The Brother Jed Phenomenon

by Dave Gross

As much as I like my sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll (or, perhaps, fornication, intoxication, and devil music), I must say I learned a lot from the recent preaching by Brothers Jed and Bob in the Cal Poly University Union.

Brother Jed Smock, if you haven’t heard, is a hellfire-and-damnation style preacher who goes from one college campus to another telling stories of his transformation from hippy to god-fearing christian, and his wife’s from disco-queen to properly submissive Mrs. Jed.

Punctuating his speeches with uncompromising condemnation of fornicators, masturbators, sodomites (by which he means homosexuals), whores and whoremongers (by which he means everyone else), and a whole host of other categories that are guaranteed to cover the entire student body wherever he and his troupe land, he draws crowds that few other speakers can match.

His religious agenda, being mostly predictible conservative christianity in the mold of Jimmy Swaggart with a healthy dose of the old female-sexuality-as-the-downfall-of-man bit and no tolerance at all for namby-pamby “God is Love” preachers, is hardly the point.

He has become an American legend. A worldwide computer network monitors his progress. He has spawned a flock of fans who, in comparison to the fanatical followers of the Grateful Dead, call themselves “Jed-Heads.”

I was alerted that he was in California by a Paul Revere-style friend of mine from U.C. Santa Barbara who heard him speak there and then called to prepare me for his inevitable arrival at Cal Poly. I got to campus early and was able to hear most of his speaking.

What could be more entertaining, I thought, than to listen to a grown man put forth the sort of bizarre syllogism offered by Brother Bob, one of Jed’s companions on the circuit (here, I paraphrase):

I must come out of the closet and admit that I am a hoe-moe-sex-u-al. I was talking to Brother Jed the other day, and he pointed out to me that masturbation is just like having SEX with YOURSELF! Since I am the same sex as myself, and I have, in the past, done such things. I must be a hoe-moe-sex-u-al.

It may not make any sense, but it got our attention, sure enough.

After Brother Jed had completed his famous “Parable of the Five Dormies,” he turned to me out of all the people in the crowd and handed me the copy of “Who Will Rise Up?” that he was reading from.

I took the book, expressed sincere gratitude, and wondered why he picked me out of the crowd to bestow this gift upon. Maybe it was the way I shouted “For Nigh Cay Shun!” Maybe it was the feigned sincerity with which I asked how I might overcome my lustful feelings. Maybe he knew I wanted to read that book and see for myself what drove this man to preach the way he does. Maybe it was dumb luck.

I quickly discovered from reading his book that Brother Jed is no fool. When he’s preaching he may come across as a sex-obsessed neanderthal, but his writing is clear, deliberate, and obviously the product of an above-average intelligence.

Is he a looney? Well, okay, so maybe he is. And maybe I shouldn’t be taking him so seriously. But there is undeniably a method to his madness.

When he attacks everything students hold dear (and number one on that list is his favorite target, fornication), it is not just an explanation of the tenets of his faith, it is a deliberate attempt to anger and upset the crowd.

This is especially clear when there are times when he could easily be diplomatic, and yet he deliberately turns a phrase that many find offensive. Most often baited in this regard are feminists, who find many of their worst accusations about men being advocated, nay trumpeted, by Jed in their own exaggerated language.

“Women need to be put in their place!” He says. “They should be baby machines.” Where did he find that phrase? Not in any christian book, but instead in the caricatures of American religion written by its most offended and horrified critics — and he has adopted that caricature for his own!

And nobody can argue that it doesn’t work. The crowds he gathers are as angry, rude, and ill-behaved as any mob that ever villified any prophet. And so later in his speech, when he talks about how today’s students are obnoxious and rude and have no morals… well, you can’t really argue.

Admittedly, my ministry brings out the worst in people. But some, at the end of the day, will return to the privacy of their rooms and reflect on their behavior with shame. For the first time they will see themselves for what they actually are — decadent, depraved and degenerate.

Several times in his book he reflects on the fact that the same students who accuse him of intolerance are the ones who try to shout him down, and the ones who have several times in the last several years beat him and called the police to have him hauled away.

And he’s been doing this for years. He knows just what to expect from his crowd. Every clever comment anyone in the audience makes is one he has heard dozens of times before. You can’t impress him with clever comebacks; and you certainly can’t out-bible him.

When he uses hellfire and brimstone phrases, it is no nervous tic of his that he exaggerates them and accompanies them with bizarre hand gestures. It is a deliberate attempt to bait his audience into mimicking him — and it almost never fails.

Unusual voice techniques and elaborate gestures are especially helpful. For example, throughout the afternoon I will often refer to the eternal home of sinners:

“The everlasting LAKE OF FI-RRRRRE!”

“After several FI-RRRRES, the whole crowd is chanting along. It’s reported that within a few days of preaching, the students are shouting “You’ll burn forever in the LAKE OF FI-RRRRRRE,” down their dorm halls. They consider it a big joke but as they mimic me the fact of this terrible torment is being impressed on their minds.”

It’s a little disheartening to realize that all the time I was in the crowd yelling out clever phrases and screaming about “PRO MISK YOU US WIMMEN!” that as noisy as we were in the crowd, and as independent-minded as we wanted to sound, we were just the orchestra and Brother Jed was the conductor.

Brother Jed’s strange monologues gave me plenty of opportunity to feel superior. But in fact, every clever come-back, every satirical comment, every biblical objection that the crowd voiced that day was expected, prepared for, and indeed summoned forth intentionally by Brother Jed’s antics.

Students of group-behavior would be well-advised to study the mobs that gather whenever Brother Jed speaks. And Jed’s book, “Who Will Rise Up?” is more than just a work of biography and theology: It ought to be a required text in any course on crowd control, sociology, and mob behavior.

Video of Jed and his crew

Jedheads On-line

From the press:

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On This Day in SniggleryJune 25, 2001: Michael Kinsley, editor of Slate, finally admits that the magazine’s report on the bizarre sport of monkey fishing was “willful inaccuracy.” (See News Trolls for more info)