Have you ever seen one of those crazy people standing on a street corner yelling about hell wearing a sandwich board?
Well I saw one a few days ago.
Or rather I heard him and his looming voice, carrying all throughout the downtown streets of San Antonio.
My mom and I had driven down to visit the Alamo and the riverwalk. As we exited out to the front of the Alamo I kept hearing a loud noise and couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I figured there was some kind of special event happening or music of some kind.
But as we kept walking I saw a man standing by some trees in the courtyard in front of the Alamo.
He was wearing a vest that read “Cover your nudity!” and shouting fire and brimstone religious rhetoric at the top of his lungs: “You all deserve hell!… God is against… God hates… Repent!…”
I’ve always heard about these kinds of people but I had never actually seen one in public that I can recall.
I kept looking over at him.
Trying to figure out what I thought about it.
And what I should do.
I was getting more and more upset as he kept yelling some really unbiblical things about how God hates people and certain kinds of people more. God may hate sin but he doesn’t hate people.
And everyone was staring. People were turned off. The poor workers stationed at the entrance had probably been listening to him all morning.
So after a few minutes of hearing this guy I couldn’t restrain myself.
I couldn’t stay put.
I told my mom to wait on me and then walked over to where he had stationed himself.
As I approached he said hello and asked me if I had any questions. Apparently he thought I was a potential convert.
I asked him who he was affiliated with and what his personal faith was. He said he was a born-again believer and affiliated with Jesus. I was surprised actually. I thought he might be with some kind of offshoot cult. And maybe he is. I didn’t get any further into his theological persuasion. I didn’t care. The way he had been acting the past several minutes of what I saw just wasn’t right. Now, I don’t want to question someone’s heart or salvation because that’s something only God knows. But I do wonder what kind of bad theology he’s chewing on to make him confident enough to go out there and yell out a bunch of bigotry.
So I told him I was disappointed in his methodology and didn’t agree whatsoever with what he was doing. He didn’t like that too much and went on to say some pretty rude things. I figured some kind of verbal attack was coming and ended the conversation by saying he needed to actually get to know people and talk to them about God in a personal way rather than ranting and raving on a sidewalk.
And I left it at that.
I don’t think anything I said made a dent as he kept on yelling.
But I couldn’t have walked by without saying anything.
What he was doing really got under my skin. And it takes a lot to make me mad.
I was very upset by his approach to “evangelism” and his judgmental, hateful tone which do not line up with what it looks like to follow Christ at all.
Not to mention all the surrounding people who could potentially be turned off from Christ because of this guy’s so-called conviction. He was turning people off to God and it flat out pissed me off. I have no respect for that. Sorry I just don’t. That’s one thing that gets me angry. That and a cold krispy kreme doughnut. Just why?
I’ve grown up in the church my whole life since my dad’s a pastor.
We’ve witnessed our fair share of legalistic fanatics and mean church people.
And at this point, I’m not even surprised by it anymore.
But when I see someone publicly acting a fool, turning people off to God and church I get really mad.
That is not what we are supposed to do.
Hell-fire and brimstone preaching just doesn’t work on a street corner.
If you wanna talk about hell then that’s fine but you should know how to do it appropriately. A little common sense is all it takes.
Because ultimately, truth without love is vain.
Actually it’s a stumbling block.
Causing innocent bystanders to be exposed to a false declaration of truth and really bad theology.
And I’m not okay with that.
I’m not okay with arrogant religious fanatics turning away people from exploring the faith more.
I have a soft spot in my heart for those who have doubts about God or questions about the faith. I love to talk to people about God, their questions, my questions, what we still don’t understand and what life is all about in light of faith.
So when I witness someone, with zero regard for those who struggle to believe and follow God, who tries to condemn others as if he’s got it all together I am extremely disgusted.
Nobody has it all together.
Jesus himself said in Luke 18:19, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
Nobody is good.
We’re all messed up by sin.
We all need Jesus.
Romans 3:10-11 says, “As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.”
So none of us has the authority to act as if we are good enough and condemn others to hell.
Only God knows a person’s heart.
He alone saves.
After all, John 3:17 points out Jesus’ whole reason for coming to the earth and it was to save the world not condemn it.
If anything, as Christ-followers we should be people who can’t help ourselves but to show others the love of God that we’ve already been freely given.
Not turning people away.
Not spewing bad theology.
Not displaying an inaccurate picture of Christ.
Not eliminating people’s desire to visit church.
And ultimately I know that God is bigger and He isn’t inhibited by a fanatic street preacher.
God can reach people despite the “Cover your nudity” man acting a fool.
But it still isn’t right and shouldn’t be taking place in the public or anywhere for that matter. It gives Christianity a bad name. Because that’s actually not Christianity at all. It’s a messed up religiosity is what it is.
I guess this is something that the Lord is gonna have to help me with. I know that I need to be more gracious to this street preacher. I really do. But it’s hard. Sometimes it’s harder to give grace to the one who I feel is causing others to see God in a bad light because I don’t want anyone to misunderstand who God is. But I have to realize that I’m not perfect either. And there will probably be things that I do that cause others to stumble, even though I would never want that. I have to remember how much grace I need so that I can also give grace to this man. So I’m asking God to help me.
Ultimately, we need to talk about God openly and humbly with those we know and those who ask.
Not with hatred.
Not with arrogance.
Not with condescension.
But with love.
And a willingness to accept the reality that we don’t know everything and we’re not perfect.
We all need Jesus just the same as any one else does.
So let’s just treat others with compassion and kindness…and just maybe that will share Christ far more than yelling on a street corner ever could.
“If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.”
-1 Corinthians 13:2-