When I was in college at Arizona State University, I was lost in a crowd of tens of thousands of students. My senior year we won the Rose Bowl, and Rolling Stone magazine said we were the best college campus to get a tan. Quite a different life for this country girl from Pleasant Garden, NC where we had one stoplight, and it wasn’t even at an intersection!
It’s very hot in Arizona in August. When I say hot, I mean temps nearing 120 degrees in the shade. I remember students frying eggs on the hoods of their cars! The hottest place on campus was called the Commons. It was in the center of everything — all concrete, no shade.
One day as I was hurrying through the Commons to get to class, I heard someone yelling. I looked up to see a man and woman standing on a picnic table in sweltering heat. He had on long sleeves and long pants. She was wearing a dress that went from her chin to the tips of her toes and fingers. They were sweating bullets.
They were angry, scowling, and waving Bibles in the air, screaming at everyone walking by that we were sinners bound for Hell because we were students at ASU. You see, our mascot was the Sun Devil, and therefore, our campus was evil. Oh and because we were wearing shorts and short sleeves — that, too.
I was stunned as he looked right at me and yelled, “WHORE!” Whoa, Nelly. Say what? He wasn’t just calling me a nasty name. Every girl who walked past in shorts or short sleeves was a “whore,” and every boy was a “whoremonger.” (When’s the last time you heard someone say that word?!!?)
The crowd was incensed. People were yelling back at them, and many braved the heat and sun to stand and debate them. I didn’t. I just walked away, sad and burdened, ashamed that those people would represent God in such a hateful way. I wanted to shout, “Don’t judge all Christians by these people!” but I realized I’d be just one more person yelling.
In the next edition of our school newspaper, I was even more saddened to read letters students had written about the Picnic Table Evangelists, all saying, “This is why I’ll never be a Christian.” That couple did far more to damage the Kingdom than to advance it at ASU, I’m afraid. Not one person wrote in to say, “Thankfully someone told me I was a whoremonger, and that made me want to know Jesus!” I wrote in as well, desperate to defend a loving God, but my letter was lost in a sea of anger left in their wake.
After I graduated in 1987, we moved to Virginia. The TV was on in the other room one night as I was cooking dinner. From the kitchen, I heard someone yelling, “WHORES! WHOREMONGERS!” I ran into the living room, already sure of who I’d see as Sally Jesse Raphael’s guests. None other than the Picnic Table Evangelists.
They spewed their venom, just like they did the first time I saw them. There were some Christians in the audience who tried in vain to say that’s NOT how God is, but they were shot down.
The Picnic Table Evangelists neglected to mention a Savior who loved the world so much He would die for them, or any word of His forgiveness, kindness, grace or mercy. They just screamed and pronounced everyone as sinners bound for Hell.
Finally, Sally Jesse Raphael said, “Never have I said this to a guest, but you are never welcomed back on my show. You are the meanest people I’ve ever met, and if you’re what Christians are, I don’t want to be one.” The Picnic Table Evangelists said, “Good! We won’t want to be around you because you’re going to Hell!”
Folks, let me tell you something. The most dangerous people in the world are the ones who are angry, dogmatic, convinced they are right, everyone else is wrong, and worst of all, that God is on their side. There is no arguing, no convincing, no amicable discussion with a person who thinks God is supporting their agenda. The truth is, people like that flew planes into the World Trade Center.
I agree that God is a holy and just God, and I believe there will be a day of reckoning. Thankfully, we have an Advocate to defend us, and forgiveness, grace, atonement and mercy were made readily available to all at the Cross. To quote the great Billy Graham,
It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.
Maybe you’re not as mean and angry as the Picnic Table Evangelists — I sure hope not! There are many times we need to defend the weak and defenseless, times to speak up. And believe me, I do! But we must ALWAYS speak the truth in LOVE. Whatever we need to say, we can say it with kindness. As the old saying goes, no one cares what we know until they know that we care.
All you have to do is scroll through your Facebook newsfeed to see every opinion all over the map. Everyone is convinced they’re right and anyone who opposes them are idiots! It’s exhausting at best. We must remember the same Jesus who loved and died for disabled veterans, babies, animal foster families, and the candidate for President you support, also died for the Picnic Table Evangelists, abortionists, LGBTQ people, cop killers, people who drink alcohol, divorced people (that’s me), and the candidate for President you can’t stand. God’s love transcends the latest media hype, and it reaches to what you consider the lowest depths of humanity.
I’ve had many desks in many offices over years, but this one framed quote has remained to remind me of my life’s mission every day:
All that matters is God and people. My life’s desire — to serve them both in the most effective way possible. To submit my weaknesses to a God without limitations, knowing as an end result, they become my greatest strengths, because in those areas I can’t rely on my “pieced together inadequacy” but rather on the perfection of His adequacy. In His sovereignty. His will. His plan. His timing. His love.” — Libba Maddrey
May we live that out with every person in our paths. God help us love people, today and every day, whoever they are. In the end, that’s all that matters.