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Religion sparks controversy on the plaza

Aaron Hedge

Intense debate filled the Lory Student Center plaza Tuesday afternoon as a Christian missionary stood in the center of a circle of about 50 students and told them that they needed to convert.

Tom Short, a minister with an international church organization that promotes religious awareness on college campuses across the country, walked onto the plaza at noon and started lecturing in favor of Christianity.

"One of my first goals is to get you thinking about important things," Short said.

He tries to motivate students to ask questions and, once a question is posed, he has a foot in the door of the asker's heart, he said.

The missionary works through Great Commission Churches, which is a national chain of Christian ministries based in Ohio. Yet, Short funds his own mission, called the Why Jesus? campaign, by trusting that God will provide for him through donations from churches and individuals.

Short says he speaks in the plaza because "that's what Jesus did, what Paul did … there's not a single (prophet) in the Bible that wasn't criticized for it."

He said public forum is the best way to reach more people and that God wants it done that way.

"All throughout the Bible, God had prophets and evangelists who did it," he said.

One point of contention was the validity of the Bible.

"We are imperfect, so we are impure and we wrote the Bible," said one CSU student, who identified himself as a Deist. "So messages in the Bible must be flawed."

Short replied that it is possible someone could have made a mistake in the drafting of the Bible, but that God's power stopped human error from distorting His message.

Another student questioned Short's logic and debated with him for nearly an hour. When the conversation was over, the student said, "I feel like I should stop talking to you now."

Short replied, "No, you should convert!"

His methods angered other students as well.

"It's just annoying and I don't think that's the way to get to people, standing out in the plaza and yelling," graphic design junior Jamie Waugh said. "I'm totally religious, I just think that is ridiculous."

But some students agree with Short and his campaign.

"I think he's doing a great job," said Ramsey Hayes, a mechanical engineering sophomore. "He's just getting straight to the problem and using logic to explain it."

Hayes said students debate with Short because they are drawn to his message.

Others said his ministry is counterproductive because people who are already skeptical of religion will be completely shut off by his vehement advocacy of Christianity.

"Everything we do has the potential to shut people off - Jesus shut people off," he said. "We can't let the fear of the negative prevent us from doing the right thing"

Short said that most of the people who argue with him are past Christians who fell out of the practice and they challenge his message because they question their decision.

"I'm a living testimony that they made the wrong choice," he said.

Some of the students he talks to share personal conflict. Short said that on Monday, one student asked him why he should believe in a god who allowed his best friend to die in his arms.

Short replied by telling the student that some things in this world are on autopilot and can't be controlled by God.

"I speak as if I've got something to say," he said. "I say this is true and you need to believe it."

Andrew Crosser, an engineering science freshman, believes science is the only way to prove something, he said.

"But I need more evidence than that," Crosser said.

Short said science has its place, but that people should give consideration to other methods of knowing.

"Science is a way of discovering the truth, but it's not the only way," he said. "I bring the truth of God to the level of college campuses … The very fact that what I say is true challenges the belief that truth isn't knowable."

Short has been coming to CSU for nearly a decade, sponsored by Summit View Christian Church and The Rock, a CSU student extension of Summit View. He will be speaking in the plaza again today and Thursday afternoon.

The Rocky Mountain Collegian, October 17th, 2007