The Shepherd’s Lamb
Students know him as an opinionated campus preacher. She knows him as dad.
By Danielle Paquette
Amid a mob of jeering students, Martha Smock sits quietly.
“This can’t be real.” “Where’s the camera?”
She stares at the ground, stoic-faced, and sweeps a lock of curly, chestnut hair behind her ear. It’s so hot out, she thinks. Too hot for leaves to be on the ground.
Her father, the man she follows across the country, considers every climate ideal for fire and brimstone.
Today, he stands before the usual crowd and preaches the usual sermon.
“Fornicators!” he roars, drawing more observers around Martha’s camouflage foldout chair. “Feminists! Homosexuals! You’re all going to hell!”
By now, after decades of his annual visits, many IU students have heard of Brother Jed Smock.
His thick eyebrows, nylon suspenders, candy-striped bowtie and brand of confrontational evangelism are instantly recognizable on campus, which was the 14th stop of his college tour this year.
Rumors swirl regarding his intentions.
“The psycho comes to instigate fights and sue the University!”
“He’s actually trying to turn people away from God — no real Christian would yell like that!”
“Bro Jed? I think he’s a comedian in disguise. I just feel bad for his daughter.”
Martha’s heard it all.
Before she left home in Columbia, Mo., before she bid farewell to her teary-eyed mother and sister, before she postponed college plans to tour nationwide campuses with her evangelist father, Martha had swung at a man.
She hadn’t been desensitized to the hostility, yet.
She describes him as older, creepy — the man she punched. She was four years old, and can’t remember the exact insult that triggered the claws-out, top-of-her-lungs rage. She laughs when she recalls a smaller version of herself screaming, “Don’t be mean to my daddy!”
The punch, padded with baby fat, connected just below his kneecap. She hasn’t hit anyone since.
Today, like last week in Minnesota and the week before in Wisconsin, she calmly listens.
“What do you know about anything?” a young woman spits, inches from Martha’s face. “You’re idiotic! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Yeah!” another yells. “You’re obviously not getting laid. I have sex with my boyfriend and I’m still a good person.”
Jed shakes his head.
“I’m not an idiot, I know more about life than you do,” he replies. “And do you think that boy will actually marry you after you’ve had sex with him? Besides, the last thing any man wants is a loud, rambunctious, abrasive woman.”
“You’re a sexist pig! You’re no Christian!”
The outbursts aren’t directed at Martha, for now.
Anxiety builds in her chest, a familiar blend of tightness and butterflies.
Soon, he’d ask her to speak.
Yesterday, during her second day on campus with Jed, a student had loudly mocked her mismatched socks. She hadn’t put much thought into her outfit and failed to notice a contrasting green and blue inside her Osiris tennis shoes. They were just socks, after all.
She had shrugged. Why validate hatred with a response?
She felt relieved to have a large cardboard sign between her and the crowd. Holding “YOU’RE GOING TO HELL,” as the text screamed in red, was a lot easier than saying it.
In that instance, her religious beliefs were a tangible shield.
As Jed continues to speak, Martha fades into her own thoughts. The jeering becomes white noise by hour three, she says.
She hunches forward, wipes a layer of sweat from her forehead and fiddles with a Nikon D90 camera, her prized possession. She exhausted her high school graduation money to buy it.
The camera, slung loosely around her neck, helps drown out all the insults and laughter and curse words: typical background noise prompted by a man whose job is to tell people why they’re going to hell.
“You people are sick!” someone screams. Martha aims her camera at the exchange.
Another shot of Jed’s animated face and pointed finger.
Through its lens, she sees what she pleases: her father, a figure she’s admired for as long as she can remember, thrusting his custom-made wooden staff toward the autumn sky.
He wouldn’t tell anyone they’re damned if he didn’t love them.
At schools across the nation, Brother Jed is a campus celebrity.
Videos, such as “Brother Jed on Breasts” and “Brother Jed on Pre-Marital Holding of Hands,” have garnered thousands of YouTube plays.
He encourages students to add him on Facebook to continue conversations. His status updates often explode in debate.
“I love the small-minded bigotry here,” one student, Daniel, writes. “I love not being Christian.”
Points of contention rarely manifest on Martha’s page. Rather, she discusses her weekend or quotes her friends: “There’s a creeper in my science class. – Elizabeth.”
Like many teenagers, she strives to stay plugged into the world.
Five minutes can’t elapse without communication, whether on Facebook or Skype or texting or answering calls when Taylor Swift blasts from her AT&T Solstice.
Martha, one of five daughters, joined Jed on tour for exploration’s sake — geographically and intrapersonally. She wants to be a photographer someday.
And what’s a better way to stuff her portfolio than embark on a road trip? There are new photo opportunities beyond each state line.
No, she doesn’t have plans for adulthood just yet.
But she loves traveling. Her family joins Jed on tour for two weeks each year. This time, however, is different — she has him all to herself. Five sisters tend to compete for attention, she says. And Jed wasn’t home much when they were growing up.
In the grassy area between Woodburn and Ballantine halls, where Jed preaches and Martha sits, students ask questions.
Where does he come from? Who is that girl behind him? Why is he doing this? “After many sinful years in a fraternity, I found Christ to save my soul,” he booms. “It’s actually a funny story.”
Before Martha Smock, there was Brother Jed and Cindy Lasseter.
Jed began outdoor preaching after he graduated from Indiana State University in 1965. He traveled from campus to campus, atoning for nights spent with sorority girls on the leather seats of his 1954 Chevrolet pickup truck.
Cindy, a journalism student at the University of Florida, spotted him outside of her dormitory one day and laughed. She laughed so loudly, he singled her out in the crowd.
“Repent for your sins, wicked woman!”
And that was how they met.
Cindy, a reporter for her school paper, wanted to learn more about Jed.
She approached him and offered to buy dinner.
“No,” he said. “But I’ll take you out to dinner.”
After that, they dated for four years and didn’t kiss until their wedding day.
It’s a story Martha loves to tell.
She grew up surrounded by sisters — Evangeline, Charlotte, Justina and Priscilla — who were always trading clothes.
Martha, a self-described tomboy, paired skateboard shoes with long, flowing skirts.
Homeschooled from kindergarten to graduation, she’d often stay in pajamas through reading and writing and math.
She’d practice parallel parking in Cindy’s Toyota Corolla, but wasn’t allowed to test for her license until she turned 18.
Then, she texted the “whole world,” as her mom put it: a network of friends she’d see every weekend.
Cindy, who stayed at home, often arranged Martha’s social life: youth group meetings, party mixers, dances where attendees twirled and swayed like characters in “Pride and Prejudice” — the kind of dancing that didn’t involve hip gyration.
Martha will save her first kiss for her wedding day.
She’s had crushes, but has yet to hold hands. She estimates her father will say it’s OK in a year or two.
Jed likes to talk about Martha. He writes about her in his online journal. He calls her “intelligent” and “chaste.”
He describes her the same way to the crowd.
“You should be more like my daughter,” Jed says to surrounding students, who were now mostly sitting cross-legged on the dry, yellowing grass. “She’s chaste. She’s saving herself for marriage — the only time hot sex is acceptable.”
Martha smiles, visibly embarrassed. She’d been waiting three hours to speak, but wasn’t sure what to say. She knew he’d ask. Any minute now.
“Martha,” Jed calls, turning to his daughter. “Why don’t you talk some sense into these kids?”
She hears herself swallow.
She hates the sound. She hopes her voice is clear, steady. She approaches her peers slowly. She wishes someone would ask a question. “Wink if you need help,” one student hisses from the front row. “You can tell us if he’s hurting you or something.”
“He’s not hurting me,” she says. “I believe everything my dad is saying.”
She always has.
That’s the funny thing about truth, she says. You know it when you hear it, like you’ve always known it.
All screaming abates, as though students in the crowd realize something remarkable: Brother Jed is somebody’s father.
“OK, let’s not make fun of her,” another says. “Let’s just be real. Martha, do you play Halo?”
“Yes,” she giggles. “I do.”
“What’s your favorite weapon?”
“The gravity hammer,” she says.
“So you’re kind of normal?” one student asks.
“Yeah, I think so.”
She tells them she’ll go to college, eventually. She wants to learn how to shoot high-fashion editorial spreads.
She mentions Gypsy, her three-legged dog at home, who was a present from her father. She says she has friends who are Christians and friends who are atheists.
The students press further.
“How does your father react to your friends who are atheists?”
“He’s fine with it,” she says. “As long as they respect my beliefs.”
“Will you go out with me?” one guy asks.
Jed slips his arm around Martha’s shoulders.
“I’ve got my eye on you, young man.”
Martha laughs, and so does everyone else.
She stands, waiting for the next inquiry, and notices a dramatic lapse in pattern: There is a smile on every face. There is more quiet than jeering.
Sometimes these moments, these calms in the storm, occur toward the end of Jed’s five-hour sermons.
It happens almost every time: a shift from animosity to curiosity. She never knows why.
Are people saved? Or just tired?
“Do you guys have any more questions?” Martha asks.
“Yeah,” says another guy, pulling out his iPhone. “How do you spell your name? I want to add you on Facebook.”