Many students last week noticed a large display set up by Lilly Hall, home to the Life Sciences department, as well as a man preaching about the Bible and Jesus Christ. The Purdue Review wanted to know more about the situation and circumstances behind this man that had caused such a stir of controversy on campus and set out to investigate.
Supported by Grace Campus Fellowship, a man who goes by the title of Tom the Preacher spoke to any and all students who wished to listen. He discussed several topics such as creation, the Bible as it is written, and Jesus Christ’s divinity as the son of God who “historically died for the sins of man.”
“The miracle of Christianity is that Jesus was dead and that he rose from the dead. Many faiths have miracles but nobody rises from the dead,” said the preacher from Columbus, Ohio. Tom the Preacher greeted passerby in a friendly and engaging manner, eager to answer any questions they may have had about his current topic or his message in general. A crowd slowly began to form as classes let out around lunch time last Thursday as he sat upon a simple black stool speaking to whomever would hear, harkening back to preachers of centuries past. He made a point to not push into people’s ways, instead waiting for them to approach him.
According to Tom, he aims to get people thinking but first and foremost has a goal of informing others of his three main points: “that God is real, the Bible is true and that’s how He communicates, and that Jesus Christ is the way back to God.”
Naturally, any discussion regarding religion is going to generate controversy on a freethinking campus such as Purdue, and Tom ruefully chuckled that he acknowledged the irony of Grace Campus Fellowship setting up display in front of the Life Science complex. “It was accidental,” said Tom. It had not been their first choice of venue but the others they had looked into had been completely booked, including the Memorial Mall. “The first day (on creation) was very controversial. The second day (on the Bible) was less controversial, but some questions did arise on the topic of gay marriage.”
Indeed Tom made a point that his message had a place alongside the more traditional areas of study on campus. “I think that just as there is truth in math, science, or history there is truth in religion. It may be harder to show but it exists.”
Tom is not a stranger to controversy, which is something that comes with the territory of standing up as a speaker for one’s beliefs but he has been preaching since 1980 for the nondenominational Great Commission Churches regardless. “As the years have gone by I have become more confident,” Tom assures. He doesn’t fear being asked a question he can’t answer. He has been screamed at verbally, raved at, but generally physical confrontation never arises. “Sometimes you don’t know what response you’re going to get. I have been attacked (physically) twice, but in both cases people in the audience shielded me.”
When asked if he feels his time on Purdue’s campus has been successful, Tom was less confident. “Yes, but not not as much as I’d like. I think God is the most important thing in life, and we live in an increasingly secular life that says God doesn’t matter.”
“The most important thing in life is how you view God.”
While Tom and the students of Grace Campus Fellowship spoke with several students who both supported or were divided on the issue of Jesus and Christianity, a protester with a sign took his seat across the path from the Fellowship’s large, colorful display.
Identifying himself as Tim, the Purdue student sat in silent opposition across the way to the display. He was frustrated that, as he witnessed, only certain groups of Christians did such large displays – ones that he deemed to be “non-inclusive.” He purported that these forms of displays were conservative in their view and that they scare people out of being included in a faith community.
“I don’t want want this to be the face and voice of Christianity or of religion in general,” said Tim.
According to Tim, progressive churches need to be represented more often. There are certain intimidating factors within conservative churches that scare away those who want faith but don’t want to be called “damned” for their beliefs or lifestyle.
“I don’t want this to be someone’s first association (with Christianity or religion).”
Tim wants to promote congregations that are particularly inclusive of LGBTQ peoples in the West Lafayette area, which he included on his placard: Chapel of the Good Shepherd, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Temple Israel, Our Saviour Lutheran Church, First United Methodist Church, Wesley Foundation at Purdue, Bethany Presbyterian Church, and Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lafayette.
Tim had also sat for two and a half hours on Wednesday as well, and while he himself was not debating the other students actively, he wished to put them into touch with the churches listed so that they could find the answers that suited their particular spiritual life.
Though the rains Thursday did dampen the discussion at times as students scattered for cover, it did little to quell the fire that remains within the Purdue consciousness to actively debate, intelligently argue, and respectfully listen to one another on campus, a goal that for both sides of the coin was certainly achieved this past week.
“I love what I do. I find it energizing,” said Tom with a smile.
(Tom Short’s website can be reached at www.tomthepreacher.com, and he is affiliated with the Great Commission Churches at www.gccweb.org)