Advocating her religious and behavioral beliefs to students in various locations across the Tampa campus Tuesday and Wednesday, social media campus preacher Cindy Smock, known as “Sister Cindy,” drew a large crowd of students filled with laughs, but also concern for the possible harm her speeches could cause.
Smock, who has accumulated over 350,000 followers on TikTok, was first seen preaching on campus at the Marshall Student Center amphitheater Tuesday followed by a similar presentation outside Cooper Hall on Wednesday. Her husband, Jed, said they will be returning to campus Thursday.
Wednesday’s three-hour presentation, which lasted from 1-4 p.m., touched on topics such as the dangers of pre-marital sex, the LGBTQ community and the power of Jesus and religion, mostly told through anecdotes.
Some students found the presentation to be satirical and intentionally funny, as junior Holly Bates said Smock is an entertaining figure to listen to.
“I just love her presence. She’s truly an icon,” Bates said. “I saw her very first viral video on TikTok, and I’ve been following her since then because I just think she’s absolutely great.”
Junior Allie Charland said Smock’s speeches felt more on the lines of a comedy performance than a religious preaching ceremony.
“It’s more like making fun of her in a way. What she’s doing and what she’s saying isn’t OK, but I think the way she’s performing it makes it feel like it’s a comedy show.”
Smock’s stories regarding the LGBTQ community drew the largest reactions from the crowd. Charland said her favorite part of the performance was when Smock considered herself an ally.
“Brother Jed and I love the gays, but not in a gay way,” Smock said. “The reason I wasn’t a lesbian in the 70s was because it wasn’t ‘it’ to be a lesbian back then. Yes, I’m a gay icon.”
Crowd interactions occurred frequently, something global business major Ashley Griffith said provided her with the most memorable moment in the speech when Smock spoke to her directly.
“My favorite part was when she called me a wicked woman and said I would be the next ‘Sister Cindy,’” she said. “[It was] because I have crystals and tarot cards, so she said I was her best congregational member.”
Staying on-brand to her infamous speaking style, Smock told the story of a date she went on with her husband in 1976.
She spoke about how he prayed with her in their parked car, and although she wanted to kiss him that night, he refused to do it due to his religious beliefs.
“He got out of the car, opened my door, escorted me to my door and said goodnight. All I got was a side hug,” she said.
“Let me be honest, I did get a little more than a side hug. I got to meet a man with integrity. I got to meet a man who would honor and respect me. And I got to meet a man who truly loves Jesus.”
Her speeches typically reflect her own personal experiences, as she spoke about how when she studied at UF, she hadn’t yet truly formed into the religious icon she proclaims herself to be today.
The morals of most of her anecdotes include abstaining from sexual encounters and learning from what she calls her ‘past mistakes’ of indulging in desires she considers go against the Bible.
Sophomore Lev Funkhousr said they think those morals can be dangerous to spread around, even if some students don’t take Smock seriously.
“You’re giving a platform to hate groups to spread their ideologies, even if it’s a joke,” Funkhousr said. “There are those few select people who are going to listen to what she says and they could take it to heart.”
Funkhousr said they believe Smock’s messaging can be harmful for people to hear, and her stances on certain issues are mocked due to how misguided they are.
“I think the most harmful thing is the messages she keeps spreading, especially about homosexuality,” Funkhousr said. “I’m positive that a good portion of the people in this crowd are LGBTQ and they come out here and make fun of her because of the fact that Sister Cindy spreads such misinformation about homosexuality.
“You’re allowing them to spread misinformation that can cause harm, especially to the youth of LGBTQ on campus, because we already have plenty of hate groups on campus. I know she has a right to free speech, but that doesn’t make her free speech right.”
Smock’s speeches were also seen as harmful to social work major Tyler Gillepsie who said the reason behind her popularity was because it gives students a new platform to express their disapproval in a satirical way.
“I think [Smock] has become a rallying point for these different communities mainly because the LGBTQ community for the longest time has become persecuted, especially in homes and in families,” Gillepsie said.
“But now people in these communities are on their own, and they’re actually able to explore their identity and explore their beliefs and explore basically how they should go about the world, and this allows them an area where they are able to kind of combat this.”
Once the speech ended, Smock opened the floor for students to take pictures with her or have her sign items of their choice.
Griffith said she had Smock sign her pride flags for satirical reasons due to Smock’s general beliefs about the LGBTQ community.
“I feel like it’s kind of ironic to have a person who hates gay and bisexual people sign a gay and bisexual flag. It’s kind of powerful,” she said. “It’s even more ironic that she said she’s a gay icon.”
The speech had a different tone compared to other religious speakers at the university, according to Griffith. She said that although Smock’s core beliefs are problematic, Griffith feels Smock provides a lot of humor for students as opposed to getting in their faces.
“I feel like her visit is good fun and satire, but her actually believing in this kind of stuff is harmful,” she said. “But there were [other religious speakers] from Tennessee last week that were harassing students. [Smock] is very chill, and she just puts on a show.”
Smock’s appearance at the university is mostly good fun, according to Charland, as she said her speeches provide self-aware laughter for students.
“I just feel like it’s complete satire. I cannot believe it’s real, honestly, because I’ve seen many people come on campus and preach their values and it’s never [drawn] a crowd like this,” Charland said.
“People are cheering. So I think it’s just some good comedy, because I don’t think anybody’s taking it to heart.”