Gary Birdsong: Preaching to The Converted

We've all seen him around -- or more likely heard him.

He'll show up often in the fall, forehead veins a-bulging, then open his mouth, making Jerry Falwell look like a raging liberal hippie. Some think he gives religion a bad name. He is known for making Muslim students cry.

Gary Birdsong, the Pit Preacher, has become a bit of an institution at UNC.

Walking through the center of campus, soothed by the lulling cadences of screaming and derisive laughter, I wondered about the man behind the voice. So I called up old Mr. Birdsong to see what he had to say.

Birdsong is a family man from Halifax County. He travels to more than six states all year, doing exactly what he does at Chapel Hill and has done for more than 20 years.

We had a 45 minute conversation that was, while enlightening, in all honesty a bit spooky. He said pretty much what I had expected -- Jews, Muslims, Catholics, relaxed Christians, non-churchgoers, homosexuals, women who work or wear pants, people who attend sporting events, players in sporting events, Democrats, liberals, feminists, people who like peace, people who like the arts, the Bill of Rights, UNC administrators and faculty and essentially anyone who disagrees in any way, shape, or form with Gary Birdsong are all subject to judgment.

The most surprising part about our interview was that it was a civilized, calm discussion rather than the traditional scream/response/interruption of the Pit talks.

Here are some of the highlights.

Erin: You traditionally use a forward, abrasive preaching method. Is this the most effective strategy?

Birdsong: I get riled up because it gets people uptight, emotional. If I see repentance, I'll stop! Chapel Hill's real bad, real, real bad -- no repentance there. UNC-Chapel Hill is anti-God.

I wonder if the 45 recognized student religious organizations would agree. He went on to say that getting people angry is his most effective method of preaching.

Birdsong: See, when I leave, everyone is still talking -- that's my purpose. I could compromise and get along with everybody, but it wouldn't help. It's when folks get attitudes that I get attitude.

Erin: Do you get used to all the verbal warfare?

Birdsong: You never get used to people blaspheming God.

Erin: This University has received national press for being liberal. What are your thoughts on that subject?

Birdsong: This University is the most stupidest place I have ever been. That administration is wicked people. All this stuff, this humanistic theology is all teaching from the federal government. All the sin is because of prayer out of school. They've perverted the First Amendment -- the state was told not to interfere with the First Amendment, the freedom to practice religion. Well, just look at what religion they're talking about! It's Christianity -- look at the founding fathers!

Erin: The true religion on this campus is sports. What can you suggest to our teams to keep a good record?

Birdsong: What they need to do is quit it all together. Ballgames represent the world and sin. Christians shouldn't be participating in that. Cheerleaders in ungodly outfits, everybody drinking, smoking the marijuana. That sort of stuff is the reason God descends his wrath on America!

Wow. Hear that, coaches Bunting and Doherty? Perhaps it's time to rethink your gametime philosophy.

Seems the key would be to just ignore the man -- hostility only plays into what he is trying to do. The reason behind the animosity is obvious -- people don't like having someone come into their space and sling hate like hash. It's hard for me to listen to someone who's telling me I am booked with a one-way, first-class, express ticket to eternal hellfire.

When he visits, UNC students don't talk. We yell. We mock. We ridicule. I can certainly understand that -- I have been angered and seriously offended by just about everything he says. But because someone disrespects me does not mean I have the right to disrespect him or that I should, especially if it only eggs him on.

It is sad that a person can devote so much fire and energy spreading such a hateful message. Talking to him made me realize just how genuinely he believes in what he says, which is unsettling to say the least. At the same time, I was alternately left wishing I could muster that much passion about anything.

Erin Fornoff can be reached at fornoff@email.unc.edu.

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