Such were very common warnings we students passed along when I was an undergrad when some group of local street preachers would gather somewhere on our campus. Even though cell phones were still something only the extremely rich could afford, such warnings still spread amazingly fast among our 7,000 students. Reactions were usually mixed among the students. Some students would show up at the gatherings to question or talk with the locals while others just wanted to be spectators to what would ultimately be a screaming free-for-all once the few atheists, skeptics, & philosophy majors arrived to take advantage of the opportunity to badger & heckle the locals into frenzy. Usually it became next to impossible to tell the atheists from the theists if it not for the huge banners & megaphones utilized by one side & profanity laced taunts by the other. It was a small university in a small rural Midwestern town, a very Mayberry-esque community where “entertainment” was limited & rare for young people. But most of us, if not already Christians, were at least tolerant of their beliefs even though we viewed such encounters as unproductive & distasteful. We avoided such things via alternative routes & entrances to our intended destination. After awhile the combatants would disperse returning our campus to its normal low-key hum & quiet bustle of activity.
One day in my last semester however I heard, “Revival outside Fremont!” This sent chills up my spine as my economics instructor had just run over on his lecture & my speech instructor did not tolerate tardiness to her class. Late students were not permitted to enter the classroom & she locked the door to ensure they did not. I seriously considered just going home for the day until one of my fellow classmates reminded me that she was administering an exam. Due to Fremont’s location on the Northwest corner of campus the alternate walk was an off-campus trek that involved an extra ½ mile; we did not have the time to avoid the fracas that way so we hoped the crowd would be large enough or at least the atheists students loud enough that we could walk by unnoticed & still get to our speech class on time. It was a summer semester so our student body numbers were drastically down. The crowd was almost non-existent & their chosen location on the campus edge was too far out for the atheists to be interested on such a hot July day. That summer day was just not my lucky day.
About a ½ dozen of us, all destined for the same speech class, were accosted on the sidewalk (surrounded actually), ironically right outside of our classroom window. We students behaved ourselves well & tried to exit to our class tactfully & extricate ourselves without offense; after all we just wanted to get to our class on time. We tried explaining that we were Christians, related our churches & worship, invited them to our youth group activities & informed them we were late for class, but we were soon still damned into eternal hellfire for a variety of reasons. It only ended when one of the girls removed her baptismal cross & handed it to one of the street preachers telling him, “What a cruel, abusive, & horrid “god” you believe in! I want no part of your religion! You’re absolutely mad!” The sheer surprise that anyone would say or do such a thing shocked the whole street preaching crowd into utter silence. Apparently it had never occurred to any of them that in their zeal they might be driving people away from faith in Christ while trying to save them.
In retrospect that summer day was unlucky for me for reasons other than mere inconvenience. Due to the encounter that day in July 1989 with those preaching a “god” of hellfire, damnation & judgement; I began what was to be a 13-year hiatus away from all forms of Christianity. Actually that encounter was not the cause of my departure, it was just the final breaking point after similar encounters, far too numerous & common.
The following list is long. Some items portray silliness while others are extremely disturbing in their import. Perhaps many will find it overkill. I, however, do not. I want people to be upset by what they read. These are all actual incidents that were experienced or witnessed by myself, my family, my friends or my acquaintances; some were well documented media headlines. These sorts of things should be rarities among Christians. Instead they are all too common incidents that have the potential to destroy those for whom Christ came if my conversations with hundreds of people (religious & otherwise) & research are any indication. May we all learn what not to do & to consider what may be done differently. May we all learn to think before we act &/or speak.
- A 5-year old is turned away from an altar call & being told, “God won’t save you because you were born out of wedlock & your parents still aren’t married. Go sit down now; I need to save these other kids.” When questioned by irate family members of an inconsolable wailing child the reply was, “It says in the Bible that a bastard shall not enter the kingdom of heaven! It’s very sad really that the child’s going to burn in hell forever because of the sins of the parents, but that’s in the Bible, too, unto the third & fourth generation! Even the child’s grandchildren & great-grandchildren are hellbound because of the parents.”
- A 16-year old that has been a member of the parish for thirteen years, hears the pastor call the teen’s divorced mother a whore & the teen a bastard from the pulpit during the pastor’s homily. The mother’s “sin”? Refusing repeatedly to sign up for an Amway distributorship being sold by the pastor & filing a complaint with the parish council.
- A 16-year old girl commits suicide after she is turned away from an altar call when the pastor tells her that God hates her & is going to burn her in eternal hellfire for having an abortion.
- A college student is asked to not return to two different churches because the student is not a Christian. Despite claims otherwise, the members of the churches can prove that the student is not a Christian, because the student does not “speak in tongues.” Furthermore, the student is even proven to be possessed by Satan in the second parish when the student repeatedly refuses their attempts to exorcise the demon through “laying on of hands.”
- A college student is asked to leave a college Christian student group for being “too prudish” when the student objects to the Sunday evening scavenger hunt to collect various items of a pornographic & erotic nature. When the student brought the issue to the pastor of the sponsoring parish the student is told that the pastor has no authority to curtail the group’s activities because the husband & wife group mentors are very influential in the church & local town. The student is asked to leave the church.
- A pastor parades the wife/mother of a very destitute family up on the stage/pulpit as he brags about her giving him the last of the family’s grocery money & how she, her three little children (ages 6 months to 6 years) & disabled handicapped husband had not eaten supper the evening before nor breakfast that morning; he then had the ushers pass the offering plates for the third time that morning for the church coffers. Ironically, the same evening in which children went hungry, the pastor enjoyed a very lavish & expensive meal at a very affluent restaurant in the local town.
- A Christian college group mentor tells his group members that they can sin all they want if they are saved & proves it from the Bible while a Roman Catholic young man declares that it is okay for them to sin if they go to Confession & proves it from the Catechism. The Orthodox can fall prey to this idea as well.
- A college student is refused membership in a church when the student cannot afford the $500 yearly dues assessment payable in advance. This would be roughly $1,100 today.
- Several well-known evangelists claim that the 9/11 terrorist actions are God’s punishment & judgement on America for a variety of national & individual sins.
- A preacher announces to the media that his group is going to perform a Koran burning. The event is cancelled due to combined political, religious & public outcry from around the world. His group later does perform a Koran burning. Sixteen UN workers & missionaries are killed & at least another 90 injured in Afghanistan by Muslim protestors.
- Now just to be fair, Orthodox Christians are not exempt from such tripe. Not long after I was Chrismated an Orthodox fellow staunchly informed me that my local parish was noncanonical & heretical, & therefore we were not observing a valid Eucharist. Little did I realize that the Body & Blood of Christ could not manifest in the Eucharist because our rented location was built on a North-South orientation rather than the traditional East-West mentioned in Canon Law; yes, I am being very facetious.
- The young man was also very certain that my Chrismation was invalid (even though my bishop had determined otherwise) because I had not been rebaptized; therefore I was risking eternal damnation by receiving the Eucharist unworthily. I just had to ask, “Please explain how I can be receiving the Eucharist unworthily when the Eucharist I am receiving is invalid due to our North-South orientation according to your judgement?” Blessed silence was his answer.
Continue to Part 2>