COLUMBIA — Speakers Circle evangelist Brother Jed and a Baptist preacher squared off Monday night in front of an audience of nearly 200 students and a handful of Columbians.
The moderated debate about the effectiveness of confrontational evangelism is part of the weeklong “School of Evangelism,” organized by Brother Jed, formally George Smock.
Brian Kaylor, the Baptist preacher, is a doctoral candidate at MU. When passing by Speakers Circle last spring, Kaylor handed Brother Jed a copy of his book, “For God’s Sake, Shut Up!” published in February. The book caught Smock’s eye, and the debate was born.
“Confrontation is not an effective strategy,” Kaylor said as he shuffled his papers, preparing for the debate.
The majority in attendance were self-proclaimed Christians. Three MU juniors, some tattooed with scripture, huddled around a copy of the Bible, waiting for the debate to begin.
“We’re here to see if Jesus wins or not,” said Michael Chandler laughing.
“We don’t believe in what Brother Jed says. I think he forces the gospel down their throat,” Chandler said more seriously.
Smock spent 33 years traveling across the country for campus evangelism.
“I’m out there defending God against his critics,” Smock said Monday. “And I think I do a good job at what I do.”
“I want people to know I’m talking to them. I like to personalize my message,” Smock said in response to criticism of his finger-pointing, name-calling style of evangelism. “They look like street prostitutes.”
When asked by an audience member what his greatest weakness was, Smock replied, “I think I’ve been too nice to you people.”
“I think Speaker’s Circle produces a whole lot of noise,” Kaylor rebutted. “Are we being hated and attacked and despised because of our message or because of our method?”
Kaylor added that love is not being communicated.
“That cup of coffee is a whole lot more effective than these signs or these banners,” Kaylor said. “It’s important that we’re keeping up with our culture so we can reach them where they are.”
The night wasn’t without theatrics. The banners were hung and T-shirts sported aphorisms like “Turn to Jesus or Burn.”Midway through the debate, shouting erupted and Discovery Channel cameras swam through the crowd documenting the event for an upcoming feature on street preaching. Moderator Nick Pretnar, a junior at MU and a friend of Smock’s, donned his aviators as the debate wrapped up and eeny, meeny, miny, moe’d to choose the final questioner.
At the end, Smock declared, “No, I’m not going to change my ways.”