By Haley Hulett, Contributing Writer
My heart sank when I saw the street “preachers” back on Asbury’s campus this week. Their message of spite and hate is familiar to upperclassmen who have been subjected to their accusations and yelling over the years, but for students who are not as familiar with them, they come to Asbury (and other college campuses) for the sole reason of “converting” people to repentance by calling them names and using graphic examples to describe their supposed sins.
They take this passage to the extreme by calling people names and saying things too inappropriate to print in this venue. In my opinion, they have no resemblance to the Christ that I want to believe is real.
However, their appearance on campus was personal for me. Standing alongside Brother Jed and his followers was the headmaster of my old homeschool group. I attended a Christian homeschool group in high school that he was in charge of, and while I have never personally met Brother Jed, I was subjected to teachings that, while not quite as extreme, resembled his.
“Their appearance on campus was personal for me.”
The homeschool group I went to (I will call it my school) was run by a church that the headmaster was the pastor of. Walking into their before-school summer camp for the first time with a suitcase full of t-shirts and long shorts, my thirteen-year-old self was excited to be a part of a group that was known for their rigorous academics and classical approach to education. The realization that my life would be changed in much more unpalatable ways because of their ideas did not occur to me for several more years.
The promise of strenuous academics was effectively delivered, and as I approached my senior year, I felt very well prepared for college. Throughout my four years at the school, I met new friends and strengthened my bonds with old ones. In those respects, I am glad I had that experience. But there was one aspect of the school that I did not realize would have such an impact on me: their religion.
The fact that I grew up in church, and that my family was deeply religious led me to have no initial apprehensions about the ideals that I was exposed to. However, as the years went on, I suddenly started feeling uneasy about the approach to Christianity they were taking.
Our headmaster enforced the many rules we had, our strict dress code, and our “no dating within the school” policy. An emphasis was placed on sin and rules, while God’s love and compassion were rarely mentioned.
Like most 13 and 14 year olds, I believed what they were saying without question. Of course God hated sin. Of course He wanted us to be holy. Of course we needed to be “set apart” for Him. These views did not seem radical enough for me to be skeptical in the beginning, and there was no outward display of hatred or name calling that I was aware of.
I remember the first time something they said that struck me as theologically wrong. One of my classmate’s fathers (he was also a fellow pastor and personal friend of the headmaster) was speaking during chapel, and I remember enjoying his talk until he said something strange. He began to explain to us that God loved some people more than others, and that the people who were most obedient to Him were His favorites. This, along with a few other minor incidents, was the beginning of my feelings of suspicion about what the school was teaching.
While attending senior seminar, I started paying more attention to the other ideas that we were being taught. In chapel, we were repeatedly told that our happiness did not matter at all; all that mattered was our constant and complete obedience to God. We were told that forgetfulness was a sin; in fact, it seemed that almost everything was sinful.
They enforced the idea that women had to take extreme precautions to be modest and not tempt boys with their bodies. At one of our modesty talks at camp, I, terrified of getting in trouble, asked an older female leader if my shorts were too short. She replied that they were, and that she and the headmaster had been talking about them the night before, making me acutely uncomfortable.
I remember the first time something they said that struck me as theologically wrong.
I began to realize how controlling the church was by telling its members what they could and could not wear, watch and do. The headmaster and the elders of the church dictated this, and their need for control bled over into the school.
I wish I had seen this sooner, and had saved myself from years of a joyless high school existence. I realized that throughout all of my years there, through countless hours of listening to their preaching, I rarely felt any closer to God or that He loved me. To my parents’ credit, they were completely unaware of what we were being taught. Once I opened up to them and let them know what was going on within the school, they immediately began to look into it further. I left the school for good with one semester left, and I never regretted it.
I will say that their teachings do not have such a drastic effect on everyone, but I do know many people that have been as negatively affected by them as I have.
It has been years since I have stepped into the tiny church where the school met, but the effects have been long term. I still tense up involuntarily when I hear someone talking about rules or obedience to God. Some parts of Christianity still turn me away. I want to believe that my old headmaster and Brother Jed and his followers have good intentions, and that they truly think what they are teaching is right. However, an extremely misguided view of Christianity combined with a desire and need for control, stemming from a fear of the world and of opposing mindsets, pervades their message. It may not be their mission, but their teaching oppresses, judges and can cause people to live unhappy, unfulfilled lives.
(Brother Jed’s website is brojed.org)