Evangelist calls to mind issues of spirituality
November 5, 2007 —
Last week, a man named Michael Venyah visited SVSU's campus. He brought along his Bible to preach about the Holy Scripture. Certainly, a person expressing views about religion is nothing new to SVSU.
In fact, SVSU has had a lot of religious visitors in the past. I can't recall the number of times people have stood at the entrances to the various buildings on campus and politely offered students passing by a copy of the New Testament or a pamphlet highlighting basic tenets of the Christian faith. If the student didn't want either of these, they didn't have to take it. At the very least, the student was making his or her own decisions about their spiritual life, and harsh words were never exchanged between student and visitor.
Venyah, on the other hand, was a different sort of evangelistic presence. Instead of the usual message one might expect about submitting oneself to God, loving one's fellow man, and helping the less fortunate among the ranks of humanity, Venyah came preaching his own disturbing version of the Bible. It included a hatred of homosexuals and a distrust of non-Christians.
Furthermore, during his visits to campus, I never once saw him smile, show good will, or even open up a civilized dialogue. There was nothing friendly or compassionate about him; it appeared as though he came only to condemn.
This isn't the Christianity I remember learning about in Sunday school. I was always taught fairly standard Christian ethics involving helping the poor and having a personal relationship with God.
Venyah's message, however, seemed to fall away from the basic message and mirror the mentality and actions of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, the "Christian" group known for picketing funerals of dead homosexuals while holding "God Hates Fags" signs. It is also the same group that protests at funerals of United States military personnel who have been killed while on duty in Iraq.
While there is no evidence that Venyah is connected with the Westboro Baptist Church, it is difficult to overlook the similar hateful ideas these separate entities both encompass.
As a person who was raised in a Lutheran church and still adheres to the Christian philosophy, I've been unfortunate enough to come into contact with people like these many times throughout my spiritual life. The problem is that not only do these types of preachers make the rest of the Christian community look like fools, but they also turn off other people who might otherwise be willing to engage in a respectful dialogue.
Venyah's condemnation of the student body did more to hurt than to help his ideas.
I am by no means a perfect person, but at least I can admit this. In fact, I always thought that one of the major components of the Christian faith is that nobody can achieve perfection. I think that's something that Venyah missed; a spiritual walk is something that takes a lifetime to complete.
This walk requires an individual to partake of the marketplace of ideas in the world and make numerous mistakes along the way. In doing this, that individual will find rational discussion with respectful, intelligent people, along with numerous learning experiences.
Venyah, however, seemed to assume that adhering to a certain set of beliefs automatically makes people behave as perfect individuals. On the contrary, some of the most altruistic spiritual people of our time have been far from perfect.
For instance, I am willing to bet that most readers are unaware that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, though a great spiritual and Civil Rights leader, also cheated on his wife. According to Michael Venyah, that's grounds for hellfire.
Although, I suppose if Dr. King was doomed, then I think we'll all be in good company.