Can a (Mostly) Silent Protest Work?

Recently, Iowa State University’s Atheist and Agnostic Society heard that a certain Christian preacher, Tom Short, was visiting their campus. Short is one of those guys who thinks everyone who doesn’t believe exactly what he does is doomed. Listening doesn’t appear to be one of his strengths.

So what is an atheist group to do? You might expect them to stage a protest — Short would be allowed his free speech, but nearby, you’d hear the atheist group offering a different point of view.

That’s not exactly what AAS did…

They staged a “(Mostly) Silent Protest,” choosing not to debate Short as a group. Instead, they held up signs for passers-by to see. They even invited religious groups to join them — several did.

Members of the group sat around Short while he talked in front of the Hub, holding signs advocating acceptance of different viewpoints, among other things.

Brian Gress, junior in psychology, said the protest was a change of pace for the group.

“Usually we try and speak with him, but that doesn’t seem to accomplish much,” he said.

Jim Shirbroun, pastor at the Collegiate United Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation, said Short’s combative approach to non-Christian viewpoints is ultimately doing more harm than good.

“I’ve heard a lot about him, but today is the first time I’ve heard him speak. He definitely comes at theology from a very different angle than I do,” he said. “I think he’s really just turning people off of Christianity.”

Not everyone chose to remain silent, but the president of the atheist group, Anastasia Bodnar, still says this was a very successful event:

… AAS supplied both protesters and supporters of Tom with cardstock and crayons on which to express their own ideas. We also handed out quarter sheet flyers advertising our upcoming Your Choice, Our Voice event.

Some of the attendees didn’t stay silent, as was their right. Some attempted to engage Tom in debate, but these attempts often ended with Tom saying “stop distracting me”. Some members of the Alliance spoke out in favor of equality regarding to LGBT rights. There was also a young self-described Christian prophet who attempted to use humor and his skateboard as a counterpoint to Tom’s speech, but ended up being escorted away by police.

All in all, the members of the AAS that attended were quiet, choosing to converse among ourselves and fellow protesters, displaying our signs…

Tom Short wrote up a piece of his own on the event. He doesn’t seem to understand there was a protest going on:

Literally hundreds of students sat respectfully and listened as I presented why I believe Christ rose from the dead, why Jesus is different from all other people who have ever lived (including all other religious leaders), why I believe God created us, answered questions about the Bible and publicly portrayed Christ as crucified. I actually had quite lengthy times to simply preach on topics like my testimony, the nature and tactics of our Adversary (Satan), the importance of God being at the center of our worldview, how God has blessed my marriage in both good and bad times, what Judgment Day will look like, hell, heaven, grace and a whole host of other topics. It was difficult to bring each day to a conclusion as the students simply wanted to keep going, but I called it quits each day around 6:00 or so in order to make it to my evening meetings.

I’m sure the students loved him…

On a side note, I *really* like this idea of how to passive-aggressively deal with a campus preacher:

“About five years ago, some students came up with Tom Short bingo cards. Each card had a mix of the same words, phrases and ideas that he uses… When Tom showed up that year, they distributed the cards, played bingo, and gave candy to the winners.”

It’s a win-win for everybody!

(via the Secular Student Alliance)

  • Skeptimal

    There was a guy like this at my campus years ago. I was never sure if he was serious or not, because he seemed so far out that it became funny.

    A lot of the guys tried to draw him out on the subject of “polishing his rocket” (his term), which he swore he never did.

  • Peter

    I absolutely love the Bingo idea.

  • Spurs Fan

    When I was a Christian in college, I was a part of the group that hosted Tom Short. Even then, I had issues with him, espcially his marriage of Christianity, economic conservatism, and jingostic ideas of foreign policy.

  • http://blaghag.blogspot.com Jennifurret

    Oh god, I love the bingo card idea. I will plan those this summer for the next time Rev. Jed comes to visit (which he always does). One will definitely be “Uses electrical cords as a metaphor for gay sex.”

  • Robin

    Perhaps they would have gotten the point across to him by being silent, holding signs, and facing away from him. I love the visual of this guy preaching away to a crowd of people’s backs.

  • Richard Wade

    “I think he’s really just turning people off of Christianity.” -Pastor Jim Shirbroun

    GO TOM!

  • Larry Huffman

    I do love the bingo card idea…but only for people who have already proven to be repetetive, etc.

    I guess maybe I am not understanding the situation properly. This guy was a speaker, invited by some campus group to speak? If that is the case…would it not always be proper to be silent and refrain from audible protests while the guy is actually speaking? Would we not want and expect the same thing for an atheist speaker?

    I would support protesting outside the speaker’s venue…protesting and openly debating the guy afterwards…etc. But during…I would side on respectfully allowing him to finish (since a campus group has paid money or taken the time to set this up).

    And, if it is true that this guy does more to keep people away from christianity…then it would be in an atheist’s best interest to shut up and let him speak.

    Whenever I see someone protest or speak over someone who is at a podium presenting…I think it makes the protester look rude and out of line…all of the time…regardless what side of an issue they are on. Much better to be respectful and allow them to finish. There is a time to protest and a time to be respectful of other people…and their ideology should not alter when those times are.

  • Christina

    We had one of these guys at my college campus. He used to rant about the sinfulness of rock music. A local band recorded him and his decrying of “rock n roll music” ended up opening one of their CDs.

  • bigjohn756

    I think the bingo card is a great idea. Except instead of giving candy, award helium balloons with your group’s logo or initials on them. Having your bingo people scattered around in the crowd might add some impact, too.

  • Sam

    I was at ISU for Tom Short’s preaching. The hundreds of students were not all protesters. There was a mix of Christians, atheists, LGBT, and many other students. I’m sure he was aware there was a protest going on. And actually, a large number of people asked him serious questions who were skeptical of his beliefs. So yes, it there was a mostly silent protest and a long Q & A discussion, with preaching in between.

  • David D.G.

    Larry Huffman wrote:

    I guess maybe I am not understanding the situation properly. This guy was a speaker, invited by some campus group to speak? If that is the case…would it not always be proper to be silent and refrain from audible protests while the guy is actually speaking? Would we not want and expect the same thing for an atheist speaker?

    Larry, my understanding of this is that the speaker is one of those “street preachers” who obtains permission from the university to speak in public, but is not necessarily endorsed or compensated by any organization on campus. We had such a preacher at my college (“Brother Jed” Smock, possibly the same Rev. Jed that Jennifurret mentioned), and his open-air sermons by the student union building always drew a crowd of hecklers. My understanding is that such people gain access to the school grounds through Free Speech and Free Assembly rights, but are generally missionaries from some organization outside of the school, rather than guests of school organizations.

    That said, you have a point about courtesy for someone speaking, but it’s a little hard to let someone rail on in public for hours without challenging anything he says, especially when much of it is laughable and/or offensive. There is no orderly “question and answer” session at which to raise issues; the street preacher spends his entire allotted time preaching.

    ~David D.G.

  • Larry Huffman

    David…agreed. I thought he was speaking as an invited guest of some club, organization or the school. If he is just a street preacher who is rambling on and on and has not formally been invited, then that is an entirely different story.

  • zoo

    I dunno about this guy, but I think he’s like David D.G. says. We had/have a guy like this at the school I attended and he would stand for hours on the “free-speech lawn” at least once a week screaming at everybody about all the things he assumed they were doing wrong. The people that engaged him mostly appeared to be making fun of him and/or disagreeing with him. I wonder how something like this would go there (except there’s no wondering about whether it would affect him at all, unfortunately).

  • Spurs Fan

    Larry, my understanding of this is that the speaker is one of those “street preachers” who obtains permission from the university to speak in public, but is not necessarily endorsed or compensated by any organization on campus.

    Tom Short is affilated with my old Christian crew, Great Commission Ministries (GCM), who focus heavily on planting churches and groups on college campuses. I don’t know for a fact, but there is a good chance ISU has a GCM group that invited him. I would surmise the “evening meetings” he was attending were small group meetings within the church, probably at someone’s home.

    I still have a lot of great friends in GCM churches, though of course, I have “fallen away” from their belief system.

  • http://blaghag.blogspot.com/ Jennifurret

    Yes, Jed Smock is the one I was mentioning. He comes to our campus at least once a year. My fondest memory is of him yelling “GENITAL WARTS!” at the top of his lungs randomly.

  • http://undiscoveredfuture.blogspot.com Rebecca

    Although I’m echoing many previous comments, I agree – the bingo idea is great!


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