(CNN) When I was in college in the early 1980s, one of the more peculiar events in the fall was a visit from "Brother Jed Smock." Smock, a self-styled "confrontational evangelist," would plant himself at some central outdoor location and confidently preach against, well, you name it.
With his wife Cindy and assorted assistants standing nearby as a kind of Greek chorus, Jed would rail against not just alcohol, drugs, fornication and rock 'n' roll (seemingly just about anything that made life truly enjoyable) but also against homosexuals. I recall the old "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" line, and apparently he's still at it today, using the "we can pray the gay away" canard.
To be sure, it was a sport among many students to circle Smock and jeer at him, get into goofy exchanges with him, and even interrupt him as much as possible. I, in fact, learned a lot from watching this -- such as that people like Smock existed, for one thing, but more importantly what the handy arguments against them were. The Gay Alliance, at a time when such organizations were new to college campuses, was memorably articulate, I recall. They didn't tell Smock to shut up or circulate petitions to bar him from campus. His being able to air his views to an extent was part of the educational process, in providing something to respond to amid the lively give and take of actual exchange. There was no notion that human dignity required the campus grounds be a space "safe" from the likes of his speech.
They argued back -- eloquently.