound.

Here at GVSU, however, we place such an emphasis on tolerance that sometimes we risk being intolerant of those who do not share our tolerance. I’ve seen the following scene many times. Students cluster around the BSPs, most of them listening quietly or smoking a cigarette. Inevitably, one in the crowd gets flustered enough to get in a heated argument with man, ardently challenging his views on religion, sexuality, etc. Almost inevitably, both end up looking like jerks.

There are many reasons I think we should leave the BSPs alone. First of all, nobody is going to change their minds. These men are clearly and deeply entrenched in their belief systems. In every argument I have witnessed, both parties get so angry that their hands shake, but neither end up changed, at least not for the better.

Second of all, believe me or not, I think the BSPs’ intentions are good-hearted. I cannot imagine that anybody would subject themselves to angry college students once a week for the mere sadistic value of condemning others. I imagine that, despite their ill-received rhetoric, they are truly trying to save young people from the wrath of Hell. Sometimes, I even wonder if the kind of people who argue with the BSPs have the same good-hearted intentions. Perhaps, those who stand up for others do exhibit nobility, but I imagine those who incite argument only to prod the fire have less pure intent.

No, this does not mean that the value of intentions overrides the value of actions. No, despite my previous claim, this does not mean we are always obligated to be mind-numbingly tolerant, even to beliefs which are hateful.

What this does mean is we must know how to pick our battles. Ask yourself a series of questions before you react to people like the BSPs: Are this person’s intentions good? Is this person hurting anyone? Is there anything I can say which will change this situation?

Arguably, some of us have been hurt or offended by these men, who sometimes antagonize passersby with a spiteful question. If this has been you in the past, I am sorry. But if you let them offend you, you are only doing yourself an injustice.

If this is you in the future, please keep walking.