The Kids Are All Wrong

| 9/18/11 10:01pm

I don’t how many of you were on the Allendale Campus on Friday, but if you were, I’m sure you walked past, listened to, heard about or even argued with Brother Jed, the evangelist holding a tall crucifix and a bright yellow sign that read “YOU DESERVE HELL.”

His picture is on the front of today’s issue of the Lanthorn, which may be how you got here in the first place. ??I was on my last-ditch effort to make it to my noon German class when I noticed him setting up. I realized things were going to escalate quickly, so I parked it on the benches by the blue Transformational Links and waited for the crowd to come instead of making it to Mackinac (Es tut mir leid, Professor Place).

??While a crowd drew, this man yelled about every sin (making lengthy stops and revisits to sexual impurity) and told every person who made eye contact with him that unless they were saved, they’d be spending an eternity in a very graphic, fiery Hell. A kid with dreadlocks walked by, and he told the crowd he used to be a hippie and live on a commune in Africa – fried half his brains out with drugs, he told us. He even “got the crabs,” he would go on to share with us later.

Not an hour later, there must have been at least 50 kids gathered around this guy. And 50 kids is a lot around here, seeing as gathering of more than 8 is considered a campus-wide free-for-all by most Allendale authorities.

It had a more concentrated attention from the students than I had seen given to any other evangelist in a while. ??Most of the time, you get a small crowd and a handful of outspoken kids arguing atheism, but this seemed a little bit less conversational and a little bit more blown out of proportion.

I wasn’t surprised by people’s reaction, I suppose. Brother Jed was spewing some pretty crazy things, making some pretty offensive statements and getting on some pretty wild asides about homosexuality – I was laughing, too, for a bit. ??But then I noticed how as the crowd grew in numbers, so did this overarching dark feeling of the whole thing.

This older man, this man who had devoted five days a week for 37 years of his life to traveling to universities in all 50 states, sat in a crowd of overconfident twentysomethings as they jeered, cackled and all but threw tomatoes at him.

So I sat on the side and watched, and my stomach sank a little. ??Aside from the peaceful protesters from the Center For Inquiry, who made thoughtful signs and respectfully stood on the sidelines, most of my peers were acting like, well, assholes. And I thought to myself, no wonder these men think they need to go to universities to save us college kids. Look at us, look at how we treat them, how we treat each other.

??Something that could have been a simple dialogue had turned into this monkey-in-the-middle sort of entertainment with a grown man, who had been through much more and handled much worse than us, stood in the middle, pointed his finger, and raised his crucifix to the heavens. ??

Now, I’m not very religious. I didn’t soak up Brother Jed’s gospel. I don’t have my own crucifix or rosary beads and I do think that very much of what he said was often times offensive and sometimes really funny on accident. But, so many of those kids shouting back at Brother Jed kept arguing that we shouldn’t focus so much time condemning others but instead we should just accept and love everyone, we should just respect our fellow man, no matter who they are or what they believe in. ??

So as they laughed in these sharp, aggressive laughs at a man who believed in something so much he didn’t turn away from them, they claimed to practice total acceptance, tolerance and love and they wanted him to do the same. They became subject to the same paradox they saw in his Christianity, pawns in the same hypocritical, divisive game of winning. ??

I knew some of the other students around me were frustrated, too. One who noticed us reporters came and told us, just for the record, that he thought the group was acting awfully defensively for a bunch of people who were so sure in what they believed and so sure the preacher was wrong.

And if you ask me, he was totally right. I hear so many people our age complain about not being taken seriously, about being treated like children by our older generations. But in that moment, watching this mob mentality take over like subliminal communist propaganda, I could see exactly why so many of us are treated like we are too young to understand things – because so many of us are. Or at least, we act like it. ??

If you want someone to live in love, you have to live in it first. If you want someone to stop shouting, then you have to lower your own voice first. The need to be right, to be dissonant for dissonance’s sake, should not dominate our compassion. It should not alienate the humanity in us – that is how wars are broken and people are destroyed.

There is a very thick line between dialogue and derision. And if we are as old as we pretend to be, then we should have the sense to know the difference.

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