I’ve spent a lot of time blogging about Brother Jed Smock and his memorable, radical approach to campus preaching, but I never had a real conversation with him or his family until today.
Last Friday, Brother Jed announced to the University of Arizona that he has a Facebook account, and he encouraged everyone to add him to their friends list. After blogging about him a half dozen times, I thought I’d benefit from adding him as a friend on Facebook, and I ended up getting more from it than I expected. Brother Jed accepted my request and came across this blog, which he found entertaining, and he apologized for being short with me last month. His daughters sent me emails, and they invited me to chat with them on campus this afternoon.
Jed, Cindy, and their daughters, Martha and her sister arrived on the UA campus at 11:30 this morning. This is Brother Jed’s second week visiting the UA, and he leaves for Flagstaff on Wednesday morning. His daughters will fly back to Missouri, where they’re home schooled. Cindy and the girls don’t usually travel with their father, but they said they enjoy spending the extra time with him since he’s always away at college campuses.
“A lot of the things I say are tongue and cheek,” he began, and he seemed calmer when speaking in a regular voice as opposed to his booming shout, which draws the attention of students.
“When that young man kissed his hand and tried to touch me, I was feigning shock,” he said, noting that I picked up on his exaggerated horrors in my later blog entries.
“A lot of times, these students say things to shock me, but it’s never anything I haven’t heard thousands of times,” he said, laughing.
“To hold everyone’s attention, you have to put on a show,” he continued.
“But it works to our advantage,” added Cindy. “If we get ignored, it’s frustrating, but it’s usually due to bad weather.”
Brother Jed travels from campus to campus year-round. In the winter months, he visits Florida State University, Louisiana State University, University of Houston, University of Texas-Austin, Texam A&M, Arizona State, University of Arizona, UC-Davis, and several other western state colleges.
Jed Smock has been preaching for 35 years, and despite the physical and emotional drains of his job, he’s in good health. Every morning, he does 35 push-ups, 50 jumping jacks, and 15 sit-ups.
“I’d like to keep this job for another 30 years, or as long as I’m able.”
Jed’s ways seem to provoke an overriding negative reaction among students, but he feels his campus visits have been quite successful.
“We have changed people. I get a couple of emails a month about converted students. I’ve received so many emails that say something along the lines of, ‘you came to my campus in the 1980’s, and you made me so mad, I started reading the bible, and then I started going to church.’ We definitely see results.”
Perhaps Jed Smock’s biggest success story is his wife, Cindy, who he met in the late 1970’s when he preached at the University of Florida.
“Cindy made fun of me. I pointed her out in the audience and said, ‘repent your sins, wicked woman!’ Little did I know, that flattered her, and four years later, we were married.”
By the time Brother Jed came to Cindy’s college campus, he hadn’t kissed a girl in six years. Cindy saw this as a challenge, and she tried to get him to kiss her.
“You don’t go around kissing,” Jed told her, and dropped her off at her dorm immediately.
Thirty or so years later, they have five daughters, the oldest is 24 and the youngest 14. Evangeline is the oldest, and she serves as a chaplain’s assistant.
“With my old fashioned thinking, I wasn’t excited about her joining the military, but she wanted to serve and wouldn’t do it without my blessing, and my youngest daughter told me to give my consent, so I did.”
As Cindy Smock started to read bible passages to the crowd, Martha and her sister asked me to come sit by them. The three of us sat on their unfolded blanket, trying not to let the unusually fierce wind dictate the Brother Jed experience.
In Friday’s blog, I wondered about the Jed girls’ social lives, and they’re definitely not lacking in friends or social activity. Both 17-year-old Martha and her 14-year-old sister are home schooled, but they get together with a group of other home schooled students a few times a month, and they participate in a myriad of social activities.
“We organize a monopoly tournament, go skating, shopping, and have a prom, which we call an elegant evening because we dance like the women in Pride and Prejudice,” the sister said.
Though the girls aren’t allowed to date until they graduate high school, they get their fix for hanging out with boys.
“I have more guy friends than girl friends,” Martha shared. “When I was little, I wanted to be a boy. I climbed trees, and I’d always want to be the dad when my sisters and I played House.”
“I’m the youngest, but Martha was the oddball who got teased,” the sister said, giggling.
Last week, I was extremely curious as to how the Smock girls handle all the family ridicule and abuse among college students. After today, I can see that they’re completely desensitized to the negativity.
“We’re used to it, but when I was 4 years old, some guy wouldn’t stop yelling at my dad, so I kicked him. I was just a little kid, so it’s not like I was hurting him, though,” Martha said.
“Most people are nice to us. They were mean at Arizona State, but some guy spit on me here at UofA, and then ran away,” the sister said.
The girls get a feel for every campus they go to. When they were younger, Martha and her sister brought their doll houses to each school and ran around the campus. At Indiana, the girls would bring their swimsuits and jump into the water fountain. Here at UA, they walk through the campus, which her sister remarked as “beautiful,” dine at Panda Express, re-fill their sodas at Chick-Fil-A, and sometimes roam the UA Bookstore. Last week, the sister donned her new gray Arizona sweater. She tries to buy a hoodie at every college campus.
All five Smock daughters stay pretty busy. Charlotte studied Nursing at Pensacola Christian College in Florida, but hated the “strict Christian rules” about clothing among other things, so she left. Justina is married with a baby girl, and Evangeline is married as well. The remaining high school girls have ideas about what they’d like to do once they graduate.
“I want to do something with fashion,” the sister said.
Martha wasn’t sure what kind of career appealed to her, but the sister later mentioned that Martha would like to help her dad with campus preaching after high school graduation.
“Have you ever thought about applying to college?” I asked.
“I’ll go if I want to.”
When asked about Evolution, the sister said, “I don’t worry about it. I have faith that God created the universe.”
That’s when I brought up my own views. I believe in Evolution, but I also believe in God, and I asked the sister if she thought it was wrong for someone to pick and choose what to believe in the bible.
“As long as you have religion, it doesn’t really matter.”
Jed and Cindy waited until their wedding day to have their first kiss as a couple, and their daughters expressed a desire to follow this route.
“My dad wouldn’t mind if I kissed before marriage, but it’s my choice not to do it,” said Martha.
“If I got married, but had done stuff with other guys before, I wouldn’t be giving my whole heart to my husband,” said the sister.
“Have you ever thought it would be hard to meet a guy who is willing to wait until marriage to kiss you?” I asked.
After a pause, the sister answered, “If he really loved me, he wouldn’t mind.”
But holding hands and hugging is permitted. The girls like to dance, and they see no problem with
that, and they thought it was strange that some of their friends aren’t even allowed to hug boys or be friends with them on Facebook.com.
Brother Jed began speaking out against masturbation, and a young male student questioned why Jed doesn’t do it.
“I don’t need to, I get the real thing! Cindy is all over me!”
“Is it humiliating to hear about your parents’ sex lives?” I asked the girls.
“Yes!” they answered in unison.
“It’s weird when he talks about his fraternity days and bad past,” Martha said.
“I only get really embarrassed when he brings out the electrical cords for his homosexuality demonstration,” the sister said. “I hate when my friends find it online.”
With many exceptions, the girls remind me of myself in high school. They watch American Idol as I did, and they’re up to date on the lives of Ashley Tisdale, Hilary Duff, Katy Perry, and the Jonas Brothers. They grew up watching The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, and other musicals. Like every teenage girl, Martha is excited to get her license, and she credits Brother Jed as her preferred parental driving instructor.
The girls play instruments, and they said they’d be friends with sinners so long as the sinners don’t put any pressure on them.
“Our best friend, Nikki isn’t Christian,” Martha added.
I decided to ask more religious questions, and I wanted to know more about her family’s take on homosexuality. It’s one thing to see Brother Jed scold gays in front of a crowd, but a different experience to hear the family seriously discuss the reality of the situation.
The five daughters are heterosexual, but life wouldn’t be good for them if they weren’t.
“If one of us were a lesbian, we’d probably get kicked out of the house,” Martha said.
I furthered on the gay lifestyle, which the girls think is a choice.
“Why would Jesus plan for someone to be gay and basically condemn him to Hell from birth? He’s a loving God, he won’t lead us into sin.”
Believe it or not, though, the girls feel they have a “happy medium” between party girls and Amish girls.
“We’re stereotyped as being one or the other, but we’re in the middle.”
The sister also said it frustrates her that Christian girls get penalized for misbehaving when other girls do the same things and get away with it.
“If I wore a shirt that revealed my boobs, I’d be called out for being Christian and doing it even though tons of other girls do the same thing on a daily basis.”
“So yeah, we do have social lives,” Martha said, grinning as she alluded to my blog entry in question of that.
The girls delved into some of the more serious violent acts against their parents on campus visits. Brother Jed broke his leg and arm, and he has been pushed off walls. Cindy was also pushed into a fountain. When a crowd went wild, Brother Jed was arrested for his own safety. On a less destructive level, a UA student threw ice cream at Jed, and another student stuck a piece of gum on Jed’s chair. The girls used ice to remove the gum. Today alone, someone threw a water balloon at Jed, Cindy, and the sister, but it missed and hit an on-looker.
Even though the Smock daughters live what most would consider a restricted life, they’re level-headed and genuinely happy, and from my observations, they are much better behaved and stable than most girls their age. It was refreshing to talk to teenage girls about something besides drinking and parties as the main conversational focuses, and they seem to have a lot of self-respect and pride in what they do. Martha isn’t crying over boys as I was at 17, and the sister isn’t concerned with rushing into adolescent mischief as most high school freshman girls are. I can see they’re truly happy with their decisions, even if the choices don’t always make sense to me or anyone else. Though I’m considerably more sinful than the Smock girls, I appreciated talking to them because they have a more meaningful thought process than a lot of college students I encounter, who seek shallow friendships and drink to fill voids that the Smock daughters don’t have.
My good friend, Rob sat next to me and the Smock girls around 2:15, when Jed began his lecture on pre-marital kissing.
“I waited four years of dating to kiss my wife!”
“Wow, I thought two months was bad,” Rob noted.
“Tell me about it, it’s been since July for me,” I said. “I’m picky.”
That was when the girls stood up from the blanket, setting a chair down on it so it wouldn’t blow away.
“We’re going to go study at the library now,” they said, and then they walked off. I hoped I hadn’t made them uncomfortable. After all, they did say that they have several friends who chose to abstain from kissing until marriage.
“They seem really cool,” Rob said, watching the girls descend the grassy hill.
You can say all you want about the Smock family’s evangelism, but the girls were raised well. Any student with an opinion on Brother Jed should approach him individually. It’ll be different than watching him from the top of Heritage Hill. The family views remain the same, but they do not live as radical a lifestyle as you’d expect. The girls love their lives, and Cindy greatly misses Jed while he’s away. She wants to travel full-time with him when the sister graduates high school. Whether or not you agree with their beliefs, they’re happier than the average American family.