Gaston: Evangelist interactions on campus don’t respect differing beliefs

Sam Gaston

We’ve all been here: You’re walking through the plaza and someone stops you on your way to class.

“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” Sure, they’re probably lost and you have enough time to point someone in the right direction, so you say “yes.”

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“Do you believe in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ?”

Wait…what?

When I first came to campus, I could not believe that people had the audacity to push their religion down my throat like nasty medicine. My next thought was, “Who allows you to be here?” (Insert Mean Girls’ “She doesn’t even go here.”). Considering that CSU is a public university, the plaza is a place anyone is able to practice free speech. The evangelists take advantage of this in a way so that no one can intervene because they are not physically violent or causing harm.

They are the Mean Girls of today. Don’t fit the mold to join the “perfect” clique? You’re going to hell. People hold the right to practice a religion, or to not have one, and believe in whatever we want under the First Amendment. Only when others try to challenge our beliefs or tell us that we’re wrong does this become an issue. 

It is difficult to not be frustrated with the street preachers and interviewers. Putting the controversial concept of religion aside, the reason many of us find them frustrating is because of their inability to accept anyone else’s viewpoint unless it corresponds with their own. For example, I hate country music. I hate when people tell me that it’s wrong or I shouldn’t hate it because I could argue back that it’s equally wrong of them to love country music. However, that argument does not benefit either party. 

When people open up about something as personal as religion or their beliefs (or lack thereof), their audience should have open ears. The evangelists ask, you answer, and if they don’t agree, you’re immediately shut down. This is not to say every evangelist adheres to this stereotype, but most of the confrontations tend to go this way. 

Our niche is part of our identity. It is our “clique.” It could be Greek Life, student organizations, activist and identity clubs on campus or athletics. Likewise, some may feel their religion has the same function, but are scared to express that because they feel they don’t fit the mold the evangelists have created.

There are two sides to every argument, and what one person sees, someone else may perceive differently. I got the opportunity to speak to Michaela Good, a youth group leader on campus. Though she admitted she does not agree with all of their methods, Michaela does agree with their mission.

In regards to why the evangelists do what they do, she shared with me a quote from famous magician and actor Penn Jillette, whom identifies as Athiest, that reads, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” 

Michaela told me that she spoke to a street preacher on campus, and when she asked him why they go about about evangelism this way, he said they don’t want anyone to go to hell and want to share what they believe to be the true word of God. 

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When I asked Michaela how she feels about the street preachers impacting students views on religion, she said, “I believe it creates an opportunity for them to think about God.” She also believes that the preachers “stir up” people’s emotions surrounding God and religion. 

Though some points of her argument are valid, I find it hard to believe that this is the only way, and the best way, to go about it. How good could someone intentions be if they feel the need to be hateful towards others? There are more persuading ways to have others hear their message than what we have seen. Since they do have the right to continue these methods, we shouldn’t expect a change. However, if they want their message to be heard, or, even better — understood — then going about it a different way wouldn’t hurt. If they really want to create opportunity, their methods need a complete overhaul.

As college students, we are exposed to a very diversified environment that is filled with opposing view points. And ideally, at this point, the majority of us have learned to uphold a mixture of maturity, respect, and consideration of others that keep us from doing what the evangelists on campus do. I understand that not everyone feels the same, and people withhold the right to agree with the evangelists. Keeping this in mind, though, how would you want to be spoken to? The key word is to, not spoken at. Respect is something most people value, and it’s time to see evangelists demonstrate what respect they have to their audience because it is possible to do that and still deliver their message.

Remember that while the evangelists are retaining their right to free speech, you also have the right to practice your own religion, or to not have one. So next time you are approached by an interviewer or hear an angry street preacher, know that only you have the power to change your stance on your beliefs. So while the Regina George-esque evangelists continue to recruit for their cliques, just remember that the bigger, wider world still needs and values the whole spectrum including the nerds, jocks and band geeks. 

Collegian Columnist Sam Gaston can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @SammyGaston.