In this season of graduations, proud young men and women receive their hard-earned diplomas and venture out to take their place in the world. Then again, “venturing out” might be an understatement for how some students have chosen to make their mark.
For example, take a recent incident at Middlebury College in Vermont. Charles Murray, author of the controversial book, The Bell Curve, had been invited to speak about his latest book, Coming Apart. A mob of students literally shouted Murray down, preventing him from being heard and forcing campus police to escort him off the stage for his own protection. One faculty member was injured in the melee.
Protestors unintentionally promote the very ideas they attempt to silence
Said one student protester, “Our goal was to not give him a platform on this campus today.” Mission accomplished. However, the story went viral and millions who might never even have heard of Murray or his book were introduced to him.* This scenario has been repeated across our country with a variety of would-be speakers.
What is happening? Actually, nothing new. It is human nature to dismiss, sometimes violently, messages we don’t want to hear. But when people try to prevent others from hearing a message, it often has the opposite effect . . . and the more so if the message happens to be the gospel!
When protestors tried to silence Jews for Jesus in South Africa . . .
Years ago, I led our music team, the Liberated Wailing Wall, along with our drama team, the New Jerusalem Players, on a tour of South Africa. One event at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg was cancelled by the administration due to pressure from “Sorgers,” a Jewish student group on campus. We decided to go to the campus anyway, and simply hand out free gospel literature, which was our right. It wasn’t long before students from Sorgers rallied administrative personnel to have security “escort us” off campus. As we were leaving, one student threatened, “You just wait until the Market Theater.”
The Market Theater is a famous venue in downtown Johannesburg and we were scheduled to hold a concert there. Taking the threat seriously, we hired extra security guards. The night of the concert, students from the university formed a human chain outside the theater, attempting to prevent people from entering. Our security guards were unable to keep the protesters out. The entire hall was filled. Fifty percent of the crowd were protesters; the other half genuinely wanted to hear us.
The chanting began as soon as we were introduced. It was deafening. Our microphones and amplification were useless; we couldn’t even hear ourselves. After several attempts to proceed, fights broke out between protesters and concertgoers. Police and theater management asked us to cancel the concert, which we did. The protesters cheered and filed out. It was discouraging, to say the least.
But as we were packing to leave, a reporter from Reuters News service approached me. She had seen the commotion and wanted to know what was going on. The next day our little group was front-page news all over the country. The headline said, “Uproar over Jews for Jesus group!” The protesters’ “victory” resulted in major news stories and interviews over the next few days, and caught the attention of a young Jewish woman named Alice, who heard and received the gospel.
The ministry opportunities we had thanks to those protestors played a big part in Jews for Jesus establishing our first overseas branch in Johannesburg, which has borne amazing fruit.
That was the first of many times I have been shouted down while trying to proclaim the gospel, and I have learned to trust God and wait to see what He will do—because no one can shout down the Creator of the Universe.
Attempts to silence Jesus, Paul . . . and you.
Efforts to prevent people from hearing Jesus led to His arrest and crucifixion. The result was the resurrection, the defeat of the devil and salvation for all who receive the resurrected Lord.
The apostle Paul was seriously shouted down in Ephesus: “Now when they (the Ephesians) heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’ So the whole city was filled with confusion and . . . all with one voice cried out for about two hours, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:28,34). Just imagine that roaring crowd—yet it couldn’t prevent the establishment of one of the greatest churches that Paul planted, and to whom he wrote one of the greatest epistles that we still have to this day, the book of Ephesians.
Have you ever felt like you’ve been shouted down, or at least thwarted from being able to speak about the things of the Lord? It can be discouraging, can’t it? But we can rest in the sovereignty of God and, as our founder Moishe Rosen used to say, “If you can’t talk to your friends or family about God, you can always talk to God about your family and friends.” We take comfort and courage knowing that no one will ever be able to shout down God.
We may not get every opportunity we’d like to have, but then the Lord provides opportunities that we could not have dreamed of to share the gospel.
Recently Joshua Sofaer, our Jews for Jesus Los Angeles branch leader, was approached by a member of the Persian Jewish community, asking him to debate someone before a live audience. Josh initially declined the invitation, but after the third time he was asked, he said, “I will not have a public debate, but I will have a public conversation.” One hundred fifty mostly younger Jewish people gathered in a Beverly Hills hotel to hear and to interact. The entire audience was engaged, and many people remained after the event was over to discuss whether Jesus could really be the Messiah. I saw a video of the event and I am so very proud of how Josh shared his story and presented the gospel in a winsome and compelling manner. You can view the debate in its entirety here.
A Barna study of Jewish millennials in North America shows that they are “spiritual conversationalists,” much more so than previous generations of Jews. I find that encouraging, don’t you? Remember, many people truly want to hear about Jesus, and efforts to silence the gospel can have the opposite effect. People may get shouted down, but God never will.
*This illustration is not intended as an endorsement of Murray, nor of his books.