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by Michael Schaub

On a hot Thursday afternoon, David Myers walked to the mall in front of the Academic Building with his prayer shawl and book and began to recite his afternoon prayers. Yards away, evangelist Tom Short was speaking to a small group of students.

"I was unfolding my prayer shawl, and Short said, `Here we're going to have some self-righteousness,'" Myers said. "He started to rant about how my prayers were wrong, how I shouldn't pray in public. But Jews have to pray in public."

Myers, an associate professor of English, addressed the crowd, telling the gathered students that "every man should have a right to choose how he's going to worship his God." The crowd applauded Myers, who walked away, telling Short, "You're not worth listening to."

The A&M Christian Fellowship brought Short, a professional "campus preacher," to speak on campus on March 20 and 21.

The confrontation between Short and Myers punctuated a growing national controversy over religious intolerance on the Texas A&M campus. Short's last appearance at A&M, last semester, made national news when he told Jewish student Lisa Foox that "Hitler did not go far enough" and that Jews were condemned to "burn in hell." The incident led to A&M being listed as a major center of hate by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a civil rights organization for Jews. Rabbi Peter Tarlow of the Hillel Foundation said Short is an anti-Semite. "He's done A&M a lot of harm," Tarlow said. "This reconfirms the stereotype that A&M only cares about white Christians."

But members of the A&M Christian Fellowship deny that Short advances anti-Semitic ideas. Melissa Villarrel, a junior education major, said Short's message is positive. "He tells the truth, just like Jesus did," Villarrel said. "He is in no way anti-Semitic."

Short also denied charges of anti-Semitism in a tract he distributed at his rally. The tract states that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. "I don't have any hostility at all toward Jews," Short said. "You can love a person and disagree with them. Anyone who knows me as a person would be shocked by that [allegation of anti-Semitism]."

But Foox, a journalism major, disagrees. "If you put in a phrase that the Jewish people killed Jesus Christ, there's no worse form of anti-Semitism you can promote," Foox said.

Despite the attention that Short's last visit brought A&M, campus leaders have not denounced his anti-Semitism, Myers said. "The administration, the local clergy have not made a public statement to condemn this man," Myers said. "He is a force for division, hatred and violence." Short accused Myers of name-calling after the professor left the rally.

Foox's letter to The Battalion last year prompted Short to write a response to the A&M student newspaper. "In his letter, he called me a liar like Hitler," Foox said. "My grandmother's family was all killed in the Holocaust. This has been very, very difficult."

Short denies he ever made the remark that "Hitler did not go far enough." "I was grossly misrepresented," Short said in his tract. "The Holocaust was a terrible evil. None of the victims of the Holocaust deserved to have been persecuted as they were."

Short's denial of his anti-Semitism is ridiculous, Myers said. "This guy is an obvious anti-Semite," Myers said. "Anti-Semitism is the teaching of contempt. I can't think of a better phrase for what Tom Short does. He teaches contempt. The Holocaust came out of that kind of behavior."

Short said he has suffered from misrepresentations of his statements on the A&M campus. Short's tract contains the sentence, "Whoever rejects Jesus Christ will surely be damned." "Why would anybody not be a Christian?" Short said. "God does not give us the option to believe differently.'

Tarlow compared Short to Hezbollah, the Muslim terrorist group. "At least he's an equal opportunity hater," Tarlow said. "Gays are still his favorite group to bash. And I guess we [Jews] are No. 2. But he's also started to bash Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Catholics." Tarlow said he advises his congregation to react to Short's attacks with dignity. "Don't lower yourself to his level," Tarlow said. "You can't expect everyone to go around loving you, but you can expect a certain level of civility. Tom Short went beyond that level of civility."

Myers and Tarlow both said they worry about the image Short and the A&M Christian Fellowship are giving the university. "He's an intolerant bigot," Myers said. "He's unchristian. He teaches contempt for homosexuals, non-Christians, nonwhites, anyone who's not like him."

Tarlow said Short's appearances on the A&M campus prove the campus is insensitive to Jews. "Are there people here who are ignorant? Yes," Tarlow said. "Are people insensitive? Often. Is the campus racist or anti-Semitic? No. This is not by any means Berlin, 1939."

Eddie Vitulli, a junior horticulture major and A&M Christian Fellowship member, said he supports Short's "message of truth." He's preaching the gospel the way it's supposed to be preached," Vitulli said. "There's nothing wrong with that."

Short said he is confident of the message he preaches. "Sure, God hates, absolutely," Short said, "God does not say, `Believe what you want to believe, follow what you want to follow.'"

The Touchstone, April/May 1997