The roars from a crowd of more than 150 students outside Cooper Hall Wednesday could be heard as far away as the Student Services Building – the roars came in response to a group of traveling preachers shouting religious rhetoric and questioning students’ morals.
The grassy area in front of Subway served as a pulpit for one of the preachers, Jed Smock, a 58-year-old Ohio resident, who said he has preached at a college campus in every state. He has been coming to USF since 1981 and traversing the country for nearly 28 years to “provoke theological discussion.”
But Wednesday’s discussion quickly turned into a shouting match when Smock, with a Bible in his left hand and the Koran in his right, explained to students why Christian religion and Muslim religion can’t logically coexist.
“They both cannot be true,” Smock said, holding the two books in the air and turning to address the crowd that surrounded him.
A student stepped forward from the crowd and confronted Smock: “Religion is about believing in a god,” he said. “You can believe in another god, live by his rules and still be OK.”
In an interview after his speech, Smock said he was not denouncing Islam. Instead, he said he was looking at religion from a logical perspective.
“If the Koran is true, and it could be, then the Bible is wrong,” Smock said. “If the Bible is true then the Koran is wrong. There is an attitude on campus that all religions teach the same thing, and that’s simply not true.”
Smock, along with his wife and 17-year-old daughter, Evangelin, goaded the crowd by calling women on campus sluts, denouncing homosexuals and condemning birth control. He said the controversial topics they present, and the striking way in which they present them, is part of an entertainment factor necessary to get students to listen.
“Controversy gets people thinking. We want to challenge their belief systems,” Smock said.
While the gathering never got violent, some said one student went too far in showing his disagreement with Evangelin when she began to preach about the sanctity of virginity, proclaiming herself as one and claiming to have never touched a condom.
Freshman Shane Brown, who had picked up a condom from the ground, emerged from the crowd and waved it in her face before throwing it at her as she retreated.
Freshman Farhan Rehman, a Muslim who shielded Evangelin and tossed away the condom, said he was disgusted by Brown’s behavior.
“My religion teaches respect to all,” Rehman said. “I mean, who’s gonna throw a condom at a girl?”
But Brown contends that he was just misunderstood.
“I wasn’t disrespecting her, but I could see how it could come across like that,” Brown said. “To be honest, I’m a big believer in God, and I was just trying to have a little fun. But she contradicts everything she says.”
Freshman Raheel Sheikh said he respected what Evangelin had to say.
“At least she has morals and ethics. And I can respect her for the courage she has to come out here,” Sheikh said.
But that courage was interpreted as a lie by one gay student when Evangelin shifted the focus of her attention to condemning homosexuality.
“(She says) we’re all going to hell. That’s not true,” sophomore Maeve Garvin said. “We are all God’s children. If I choose to love a person, it’s OK, no matter what sex they are.”
Smock’s wife, Cindy, relieved Evangelin and brought the boisterous crowd to silence when she began a sarcastic monologue about birth control and what she called the “condom gospel,” or being able to have sex with “whoever, whenever, wherever, however, as long as you wear a condom.”
“Behold your god, boys and girls,” Mrs. Smock said, holding up the same yellow condom that was thrown at her daughter an hour before. “The prerequisite before entering the University of South Florida is you must have faith in the almighty condom.”
To inquisitive ears, slowly and clearly, with elongated syllables, she continued: “And I am here today to help you increase your faith in the almighty condom.”
Mrs. Smock, while telling students that premarital sex is wrong, also said masturbation was wrong. She then referred to a report from a magazine to drive home her point that premarital sex was not only sinful but also presented health risks.
“You may have read in Time magazine that one in four of your peers is carrying a (sexually transmitted disease),” Mrs. Smock said.
One student in the crowd interrupted and yelled: “That’s why masturbation is a good thing.”
Junior Adam Randall, who convinced the surrounding students to contract the size of the circle to give the speakers less room, said the preachers should be kicked off campus.
“All they’re doing is causing anger and strife,” Randall said, before yelling, “Everybody scoot forward.”
Freshman Sean Hoagland, who said he is open-minded when it comes to religion, has studied the Bible and said the preachers were distorting its message.
“They are judging us to the harshest degree, but the Bible says don’t judge,” Hoagland said. “This is an abortion of the Christian faith.”
Mrs. Smock addressed the issue of abortion by using her five children as an example of why the practice is wrong. The children, all girls ranging from ages 7 to 17, stood behind their mother as she spoke. Mrs. Smock said that each of them was a blessing.
“Some of your blessings have ended up in the waste paper baskets at abortion clinics,” Mrs. Smock said.
Many students took offense. Others began to curse in anger. Some tried to censor their words for the sake of the children. And one student criticized Mrs. Smock’s parental skills.
“How can you call yourself a good mother when you can expose your kids to a crowd like us?” while another yelled, “Don’t force Jesus on your kids. Let them choose.”
Unfazed, Mrs. Smock continued to denounce abortion, and instead of toning down her words in the face of criticism and in the presence of her children, she escalated them.
“When you get pregnant, go out and murder the little bastards if you want to,” Mrs. Smock said. “Have them sucked out of your belly.”
Evangelin, who is traveling full-time around the country with her father this year and has been speaking on college campuses since she was 11, said her family makes a difference in students’ lives.
She said while many may not want to listen to what they have to say and openly oppose it in public, when they have time to reflect privately on what is said, for some it will save their souls.”
We’ve attracted 150 people, and we know only a few will get saved,” she said. “We know we are having an impact on people.”
- Contact Ryan Meehan at firstname.lastname@example.org