Grayson Joslin is a sophomore journalism and political science major and writes “Soapbox” for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
Editor's note: "Sister Cindy" Smock has since changed her appearance at Ball State to Sept. 13.
The downfall of Andrew Tate has been on many people’s minds lately.
The former kickboxer grew a dangerous presence online as he espoused his misogyny to an audience of young boys and men. Tate’s content consisted of abhorrent remarks, including him saying that “depression isn’t real” and comparing women to property.
Meta, which includes Facebook and Instagram, and YouTube banned Tate due to him violating their policies on hate speech in August.
Tate’s story of despicable remarks and wide social media reach reminded me of a similar tale of a couple holding their Bibles, preaching their religious views
This couple has been trekking to college campuses all across the Midwest for close to 40 years now and have experienced a new surge in popularity thanks to social media.
They are husband and wife duo Jed and Cindy Smock, known to college students everywhere as “Brother Jed and Sister Cindy.”
Brother Jed, had been preaching on campuses across America since 1972. After his death in June 2022, Sister Cindy announced she would be going on a Brother Jed Memorial Tour via her social media accounts.
Smock said she would bring her sermon to Ball State on Sept. 13, her second consecutive year of coming to Ball State, as she delivered her sermon to Ball State last September.
Let me be perfectly clear: I have no problem with people coming to college campuses and professing their religion and faith. It is one of the rights we have been granted under the First Amendment.
This freedom of speech applies to you, me and Sister Cindy; it is what allows me to write this article expressing my viewpoint about her.
The message of this tale is simple: people should not go to events that they do not agree with. And the fact of the matter is that people have been attending Sister Cindy’s sermons to protest her contested views; however, these protests may be the fuel that allows Sister Cindy to become more popular with each passing day.
What does Sister Cindy preach? She preaches people to be a “ho no more,” and most of her sermons demonize people who have sex before marriage or outside of one monogamous relationship. At her sermon at Ball State last year, she called feminists “feminazis” and held up a sign claiming that it was “slut-shaming time.”
Over the past year, I have talked to many people where the conversation turned to Sister Cindy. People have admitted to me, they think Sister Cindy’s sermons are a show; that she actually doesn't believe what she says, that it is all one elaborate satire. When you type in “Is Sister Cindy…” on Google, the first autofill response is “Is Sister Cindy satire?”
It is not satire.
Still believe that Sister Cindy is some act? The former “Disco Queen” herself said her sermons are “not drama or humor just to be funny,” it is her presenting her own personal beliefs.
I hear people say to “separate the art from the artist” when it comes to controversial figures like her. However, in this case, the art and the artist are intertwined and cannot be separated.
Sister Cindy believes, and Brother Jed believed in what they preach. It is no Sam Kinison act that they are pulling off.
I subscribe to the belief that college students think Sister Cindy is a comedy act. For example, her popularity is seen on social media. Sister Cindy has over 15,000 followers on Instagram and 422,000 followers on TikTok.
How did Sister Cindy amass such a following in the social media age?
She transformed herself into one of them - embracing the jargon of Gen Z, bringingt her sermon into the modern age with her now-famous catchphrases and familiarizing herself with modern culture. From the outside, people flocked to Smock because of her blunt way of preaching, something Brother Jed and her called “confrontational evangelism”.
The shock value of this curt 60-year-old preacher reading the lyrics of “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion without stuttering may have drawn people to her, whether they shared her views or not.
This combination of shock value and controversy made her tailor-made for success on social media, and she has leaned into her new-found fame with her own store, selling merchandise with her now infamous catchphrases.
However, her adoration has not left her immune to controversies. When the Smocks made their way to Ball State in 2012, before their surge in popularity, several students who knew what the preaching couple taught called them out on their views.
Sister Cindy’s divisive and extreme statements aren’t new. When she returned to the University of Florida in 1981 to preach alongside Brother Jed, the Independent Florida Alligator said “she accused a woman of being a lesbian and a bad mother because she cut was wearing jeans and cut her hair short and straight,” called a man “a miserable wrench” because of his party lifestyle and said, “There was only thing worse than one queer: two queers.” Even from her early days, her views riled up those in attendance, and it has not stopped.
“Ball State University is a public institution. Our campus is open to students, faculty, staff, visitors and members of the community,” Andrew Walker, senior communication strategist for Ball State, said in an email.“The University is aware of potential visits by individuals utilizing our campus for lawful demonstrations, as was the case in Sept. 2021. The University supports freedom of expression and assembly as referenced in our Non-Commercial Expressive Activity and Assembly on University Property policy. Any demonstration on campus that violates policy will be handled accordingly.”
Ball State’s Assembly on University Property policy states that speech or conduct that is “unwelcome and directed toward a person on the basis of that person’s membership or perceived membership in a protected class that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” is forbidden on campus property. Has Sister Cindy’s sermons on campus in previous years considered to be a violation of this policy?
On college campuses across our nation, some students have shown up to argue and protest Sister Cindy and her degrading viewpoints on the LGBTQ community, among other things. In September 2019, the Smocks were issued a trespass warning at Indiana University after the university police department received a claim that Sister Cindy made contact with a protester.
Protests have created great change in society; from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to keeping abortion legal in Kansas this August, the idea of what Henry David Thoreau called “civil disobedience” has seen people disregard systems they feel are unjust. However, protests against Sister Cindy, in my viewpoint, do not work when people show up to her sermons and are bombarded with hateful rhetoric.
I can fairly assume some people who showed up last year do not believe in her viewpoints but are only there for entertainment or are not reasonably educated in what Smock stands for and ignorantly cheer her along. They might want to skip class to see this woman from social media preach.
However, by being there, you are complicit in her ever-growing popularity. You are giving her more of a reason to continue her never-ending tour of college campuses across America and to spread her dangerous rhetoric.
People might “ironically” support Sister Cindy because of her off-the-wall theatrics, but it is still supporting her nonetheless. It doesn't matter if the support is genuine or a joke, it is still giving someone your time and energy to promote their platform.
If you are thinking about seeing Sister Cindy preach Sept. 14 — don’t.
As long as we keep giving Sister Cindy attention, she will succeed.
Contact Grayson Joslin with comments at Grayson.email@example.com or on Twitter @GraysonMJoslin.