On Thursday, September 16, a problematic preacher took to the streets of Ohio University. Standing across from the Baker Center, the man collected quite the angry crowd with his colorful sign that read, "Jesus saves from hell." He was there evangelizing the world through the words of Jesus Christ, right?
When Christian street preachers decide to go out and tell the world the message of Jesus, their intention is to bring the light of Christ into the lives of others. After all, Jesus said to go out and spread the good news. Mark 16:15 even says, "And he said to them, 'Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.'" But was this preacher actually doing more harm than good?
Based on the chaotic scene that erupted around the preacher, it would seem like not much light or good news was brought to campus that day. While the preacher shouted, the students screamed back louder - often with profanity- to drown him out. He was blocked from sight with signs and even doused with an entire bottle of water. The situation truly escalated into an immature shouting match. Both sides seemed filled with hate to the point that any passers-by would want to distance themselves entirely.
At one point during the ruckus, I heard the street preacher tell a self-proclaimed Christian that he was not a true Christian because the student sins. In a recent address, Pope Francis recognized that "we are all poor sinners in need of God's mercy, which has the strength to transform us and radiate hope to us every day." The street preacher's words did not inspire me with hope but left me feeling hopeless. I know that I am not perfect. I know that I sin, but I also know that there is a God who is willing to love me. He chooses me and offers to embrace me, especially when I wander far away from Him.
The preacher's poor interpretation of the Bible placed him in a position higher than God – and these poisonous words led to a backlash. The problem is that the preacher added his own distorted view of the world onto God's truth, which resulted in false teachings. Even the apostles used street preaching, but when they did it, we could still find God's love even when riots and persecutions arose.
In the end, hearing the street preacher's portrayal of Jesus didn't bring unity, peace, or love: it brought about an attack on Jesus' name that afternoon. The preacher's bad theology only seemed to lead to an eruption of hate from everyone involved. Christians were embarrassed. Non-Christians were only confirmed in thinking that anyone who believes in Jesus is judgmental, condemnatory, and deserves to be labeled as "crazy."
Even though each side only intended to bring about good, only chaos could be found in front of Baker that day and it really saddens my heart. Moving forward, I think that if we really want to bring Jesus to people, we should live out the love and joy that he showed in his own street preaching.
No matter if you believe in Christ or not, we can find in him an example of how to respond to situations filled with hate. Jesus and his followers faced death threats, malicious words, ostracization, and for most of them – death. In all of this, they chose to love. They found peace in this choice. And we can find that peace when we reject responding to hate with hate. No matter what kind of hardships came their way, Jesus and his followers still chose to love even when it was hard, and it changed the world.
Maybe we could try to be different – especially when confronted with someone with whom we deeply disagree. Responding to hate with hate only hurts us in the end – our ability to love weakens when we choose it. Our futures don't have to be dictated by hearts filled with hate – we can choose to love. We can choose to love even those who hate us. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…" (Matthew 5:43-44).
The future will be different if we make the present different. -Peter Maurin