Finding common ground with an evangelist street preacher

What’s a street preacher doing here?

This last Saturday I was doing some audio work at the local Pondtown Festival;  a little arts, crafts, and music festival in the tiny city of Rhine, GA about 20 minutes from where I live.  As I was sitting behind the sound booth I noticed a sign off in the distance amongst the crowds of people that were about a block down the road that said something about Jesus and Hell.  Immediately I knew exactly who it was though I couldn’t quite read his sign yet. This was a street preacher.

His name is Derek, and he is a street preacher that spends most of his time in the Philippines as a pastor and evangelist. Derek is from the same town that I’m from and he visits here every so often to see his family and speak at many of the local churches. On his current visit he’s been going around to various events performing street evangelism with a number of the youth from area churches.

After I noticed this sign in the distance I knew I had to take a few minutes to go talk to him – Derek and I know one another and I heard him speak a time or two back when I was still a believer so talking to him isn’t such a big deal. So, I walk up to him and ready the camera on my phone – he notices me and kind of gives me a smile and a laugh as I snap a picture.

As I approach more closely I say, “Nice sign, but can you prove it?”. We shake hands, laugh, and exchange niceties from here. Derek and I have largely been limited to making small talk – we both know where we stand and we know how severe our differences are.  I know that Derek believes that I’ll be destined for an eternity in hell if I don’t come into a “repentant relationship with Jesus Christ.”  He believes that and I know he believes that, but Derek doesn’t treat me differently because of it.

You see, Derek isn’t like the typical street preacher. He isn’t yelling at people or berating them verbally – he has a sign on his front and back that states what he believes to be true and he is handing out tracts that tell people how he believes they can be saved and as far as I know he tries to present his beliefs in such a way that doesn’t directly attack people even though his sign is admittedly meant for shock value.

I may find his beliefs to be appalling and I may find his unproven claims to be abusive and absurd simply by their nature – but I’m learning to separate what someone believes from who someone is. Derek, despite what many of my godless cohorts might believe, is a nice guy trying to save people from a threat that seems very real to him.  As I was talking to him I recognized that not only have I lived with that same mission in my life, but that he and I have some other very real traits in common even today.


Earlier today (this is two weeks after the picture above was taken) Derek and I met for coffee and we talked about a lot of things that, to me, highlight the fact that Derek and I are more alike than we are different; we both care about our community and want the best for it, we both appreciate critical thought and asking questions,  we both prefer sincere questioning and exploring doubt to blind following, and we both believe in doing good things in our community (Derek admittedly has better resources for doing this work than I do, as no one in this area would be inclined write a check to further any cause that was founded by me).

Derek cares about his community, but his fears are misguided and misdirected – he fears that those around him will end up in an eternal fire, separated from god and as a former believer myself it’s hard for me to fault him for it.  I care about my community and I fear that my community will forever be known for it’s poverty and the bigotry still spouted by many of it’s citizens or that more young homosexuals and atheists in this will never feel comfortable in their own skin because of the persecution they are likely to face.

My street preacher friend is warm, funny, and concerned.  He’s far from perfect, he doesn’t understand the damage he does when he calls something a sin that is outside of someone’s control – he doesn’t know how much that hurts yet.   That’s all I’d change about him though, the rest I can live with.

I won’t change that by shouting him down when he’s standing on the street with his signs. I’m gonna change it, and anyone else that I can by showing them the faces of those whom they condemn.  That’s something I’ll be focusing on here in the coming weeks.

  • Mike aka MonolithTMA

    Sounds like a sweet guy.

  • Dan Silverman

    "Sounds like a sweet guy. "

    But a sweet guy with a gun intent on shooting it is just as deadly as someone else with a gun intent on shooting it.

    Okay, the analogy is stretched quite a bit, but the point is this, no matter how sweet the guy is, he has a loaded gun (the Christian religion) that he is fully intending on using (via spreading the Gospel). And we know how dangerous that religion is and what damage it can do. I don't believe that we can let someone's sweetness lull us into being unwary.

    • Tanja Peeters

      A street preacher sacrificing his time and serving and sharing the transforming message of salvation by grace, hope and direction for the misguided or broken doesn't sound that "dangerous." Unless of course, I think about the quote from C.S Lewis about Aslan being dangerous but also very good. Dangerous isn't always a bad thing.
      Jesus was perceived as a dangerous threat. Jesus served, loved, fed, healed and spoke truth, hope and salvation but his "radical" ideas challenged beliefs and authority. He didn't come to condemn or judge or harm, but to seek and save what was lost. Religious intolerance and arrogance cost him his life.

      • Tanja – if you could see things from my perspective, and from Dan's perspective I think perhaps you'd be able to see why we consider this message of grace and forgiveness to be a very dangerous thing.

        Dan and I both have put a large chunk of our lives into the gospel – it was, for the longest time, the only reason I bothered to wake up in the morning and I'm sure Dan can reflect that as well.

        You talk of some great parts of the Christian faith, but you don't see it's root: All that grace and salvation is necessary for a reason – there are doctrines that support the need for those things and it is those doctrines that are killing people. The doctrines of depravity have convinced millions of their lack of value and that they deserve an eternity in torment simply for being human, not to mention the severest of impacts that this sort of teaching has had on members of minority communities whom have been targeted by hate evangelism.

        You can't fathom how deadly and dangerous the Christian lie is because you've never seen it's darkest impacts, the suicides, the self-hatred, the condemnation, the fear…you may have experienced all of those things, but they've never consumed you. Until they do you cannot know the harm of the Christian faith – along with most other faiths as well.

      • Wow Tanja, you sure do have some misconceptions about Jesus.

        Where did you get the ideas "Jesus served, loved, fed, healed and spoke truth, hope and salvation but his "radical" ideas challenged beliefs and authority?"

        Have you ever read the gospels?

  • Tanja Peeters

    . So, as to intolerance, I am amazed that although Christians are condemned for supposedly not being tolerant of other belief systems, it is the atheists and agnostics that appear to be outspokenly judgemental and negative about Christians and are extremely tolerant of all other belief systems with the exception of Christianity. I think that men like your friend are commendable. I don't know of many compassionate atheists that make those kind of personal sacrifices on behalf of humanity(maybe a tree or a spotted owl, but not a human life.) But, dangerous…Instead, in my opinion is the continued escalating intolerance towards Christians that slaughters them abroad, outlaws and mocks their beliefs and their sacred writings and condemns the very selfless missionaries and organizations stepping in to feed their people, help in time of national disasters or aid in their developing countries. That's dangerous and that's intolerant.

    • Yes, I am judgmental of Christians and Christianity – a religion and a people seemingly intent on ensuring that all people submit to their god and their own version of morality. I think this judgement and negative discussion fits the crime if you consider it's impact, in fact I'd say I'm rather easy on the faith – as most of us are.

      If you don't know many compassionate atheists it's simply because you don't know many atheists at all. Despite our minority status we spend an incredible amount of money on charity…I can name a few atheists that have given billions to charitable causes on their own…

      I'm not sure where or when atheists have slaughtered Christians or outlawed their faith either, I mean, you could always pull out the few communist extremists, but they didn't kill in the "name of atheism" – they simply were nutjobs that killed anything that wasn't part of the status quo. You certainly aren't being persecuted in this country, no matter how much you wish you were….don't forget that you, christians, are a majority in this country – you control the vote, you control the laws of our states and nation, and you control the most spending capital of any group – if you are being oppressed in any way it's coming from the inside, not from us.

      Myself – and most atheist activists, just want your morality to be your own and to have nothing to do with mine. I don't want you to attempt to force me to live according to your holy book (that most of you never read) or to prevent my friends from pursuing happiness with their same sex partners. If anything we are simply intolerant of the idea that the majority gets to rule.

      And mockery? I've heard Christians mock more people's beliefs than any atheist group…what do you say about Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses or Muslims? You find their beliefs to be silly and misguided – just like I find your beliefs to be…..

      • Tanja Peeters

        Coming from California, where I've spent the majority of my past forty plus years I've spent extensive time with lots of atheists alongside of just about every known sect or religious group known to man. I have many good friends and family members who are atheists, agnostics, polytheists, you name it. I've spent the past 30 years studying the Bible and other nonbiblical texts as well as sacred literature published by other religious groups. For years I actually did counseling with those who were involved in cults, the occult and also those were victims of heretical Christian denomination's infliction of "religious abuse and manipulation" So, I really do feel that I can see where misguided individuals have gone wrong and caused damage. It's sad that so many "Christ followers" have gone wrong.

        • Tanja Peeters

          The Biblical message of the depravity of man is not meant to condemn men and leave them to their demise. The gospel is a message of hope, help and healing not condemnation. The depravity of man and our inherently base nature is not exclusively a Christian belief. But, If we are truly godless soulless byproducts of a random evolutionary process with no hope for any life that transcends this plane where is our "self esteem" based. A life a part from a meaningful creator is in my opinion more depressing than the idea that man left to his own desires is pretty base. Lying, stealing, cheating and self-preservation come pretty natural to even the smallest of children. The inherent goodness of man is a more foreign of a concept in that there is truly no one that can admit moral perfection at every level. And to think we can simply will ourselves to be more moral, kick a drug habit, overcome depression is harmful. The lie that "if we believe it, we can achieve it" on our own is a myth sold to so many young people that often feel defeated when they are by their own strength unable to achieve this popular affirmation.

          • I understand full well what the purpose of depravity is, it's the problem to which you are selling a solution to. Without depravity the whole kit-n-cabootle of Christianity isn't even needed.

            Depravity is like the vacuum salesman coming into your home and showing you how much dirt your old vacuum is missing so that he can sell you on the new Improved vacuum.

            My point is that Depravity is a great lie and because of the ease in which one can interpret the New Testament to include a long term struggle against carnality and one's own depravity – often surrounding things that are unavoidable human tendencies that are perfectly natural and unharmful, ie: homosexuality – can and OFTEN does end in severe depression and self hate is a damaging institution that your religion would not exist without.

            We don't HAVE to will ourselves to moral, we simply have a tendency toward it because of the beautiful process of evolution that we've followed – along with our societal norms which push us collectively toward an agreement as to what IS or is NOT moral. We are inherently moral by and large, but only those that modern psychology would label psychopaths need to be kept away from society as a whole – you know, people like Soloman and King David…

            There are, for the record, secular programs geared for atheist addicts…that work, and as someone that has been counseling for over 10 years now I can assure that I'd rather provide someone with a real fix for their problem than some saviour that is no better than a psychosomatic manifestation of what SHOULD result in the submission to Christ – because even those most deeply rooted ideas fail eventually.

          • Tanja, what you have just written is, actually, thoroughly immoral. You don't sound like an evil person, but what you write is unethical. You sound like you have been totally brainwashed by church teachings.

        • Occult has been an area of special interest to me for a number of years. I'd love to compare notes some time. There are many places that are overlooked by the Church At Large – victims of Ritual Abuse (which was my focus during my ministry) is probably the one most dear to my heart.

  • But he is "condemning" no one, he is only relating the impending "Judgement" that awaits ALL of us. What we choose to do prior to that visit to the judgement seat, is completely up to each individual. "He" (the street preacher) is hurting no one. No one needs to stop, to talk, to look, to pay attention… People can just walk on, and ignore their ego, that is telling them that Derek MUST "disbelieve" as the atheist does, or else they must be branded as folks who are hurting…

    Ok, lets "brand" because you don't believe the same as I do… You Matt are hurting others, and causing pain because you don't believe as I do, and that is because I say so, not God. Same statement, same authority. Hate stated, authority of one. 🙂

    • You can say that as soon as someone offs themselves because of the "damage" I've caused.

      • The dead cannot verify your statistics my brother… 😉

    • Dan Silverman

      "But he is "condemning" no one"

      Totally incorrect. If we take the god of the Bible to be real and the Bible to be an accurate revelation of this god, etc, then it is indeed the god of the Bible that is condemning men. It is the god of the Bible that set the rules of the game, so to speak. He has determined what condemns a man and what saves him. He made the laws. He determines what it means to break them. The Bible is very clear that it's god is the law giver and the judge.

      "he is only relating the impending "Judgement" that awaits ALL of us."

      According to the Bible, it is not like the law exists apart from god, over god, and god has no choice but to judge accordingly (as a judge is supposed to do in the courts here on earth). But, as has been pointed out, god is the creator of law as well as the judge. So, again, he is the one that condemns because he is the one that determined both what it means to break this law and also judges.

      ""He" (the street preacher) is hurting no one. "

      Again, incorrect. The street preacher is selling a bill of goods. As many of us have seen, what he is selling often brings much misery to people (despite claiming it brings hope and joy). It causes people to view themselves as destitute and depraved when they may not be. It is a message that says that "none are good, no not one" and, frankly, that is not true. Christianity and it's message are a form of abuse. Pure and simple.

      "No one needs to stop, to talk, to look, to pay attention… People can just walk on, and ignore their ego, that is telling them that Derek MUST "disbelieve" as the atheist does, or else they must be branded as folks who are hurting… "

      If we take this attitude, then why not allow drug dealers to sell their wares on street corners? Why not allow child pornographers to do the same? No one need stop. No one need listen. What harm are they doing?

      It is not about the fact that people do not need to listen or accept the message, but that the message is harmful (like drugs can be, etc).

  • Laurence Lafferty

    I don't think it takes Christianity (or any other religion) to show people are depraved. Observation in its simplest form can prove the depravity of man. We try to do our best and make good on the wrong we do, but we never seem to be able to stop. I don't see the terrible agenda you seem to with a group of "religious" people who sincerely believe they have the answer.

    I respect your choice to believe I am wrong (and of course believe you are just as mistaken). But in your "evangelism", you are participating in the exact behavior you accuse Chistians of. Think about it. If I am right, you are literally leading as many as you can away from Heaven. If I am wrong, the worst I am guilty of is trying to show people a better way to live (don't lie, cheat, steal, murder). I'm not saying that churches execute this perfectly. Some are downright dismal (even to the point of validating your view) but these are in the minority and easily avoided.

    • Laurence

      I hate to break the news, but if you are wrong and some other religion is right you are just as likely to be leading people away from heaven as I am.

      What I do is important, it helps people think critically about their beliefs – I wouldn't have to if the Church would help out with that, unfortunately in most churches thinking and asking questions is largely discouraged.

  • Tanja Peeters

    Wish I could have watched your video on the doctrine of depravity….my computer refused to load it. Maybe later. We have a tendency toward moral…..????? Who??? I don't know what news you watch or what history books you read but if we are "evolving" into more moral creatures there is not enough evidence to convict one person I know of of "moral perfection." Perhaps you can point to evidence and studies done by todays expert psychologists. I believe the exact opposite is true and widely supported. I can almost guarantee that you will not find one piece of legitimate evidence for any such "evolving", just like the lack of evidence for all those transitional fossils still waiting to be uneartherd to support evolution. Just as ficticous as the theory of the big bang and evolution, is the secular humanistic belief that man is inherently good. Complete fiction or maybe fantasy genre would be a better fit…i.e. L Ron Hubbard.

    • Dan Silverman

      "We have a tendency toward moral…..????? Who??? I don't know what news you watch or what history books you read but if we are "evolving" into more moral creatures there is not enough evidence to convict one person I know of of "moral perfection.""

      First of all, what does "a tendency toward moral" have to do with "moral perfection"? Is there anything that is "perfect"? And don't say "god" because, even if we accept the Bible's god as real, what is revealed about him in the Bible is anything but perfect.

      Perhaps your problem is that you watch the news too much … maybe more than looking out your own window. The news is filmed with a narrow lens. They are in the business of making money and they do so by selling what is sensational. The bloodier, the better. Look at how many murders, rapes, wars, etc, are depicted on the news on a daily basis. Now ask yourself how many of these you have personally witnessed yourself! The average person does not witness these events in their lives. Even I, who went to war (Desert Storm vet) did not see a single death or even a wound during the entire campaign.

      Sure, there are bad people out there. But we are not ALL bad (no matter what the Bible says). If someone falls down, people usually see if they need help getting back up. If a wallet is lost, more times than not it is returned with all the cash in it. If the world were as bad as the Bible says it is, then your neighbor would be trying to kill or rape you RIGHT NOW. But that simply is not the case … not for most people. Why? Because most people are living a "moral" life.

      'just like the lack of evidence for all those transitional fossils still waiting to be uneartherd to support evolution."

      Wow. Just … wow.….

      "Just as ficticous as the theory of the big bang and evolution, is the secular humanistic belief that man is inherently good."

      Well, since neither of the two cited theories are fictitious (neither the Big Bang nor evolution), then you've just indicated support for man being inherently good. 😉

      Actually, I don't necessarily believe that man is inherently good. Nor do I believe that man is inherently bad or evil. I think that man is pretty neutral about the matter. In fact, society teaches us what is "good" and what is "bad" and then men choose to adhere to those societal norms or not.

      As an example, most Western cultures are pretty strict about nudity. Both women and men have to cover certain parts of their bodies. It is considered "bad" (immoral) to publicly display the parts that are considered taboo. However, in other cultures both sexes may move about publicly with little to no clothing. It is not considered culturally taboo in these places and, as a result, no one there is offended by seeing the opposite sex's genitals. In places where nudity is considered immoral, some people may actually become traumatized by seeing public nudity! However, in the places where public nudity is accepted, no one is traumatized by this at all.

      Wouldn't this indicate that morals are societal and cultural and not some god-given thing?

  • a jenkin

    whether you believe it or not mr. oxley, there is a GOD! And one day you will bow to the GOD of the universe.GOD is perfect in all his ways There is eternal hell and Then there is eternal heaven.DO you want to be in the smoking section when you die ? or do you want to be in the nonsmoking section?You seem to have a lots knowledge, but you don`t have Godly wisdom.Faith is having belief in something you cannot see. Can you see the wind mr. oxley?But you can it blow the leaves on the tree

    • Threats of hell will get you know where Annie Jenkin. I know well what faith is, which is precisely what I've refused to allow it to run my life.

    • Who said Matt was going to Hell? Perseverance of the Saints tells me he is simply backslidden, and will one day repent. Either way, OSAS! Unless of course you believe in a works based salvation that allows for boasting??????????

  • So Weary

    No one is leading anyone anywhere. If I take a step forward, I've taken a step forward. If I take a step to the side, I've taken a step to the side. Has someone else's step forward or to the side perhaps given me the idea to do it? Or has it encouraged me to try it out for myself? Maybe. But I'm the one who is responsible for my action or inaction. Period.