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Turning The Tables

November 4, 2010

Students protest preacher on his turf

By Jenna Ross, Star Tribune

He — or someone like him — is a fixture on a campus near you.

The Rev. John Chisham, called “John the Baptist,” tours public colleges preaching, a Bible in one hand and a sign in the other.

This fall, students at the Minnesota State University, Mankato, took offense at his words about gay people and women and decided to act.

“It was a lot of nonsense,” said Tara Mitchell, a 22-year-old sophomore. “Hateful stuff.”

They knew they couldn’t get Chisham kicked off campus; public colleges can’t regulate who says what on their property. So after a conversation with James Dimock, associate professor of communications studies, the group decided to challenge Chisham on his turf.

They attended his Sunday service in the YMCA in Marshall, silently carrying signs.

Mitchell, a lesbian, held a sign with the name of Seth Walsh, a bullied gay teen who killed himself. Another sign quoted Chisham himself: “Women have small brains.”

“They wanted to look into people’s eyes and make them see,” Dimock said. “They wanted them to not be able to look away.”

On his website, Chisham argued that the students’ move was “an inappropriate assault on the congregation.”

“What if the tables had been turned?” he wrote. “What if the Professor had invited me to his class, and I brought a dozen of my friends holding up signs of the Christians who had been murdered by Islam in the last year?”

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Personally, I find this story both amusing and fascinating all at the same time. Mr. Chisham’s ironic question “what if the tables had been turned” has been answered, although not in the way he would obviously like.

I understand the passion of so-called “street preachers”. I just think both their methods and their ultimate goal are off. One of my favorite pastors is Rob Bell. The man gets a lot of flack from people who I’m sure would be big fans of Mr. Chisham, but he makes a great point about the gospel that I think all street preachers would do good to hear. The truth of the gospel doesn’t lie in an elaborate philosophical argument,  our ability to convince people that God exists, or even, and maybe especially, in our ability to convince people that they’re going to go to hell. The truth of the gospel is found in our lives, in the transformation that occurs and is seen and  is shared shared with the world. Our lives are the good news. We are the gospel. (My paraphrase)

The good news we are called to share with the world must be shared through more than a quick sales pitch and it must result in much more than a “conversion.” The good news must be lived out for all to see and experience, so that they too may be transformed by it and join us, not as converts, but as disciples of a living and loving God.

If we really want to proclaim the good news, then maybe we should begin by putting down our signs, end our street side proclamations of hell fire and brimstone and instead learn to love and serve those people we have for so long hated and abused.

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