Combat hate with compassion

by Anthony Berteaux, Assistant Opinion Editor

Whenever evangelical extremists come to San Diego State, to preach their sermons of “whoredom” and “sodomy,” there always seems to be a crowd that is as equally enthusiastic about engaging in religious warfare.

Such was the case on March 5, when infamous  “sex-ed” preachers, Brother Jed and Sister Cindy, made their annual visit to our campus to remind us of how promiscuous our demographic is, brandishing signs that screamed “whore” as Sister Cindy wielded her famous chocolate tampon tree.

However, the focus shouldn’t be on tired arguments and tropes of divorcing Christian extremists from Christians. Should we have looked at the debacle rationally, it’s very clear that the sermons of zealotry aren’t representative of the Christian faith, nor values. No one should reasonably believe that this extremist behavior is representative of Jesus’ teachings of love and compassion. But while focusing on the actions of SDSU onlookers, there seems to be a more imminent issue.

As Sister Cindy was waving her tampon tree and calling students “sodomites” and “whores,” I noticed students had taken upon themselves to steal her signs and publicly ridicule her, vilely returning the favor in slurs and expletives. Brother Jed, when asked about violence and intimidation from students, said this was nothing new in his and his wife’s campaign across the U.S.

“Someone earlier stole our sign and threw it in the trash, and someone else tried to steal my wife’s bag,” Brother Jed said. “We’ve been spat at before, but usually this is the norm for us.”

Now, normally I’m usually not the first one rushing in to support evangelical extremists, with likes of Westboro Baptist Church, but it’s important to question the level of ethics when students combat this extremist behavior with hate and disrespect. This is in no way condoning Christian extremism, but we can’t ignore the fact that retaliating in the same manner exudes the same judgment and hostility we attempt to condemn.

This is in no way condoning Christian extremism, but we can’t ignore the fact that retaliating in the same manner exudes the same judgment and hostility we attempt to condemn.

The most proactive and practical way to approach hate on campus isn’t by dispersing more hate and conflict, but by approaching it with positivity, love and compassion. When we engage in religious debates with these preachers we too often demonize them. When we demonize, we profoundly reject their humanity, and in doing so, we reject ours as well.

However, it’s comforting to note the Christians who don’t prescribe to the same hateful rhetoric while combating this hate.

Among the jeering crowd, Alejandro Espinoza, a Southwestern College student visiting SDSU for bible study, stood up against the hate. What made his approach unique was he wasn’t attacking Sister Cindy, but he was talking to the students about the true teachings of Jesus Christ.

“What made me want to go up, was that I didn’t agree with what she was saying,” Espinoza said. “I believe Christianity is about loving people unconditionally, no matter who they are and no matter what they’ve done. God loves you no matter what, he’s not going to force you to love him back and whether it’s today, or in a thousand years, he’s still going to be available to you without judgment. Christianity is about receiving love and loving others in the same way. I had to let people know that this is what my faith is about.”

Espinoza spoke and people listened, and it’s small moments like this that should serve as hopeful. To some, this narrative may seem like an isolated, singular incident, but Espinoza isn’t alone in combating the hate of these preachers with the loving teachings of Christ.

Last September, when an anti-gay preacher came to James Madison University, students didn’t retaliate in debate against the preacher, but drowned him out in song — effectively showing the power that human kindness has in overpowering hate. Similarly powerful and iconic, were the angels of Laramie, which effectively blocked out the hateful protests of the Westboro Baptist Church at Matthew Shepards funeral.

Interestingly enough, Brother Jed’s campaign at the University of Minnesota inspired an unlikely coalition between an atheist group, a Lutheran pastor and  the LGBTQ community.

The three drastically different groups united in a large counter-protest to block Brother Jed, by holding up signs stating slogans such as “Hate is not a family value” and “Free hugs from atheists.”

Students weren’t instigated to fight back, but they were prompted to unite, and make an even larger display of love.

Itzel Hernandez, a comparative literature and comparative international studies sophomore,  said when opposing hate preach on campus, it’s important to approach it with an intent to not judge, but offer words of kindness.

“I think it’s important to not go up with the purpose of fighting them,” Hernandez said. “It’s less about saying that you’re right and they’re wrong, but it’s about you having something good to offer to everyone.”

At the end of the day, our capacity for compassion needs to extend beyond our ability to judge and slander. We can be humanists in dealing with those who wish to demonize us, and  utilize a compassionate approach in combating hate speech.

Next time any extremist preacher is on campus, rather than ridiculing him or her, let’s demonstrate how united our campus is in displaying compassion and love for, not only each other, but for those who need it most: those preaching.