Fire and Brimstone, Not Fireball and Weed: Brother Jed Returns to Texas Tech

By Haylee Uptergrove

There is a certain ruckus to be heard in the Free Speech Area this week.

Anyone walking by the Student Union Building Tuesday afternoon could hear the combative voices of students clashing with the older, more measured tones of a few choice visitors who visit campus once a year.

“God does love people, in the sense that he died for them, for everyone,” he said.

This particular speaker is bedecked in clothing more fitting for a pulpit than a college campus. In black slacks, a grey sweater, a fitted black coat and a black top hat perched on his head, Brother Mikhail continued his impassioned words.

“But God… But God — hold on, let’s not get so emotional here,” he paused, grinning at the students encircling him as they continued to shout at him. “But God does not have a loving relationship with you if you’re not a Christian.”

The reaction of the crowd is instantaneous and angry, mixed cries of “What?” and “Who do you think you are?” echoing through the courtyard. It is clear that the students disagree, and they have no qualms in voicing their opinions to Brother Mikhail.

The debate continued, all watched from a distance by the spectacled man known commonly as Brother Jed.

Brother Jed preaching to students on Texas Tech’s campus in 2016. Maddy McCarty/The Hub@TTU

George Edward Smock, Brother Jed for short, has devoted the last 45 years of his life to traveling across college campuses, preaching the Word of God in a way that he describes as “confrontational evangelism” on his website, brojed.org.

This week, Brother Jed has chosen Texas Tech as his field ripe for the harvest, bringing with him his wife, Sister Cindy, and Brother Mikhail, an intern of sorts for the couple.

They can be found in the Free Speech Area, and heard much farther than that, preaching in a way that makes many refer to as “hate speech.”

However, Brother Jed said he does not see it that way.

“It’s a part of being a Christian,” Brother Jed said. “It’s called the Great Commission.”

Brother Jed is referring to the last passage in the book of Matthew in the Bible, chapter eight, verses 16 through 20.

“The last thing Jesus said to his disciples before ascending into heaven was ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,’” he said. “‘He that believes and is baptized will be saved. He that does not believe will be damned.’”

Brother Jed has wasted no time in preaching this message on Tech’s campus, much to the dismay of many students who do not agree with the street preacher.

Lauren Swanson, an anthropology major who spent 40 minutes engaged in a heated debate with Brother Mikhail on Tuesday, said the method Brother Jed uses to draw people to religion tends to have the exact opposite effect.

“They think that they’re trying to accomplish something by making people open their eyes and making them understand things,” she said, “but they don’t understand that they’re actually driving them away because of how radical they are.”

Swanson said she thinks the central messages of Christianity — such as hope, love, kindness, and forgiveness — are not demonstrated through Brother Jed’s actions and words.

“No, that’s not a good example at all,” she said.

Swanson was also quick to point out that Brother Jed in no way embodies the way Jesus Christ lived during the time of his ministry on Earth.

“Jesus was a giver of peace,” she said. “He was ultimate peace, and they’re the opposites.”

However, in Brother Mikhail’s eyes, what he and Brother Jed are accomplishing is exactly what Christ has commanded them to do.

“We do expect that most people will reject it [the message] like they rejected Jesus Christ,” he said.  “Most people rejected Jesus. Most people reject truth. They don’t want to change. They want to live their own life.”

Mikhail said college students are the target of their ministry because they are the ones who will eventually become leaders in society.

“We care about these students,” he said. “Students are the future of America. They’re going to be the future presidents, lawyers, businessmen, and we want them to be Christians. We want them to be a Godly influence.”

According to research, Mikhail’s concerns are not unfounded.

A study from LifeWay Research reveals that more than two-thirds of young adults who attend a Protestant church for at least a year in high school will stop attending church regularly for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.

Likewise, a study published by the Social Science Research Council shows that 64 percent of students currently enrolled in traditional four-year institutions have curbed their church attendance habits since starting college.

Reasons for this dropout rate stem from simply not wanting to get up early on a Sunday morning to changing their beliefs due to being exposed to new influences and belief systems they previously may have not seen.

It is because of findings like these that Brother Jed said his ministry is so necessary. He said he believes this is what the students need to hear, even if they do not like it.

“We’re encouraged really by the response of the students, that they are bothered by it,” he said. “They show some conviction, they get angry. All that is good. It’s pricking their conscience.”

Their main goal, Brother Jed said, is to spark conversation about Christianity on Tech’s campus.

“It’s making Christianity an issue on campus,” he said. “I noticed there was an article in the school paper today where a fellow Christian had said that it opened up many opportunities for them to witness. It makes people ask each other, ‘What do you think of Brother Jed?’ and it starts a conversation.”

However, some students, such as business major Nick Russell, worry that the conversation Brother Jed is sparking is not a good one.

“It does stir up conversation,” Russell said, “but when you come like this, it really creates division in the church.”

That is a very big problem, Russell said, and the way Brother Jed is preaching on campus does not help.

“When he comes, he does stir up conversation, but this is just gonna lead people away from Jesus,” he said. “In Romans, it says loving kindness leads to repentance, and the love of Christ. You have to first love people and build a relationship and then bring truth.”

Russell said he wants to make it very clear that the way Brother Jed speaks to students is not the way Jesus would.

“He’s identifying these people by their sin, and Jesus doesn’t identify us with sin,” he said. “He paid the price, he died on the cross because he loves us, not because we’re some wretched sinners.”

It is not a matter of whether Brother Jed is preaching the correct gospel, Russell said. What is important is the way he is doing it.

“You can be very right theologically,” he said, “but be very wrong about how you approach it.”

While Russell’s feelings mirror those of the students who circled Brother Jed and Brother Mikhail on Tuesday, Brother Jed said he is not discouraged.

“I understand our ministry is a conversation in some of the classrooms around campus and so that’s a start,” he said. “You gotta get people thinking.”

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Comments

  1. Courtney Plunk says:

    Great article!! Really enjoyed reading this, and loved seeing all the different viewpoints. Super great journalism!!

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