Group combats negatives of mall preachers

Nichol Nelson

If Jed Smock has it right, a lot of University students are going to hell.
Smock, or “Brother Jed,” a modern-day missionary who aims to convert students to conservative Christianity with a mixture of finger-pointing and personal storytelling, liberally predicts a fiery end for students. He condemns those who drink, have sex before marriage or investigate religions outside of Christianity.
Today, the University Episcopal Center will present an alternative to his message with their annual Preach-off and Frisbee Toss.
Organizers say the event, now in its third year at the University, is not designed to combat preachers like Brother Jed, but it is rather an attempt to counter all of the negative attention “fire and brimstone” preachers bring Christianity.
“It’s in the air that those mall preachers are getting a lot of attention. We don’t agree with the message of condemnation,” said Rev. Janet Wheelock of the University Episcopal Center.
This year marks the first time the event will include student preachers. Organizers hope the inclusion of young people will help onlookers relate to their message.
The group will hand out free Frisbees to students while they preach. Wheelock said the preachers use storytelling to spread their message.
“We talk about politics and lots of stories about human life being turned around,” she said.
Rev. Paul Allick of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles in East St. Paul said the event is needed to give students a sense of balance about available religion.
“Christianity in our culture right now is represented by the far right,” he said.
Allick said preachers who use condemnation attract people who enjoy sensationalism. He said preachers like Brother Jed grab more people than those with a positive message, but students should be open to the preach-off’s purpose.
“We’re not yanking anyone’s chain out there. We’re telling them God loves them,” he said.
Many students agreed with Allick. Michael Melchior, a junior in philosophy, said he thinks of preachers like Brother Jed as entertainment. He said the negativity “defeats the point.”
“If he’s trying to win people over to his faith, it doesn’t seem like he’s doing a good job,” Melchior said.
Wheelock hopes students will be more receptive to their methods.
“We want to be sure that students understand that preaching is a very loving act,” she said.