Members of Voice Your Vote, a campus organization registering voters for the November election, planned to have the Diag to themselves Tuesday.
Instead, the groups volunteers spent much of the afternoon shouting at the top of their lungs to draw students away from the evangelical preacher who had drawn a crowd on the Diag.
“Sinners can vote, too!” screamed LSA sophomore Jenya Abramovich, standing on one of the Diag’s concrete benches.
Abramovich’s statement countered a message from Jed Smock, an evangelical preacher from Missouri who journeyed to Ann Arbor to condemn selfishness and a lack of Christian values he sees in many college students. Smock, the founder of Campus Ministry USA, spent about five hours preaching on the Diag yesterday.
“Pursuing a career rather than Christ is selfish,” he said. “It’s possible to do both, but a lot of students choose to go after just the career.”
A large group gathered around Smock, who compared Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to Robin Hood and said civil rights leader and nonviolence advocate Mahatma Gandhi “deserved” to go to hell because he wasn’t a Christian.
“Obama’s a socialist,” Smock said, referring to Obama’s universal health care proposal. “He’s for stealing. Thou shall not steal. I believe you should help the poor, but if someone doesn’t want to, the government shouldn’t force them to.”
Hundreds of passersby came to a standstill when they caught a glimpse of Smock’s signs, which read “Jesus Hates Sin” and “Jesus Loves Righteousness.”
Smock’s message didn’t fare well with students, many of whom encircled the suspenders-clad preacher for hours.
“I’m just amazed by what he’s saying,” said Margaret Bauer, a Kinesiology freshman who looked shocked while standing on the Diag. “Religion is a personal thing, and everybody should have respect for everybody, no matter what they believe.”
LSA senior Alex Kostrzewa mocked Smock and stood next to him, shouting the opposite of whatever the minister said. After Smock said everyone should worship his God, Kostrzewa shouted, “Don’t worship his lame-ass God! We should just all die for the glory of battle!”
Rather than retaliate, the salt-and-pepper-haired Smock took a sip of his bottled water whenever he grew frustrated with Kostrzewa.
The scene was much different from last year, when evangelist preacher Michael Venyah came to town. Reacting to Venyah’s saying he believed the Pope was destined to go to hell, numerous students nearly started a fight.
Smock, who said he has spent the last 34 years spreading his message across the country, garnered sparse support during his talk. Ann Arbor resident Devin Baker said he was simply taking a walk through the Diag when he heard Smock speaking.
“I think he’s right-on,” said Baker, adding he thought students would eventually come to agree with Smock.
For now, though, most students seemed to take Smock’s visit as a joke.
“I just find it funny,”LSA sophomore Richard Boehnke said as Smock waved an index finger at onlookers. “This sort of thing makes me happy.”
Voice Your Vote organizer Hannah Lieberman, an LSA junior, called Smock’s decision to speak next to a voter registration booth “advantageous.” She said the move helped her group register more voters.
“He’s a distraction, but he draws a huge crowd and fires people up,” she said. “If he weren’t here, a lot of people probably would walk past without noticing us.”
Around 3 p.m., the crowd surrounding Smock became a handful of people looking to respectfully challenge the minister’s beliefs. One person asked him if it was right to judge people.
“Not if it’s a hypocritical judgment,” said Smock, citing the seventh chapter of Matthew in the Bible. “But if it’s a righteous judgment, there’s nothing wrong with that.”