Last weekend, a small team of evangelists from a group called Cheap Missions Trips came to Vanderbilt’s campus to “save the lost.” They drove around Greek Row with microphones and a speaker, trying to convince the tailgating students to turn from their sinful ways and follow God. A video was posted on Youtube by the organization, but they apparently removed the video after the dramatic response. However, it has since gone viral, reposted by Vanderbilt students on Youtube, Facebook, Tumblr, and a myriad of other social networking sites. The reactions range from Greek students who find the whole thing to be a joke to Christian students who are disturbed and slightly embarrassed by what they see as a distortion of their faith.
The evangelizers appear to be a man and a woman with two small children in tow, possibly a family. The video begins as they’re driving onto campus; the woman says that they’ve come to Vanderbilt to help these young people see the error of their ways. She comments that she can smell the beer from the fraternity lawns, and that parents who send their children to college also need to repent. Their message for the students is primarily that “no drunkard shall enter the kingdom of heaven” and that the young ladies should “put some clothes on.” First in their car, then on the sidewalk, they spread their message with a portable speaker and a sign, engaging in multiple one on one conversations with students before the campus police apparently asked them to move on, at which point the video stops, ending with the text of Ezekiel 33:8-9 and the URL for the Cheap Missions Trips website.
When I find myself so seriously offended by something like this, I try to take a step back and think about exactly what is so offensive about it. So I’ve spent some time trying to name exactly what it is that’s bothering me about this video and the actions of the people in it. Well, for starters, the video is titled “Caring for the Lost at Vanderbilt,” and no one is doing any caring for anyone. Shouting at people that they’re going to hell is not a way to demonstrate care. The negative way in which these individuals are presenting the Gospel is also problematic. Their entire message is a list of all the things that their intended targets are doing wrong, a list of accusations thrown out at people rather than endeavoring to seek a conversation about what an individual’s world is like, and what they might be seeking that we can walk alongside them in. For that matter, the list of accusations is quite literally thrown out, and no conversation is being sought at all; these individuals spend about half the video shouting from their car, seemingly intentionally avoiding any interaction with these “sinners.” Even when they’re on the sidewalk, they’re not really listening to the young people they’re talking to. Not to mention the fact that, beyond tactics, I don’t agree with their theology in and of itself. Drinking alcohol, dancing, and wearing sundresses are not inherently sinful activities, at least not the way I read scripture. They are all things that can be done in an irresponsible way, but that’s a completely different issue.
If you ask me, the Word of God is being distorted by these “preachers;” it’s not even being misrepresented so much as its not being presented at all. From what I could understand of the conversations recorded in the ten-minute video, an actual, direct quote from scripture is not used once, and an actual Bible doesn’t even make an appearance. They are twisting the message of Christ into a message of condemnation of all who behave in a way that these two people disapprove of. I found the video profoundly disturbing, and could hardly make it through the whole thing.
Now, I am a Baptist, so I fully acknowledge anyone’s right to come to any theological conclusion they want, even if it doesn’t agree with my own. The problem is that we as the Church are part of a big, huge, complicated world, and ultimately we’re called to bring Love into that world. There are a lot of different issues we can choose to tackle in trying to bring Love into the world; we have to learn to prioritize. So if I could speak to the evangelists that came to Vanderbilt last weekend I would say this. You live in a city where more than 2,000 men, women, and children are sleeping without a roof over their head every night. You live in a state where 87 people are sitting on death row. You live in a country where an estimated 43.6 million people live below the poverty line. You can believe that the young people partying on Greek Row are sinners, but if you want to truly live out the Gospel, Cheap Missions Trips, you need to do some serious reprioritizing.
Note: I graduated from Vanderbilt University in May of this year, and am now a first year Masters student at Vanderbilt Divinity School. The views in this post are my own and not those of my Alma Mater or current school. I also recognize that the views and tactics I am discussing here were observed in two individual evangelists and may not necessarily reflect those of the organization they claim to represent; however, the name and website of the organization, Cheap Missions Trips, was posted at the end of the video, and to date the organization has not issued a retraction or any other response. The video may be viewed here.