A Message Lost and a Good Walk Spoiled

A Message Lost and a Good Walk Spoiled April 4, 2022

I’m just back from a nice week of spring break vacation. My wife and I spent the week in the southeast. On our way home, we made some stops in some places I’ve always wanted to visit but hadn’t yet. One of those places was Greenville, South Carolina. I’d been told by several people that Greenville is a cool town with some great places to walk. I wasn’t disappointed. There is a great area where a waterfalls flows right through the town. There are lovely walking paths with bridges and overlooks all around it. The main drag of the town is full of cool little shops, restaurants, and watering holes. There is a very strong vibe of a welcoming culture that permeates the atmosphere of Greenville. You get the sense that all are welcome…except…


As we walked along the street looking for a place to eat lunch, I heard a commotion on the other side of the street. It was a man shouting. I looked in that direction and saw a man wearing a sandwich board style sign warning all readers that they were bound for HELL. In fact, hell was the only word I could consistently make out coming from the man’s constant drone of babble. It was clear that most of the people on that side of the street were giving this man a wide berth. I’m sure the businesses near where he was stationed were not very appreciative of his judgmental ranting, potentially scaring away customers.


As I walked on past, I began to get a little angry. I couldn’t help but think how utterly fruitless this man’s mission must be. Imagine making such an effort and giving up so much of your time to go out on the street and trying to harass people into accepting your message by berating them about how their sins will send them straight to hellfire and brimstone. I got to thinking that people like him probably “save” no one and drive hundreds of people a day away from the very message they are trying so hard to sell. I had just about made up my mind that, if he were still out there on our way back down the street, I was going to confront him. I even had formulated in my mind what I was going to say to him. It was something along the lines of “sir, do you have any idea how much harm you are doing? Do you not understand how misguided and off-putting your approach is? Do you have any inkling how far away from sharing the love of Christ you are?” Fortunately for me, probably, he was not there when we walked back in that direction. But the real shame of it is that street preacher is one of the most lasting impressions I have from my brief visit to Greenville. I wonder how many other visitors he’s left that impression on.


Greenville certainly isn’t unique in this situation, nor is the southeast. You’ll find people like that street preacher all over the country in places where large crowds of people gather. I live in Indianapolis. When my city hosted the Super Bowl, there were street preachers on every other corner downtown. I’ve seen them in many other cities I’ve visited. And there is one thing that, in my experience, all these people appear to have in common; they all seem to try to spread their message with intimidation, judgment, and the threat of eternal damnation and suffering.


Maybe they are out there, but I’ve never walked by a street preacher sharing the Beatitudes. I’ve never heard one out there saying God loves you unconditionally. I’ve never walked away from a street preacher thinking that I’d like to hear more about what he had to say.

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