Conviction & Condemnation: Thoughts on the Preacher Assault from Christian Students

In Sept. 2014, a preacher who goes by the name “Shawn the Baptist” was pepper-sprayed on campus. More recently, multiple fights have been started surrounding a preacher on the mall and bystanders have again resorted to violence as evidence of their disapproval. According to his website, Shawn the Baptist believes that “A world view of tolerance and universalism are rampant at universities. If a student is a Christian on a University they are often times ridiculed because of having a biblical worldview.” Considering that tolerance is “a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward opinions, beliefs and practices that differ from one’s own,” Shawn the Baptist is essentially the Antichrist of his own personal view of universities, preaching condemnation in the “open-air” to all that surround him.

While he is correct in asserting that Christians are far less accepted on modern university campuses than they used to be, he is wrong in assuming that universities are centers for tolerance and universalism. In an ideal world, universities would be hubs of tolerance and universalism. Universities are a place where young adults should have the ability to discover the world around them, and tolerance creates an environment where they can explore their options safely. Unfortunately, both Shawn the Baptist and his attackers have proven that this is not the case.

Shawn the Baptist believes that “one of the most loving things he can do is to tell others about his risen Saviour.”  Because he approaches this calling through a window of aggression and condemnation, he rubs a lot of people the wrong way–for good reason. When one’s beliefs are criticized, judged or insulted, as Shawn the Baptist does to nearly everyone who walks past him, the instinctive response is to defend oneself with equal vigor and aggression. In an open-minded culture tension and even direct opposition between beliefs should lead to introspection and, ultimately, a better understanding of why one believes in something. While this is apparently the goal of Shawn the Baptist, the way he approaches it is entirely contradictory to his beliefs as a Christian and is not conducive to spreading God’s love.

When he attacked fellow students due to an apparent “slur” surrounding a preacher in front of Montana Hall last week, MSU senior Allen Tarkon failed to condemn the slur and further validated what was said. Martin Luther King Jr., who derived his pacifist views from Jesus, believed that violence was the wrong way to confront important issues for two main reasons. When one responds in a violent rage, they are essentially welcoming more violence in return. The idea that a fundamental issue of humanity can be fixed with a response more fit to the rest of the animal kingdom is just wrong, and minimizes the humanity involved in the issue. Humans are innately humane towards other humans; in order to act violently against another human being, one must first reduce them to a level below their own.

As intellectuals, we should encourage a questioning mind but as morally conscious beings, we should do it in a more appropriate way that is conducive to a free exchange of ideas. Shawn the Baptist represents himself as someone who has no desire to respect other beliefs. It is difficult to respect someone when they don’t demonstrate respect for others. Especially as Christians, we find this repulsive. God calls us to love others as He loved us. This means respecting their choices, even if we don’t agree with them. We chose to be Christian but others chose to be Muslim, Buddhist, atheist etc. It would be wrong to force our beliefs on others just as it would be wrong for them to force their beliefs on us. Instead, one should focus on highlighting the similarities and understanding the differences.

In choosing to be Christians, we, the writers, are choosing to admit our imperfections. We are choosing to admit that our lives are not complete or whole or perfect, but that there is a perfect God willing to accept our flaws. When we call ourselves Christians, it is a declaration that we accept His love knowing that we don’t deserve it. God tolerates us, so we can tolerate Shawn the Baptist.
Bravo, Shawn the Baptist, for further validating what it means to be a Christian on a university campus. It means being condemned by believers and nonbelievers alike, but choosing to have faith anyways. However, in doing so you have also created the atmosphere of intolerance that you apparently like so much. One of the cornerstones of Christianity is free will. The choice to believe is just as sacred as the belief itself. We choose to believe (whatever we want).