By Joseph Delamerced '22
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has
actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the
whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because
of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and
dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear
(Philippians 1:12-14 NIV)
Every fall, a group of older white men stand outside Page-Robinson Hall. Dressed in khakis and polos, they appear disarming at first. They are allowed to be there. There is nothing that is stopping them from setting up at that specific place. But the reason why people hurry past them or stop to argue is not because they are disrupting the flow of traffic: these men are yelling at you. More accurately, they are condemning you, me, and anyone else who crosses their path.
These men are part of the “Sin Awareness Day” movement, started by retired veteran Don Karns at the University of Connecticut. They carry megaphones and an agenda to make you aware that you are as sinful as can be. Students will try to avoid them as they pick up mail, go to class, or return to the dorms. Some will try to reason with them or stop and challenge their beliefs. They will not listen. Their voices berate the Brown campus for suspect ethics and sinful hearts. Is our campus, ranked #14 in the nation for quality of life by The Princeton Review, really so bad?
Perhaps this description is too biased against these Sin Awareness men. A quick Google search paints them in a more positive light: “I love those I preach to. I want them to experience peace with God, freedom from sin, forgiveness of sin and assurance of heaven,” said Karns in a UConn Daily Campus interview. He even added that people are free to walk away if they so choose. Another follower of the Sin Awareness movement, Mike Stockwell, echoed the same sentiments: “We're not here being hateful or anything. We just wanted the Gospel to be proclaimed.”
But a look into student publications on college campuses all over the northeast, including the Brown Daily Herald (BDH), shows student perspectives that are entirely different from what the preachers say they do. UMass Media reported that these groups of men argued against students saying they “knew nothing” before covering up with claims that they were not trying to insult anyone. Benjamin Bosis’ 19, columnist at the BDH, wrote in his own op-ed that “nothing would satisfy me more than to make these people feel bad about their actions on their terms.” An anonymous user on the University of Connecticut’s reddit forum asked, “Where else could I get yelled at for free?”
It is ironic that instead of asking young adults to focus on Jesus, these men choose to ask us to focus on sin and brokenness. This is antithetical to the Gospel message. We are transformed by God’s love, and yet these men would have you think that no such transformation is possible by reminding you over and over again: you are a sinner. Is this the same Gospel that Christians at Brown want to share?
Karns believes that he and his followers are a part of the Biblical mission to reconcile people to God. Even though I disagree with and dissent from Karns in many ways, I agree that we all ought to be bold in sharing the Gospel. In fact, I agree with Karns’ fundamental point: I am imperfect, and therefore, a sinner in need of redemption. But I vehemently disagree with his and other Sin Awareness followers’ belief that God only reveals His love and peace after repentance. I speak against and question their belief that the best way to share the Gospel is to condemn others and highlight sin. Their motives and actions have made me wonder: is this what my faith will lead me to do? To put on a public showcase condemning others, to be a mockery of the love of Christ? I do not believe so. But Sin Awareness followers’ beliefs and yelling do so much harm—for believers and non-believers alike—and they turn almost entire campuses away from the love and salvation that Christ freely offers.
Karns and other Evangelicals that have begun following in his footsteps have grossly misrepresented the Gospel by focusing on sin instead of the redemptive power of Christ. As much as I would hope that everyone is aware that they are wrong, my non-Christian friends and classmates are able to laugh and scoff at them as if these Sin Awareness men represent typical Christians. They think of these men with megaphones when an idea like “Christians sharing the Gospel fearlessly” comes to mind. To the Christian that reads this: they do not think of you or me. Even if we disagree with them and voice our opinion, we do it too quietly. We do it so shamefully, and in our attempt to distance ourselves from them, we distance ourselves from being Christian. At best, we apologize that they came and try to explain the true Gospel. At worst, we apologize that someone tried to share the Gospel at all.
In Philippians, Paul writes much about fearlessness in sharing the Gospel. Even though he is imprisoned, Paul still encourages his fellow believers with stories of Christian conversion, the glory of God, and practical advice about how a church should function. He believes that his situation has encouraged fellow believers to become more confident in their faith and begin to share the Gospel with others more fearlessly than ever before. Surely, reading Philippians gave Karns and his followers fuel to obey such a command. Despite facing humiliation, insults, and arguments, Sin Awareness followers like Karns still are happy to return to college campuses.
But such boldness is, in reality, recklessness, especially when presenting a false Gospel. To share the Gospel is not to yell or demand conversion. We share the Gospel with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) so that people might know the love and fullness of Christ (Ephesians 3:19). To be bold in this command is different for all of us, especially as college students. Start with praying for someone, and ask God what He is calling you to do.
As Christians, while God only asks that we accept Christ as our Savior and believe in His redemptive power, we have also been given what we call the Great Commission—Jesus asks us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). So if a “points system” existed, where we also needed to prove our worth through earthly or material actions, surely I would have fewer points than these men. That may be hard to believe—these men are so awful, are they not? I think so. Yet I wonder if they would equal or surpass my score. I fall short in many ways, and these men seem to have “piled up points” when it comes to proclaiming the gospel without fear. They rudely preach falsehoods, but yet still: they preach. I sit here, typing away, still afraid of what someone might say if I start talking about spirituality with them. I am so hesitant to even ask a non-believer if I can pray for them, wondering how uncomfortable I might make them, as if a prayer was “forcing” my faith unto them. When have I ever boldly shared the Gospel? I can say what I want (and I will) about how ineffectual, aggressive, prideful, and untrue Sin Awareness followers’ message might be, but if you were to press me, I would then have to admit: they are certainly fearless.
Illustration by Jocelyn Salim '23