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Brother Jed is dead.
George E. “Brother Jed” Smock Jr. died last year — June 6, 2022, at 79.
I realize this news of his departure to his Eternal Home, as his obituary states, is a bit tardy.
But for the ruckus he raised during his 50 years of in-your-face preaching, his passing appears to have gone unnoticed, at least here on the Missouri State University campus.
Brother Jed would say he preached the Gospel. Others considered it hate speech — sexism and homophobia. Another term for it was, “confrontational evangelism.”
Smock used his First Amendment right to voice his religious views amid the floating Frisbees of colleges campuses. Since 1983, he would visit Missouri State a couple of times a semester.
He was fond of calling coeds “whores” and labeling students as “followers of Satan” and, in his eyes, if you were gay you were damned.
If Don Rickles was an insult comic, Brother Jed was an insult evangelist.
Students thought they were being heckled by him. They got in his face.
Brother Jed most definitely was heckled; he considered it part of the process of saving souls. He had to get students’ attention.
Brother Jed was known near and far
I never saw Brother Jed or heard him preach. I’ve only worked at the Springfield Daily Citizen office on the MSU campus since October 2021.
Colleague Jackie Rehwald met him in 2016, when she was a reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Brother Jed was outside the student union unleashing his Shock-and-Awe-Christ-Call.
On that day, she reported, he drew hostile words from an audience that included a man who called himself a Satanist and topless women who were part of Springfield’s Free the Nipple Movement.
Think about that: An insult evangelist. A Satanist. And topless women.
And they walk into a bar.
“We are not afraid to address controversial issues,” Brother Jed told reporter Rehwald in 2016. “We are against the feminist movement.”
I had heard about Brother Jed’s visits. When I walked across campus this opening week of the semester, I wondered: Alive or Dead?
As I said, dead. But I had not realized Brother Jed was a national phenomenon. Over 50 years, he had appeared at hundreds of universities in all 50 states.
He sold a ‘HO NO MO’ T-shirt
If you go to Google Images, you’ll find photos of Jed being heckled at some of our finest institutions of higher education. You’ll see photos of him standing nose-to-nose with an enraged student, like an umpire and a manager about to be tossed from a baseball game.
College newspapers carried stories of his appearances on campuses.
The Daily Illini, the student newspaper at my alma mater, reported in 2016:
“His website claims, ‘In spite of being pied, egged, mobbed and even physically abused, his love for the students has never failed. Even now at age 72, he joyfully enters the battlefield hoping to snatch more souls from the flames.'”
The New Yorker magazine wrote about Smock three months after his death:
“Smock, a preacher who went by the name Brother Jed, was imperturbable. No one shrugged off heckling, slurs, mockery, and jeering the way he did … deploying a style that is probably best summed up by one of the placards that he liked to hold while he addressed students, which read “YOU DESERVE HELL.”
According to The New Yorker, Jed met his wife, Sister Cindy, while haranguing students at the University of of Florida. He pointed at her and his first words to his future-beloved were these: “Repent of your sins, you wicked woman!”
How many thousands did he drive away?
Smock’s obituary ran in his hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana. It states:
“He has been around academe most of his life. His late father was head of the English Department at Indiana State University. That is where Jed earned a bachelor’s in social studies, a master’s in U.S. history and did postgraduate work in counseling and psychology. He taught for five years at the junior high, high school and college levels.”
The obituary also says he led “thousands of students to faith in Christ.”
My question would be, “How many thousands more did he drive away?”
This is Pokin Around column No. 129.