Students may have heard talk about him in class. They may have seen him in the plaza. They might have even let him know what they had to say about his message.
Josh Herridge is the pastor at Beacon of Truth Church right here in Huntsville. God called him to the ministry when he was very young, and he answered the call at age sixteen when he began preaching in the pulpit where his father stood before him. Years later, he started open-aired preaching to call sinners to salvation and challenge fellow Christians to do the same.
Since then, he has served on 14 college campuses across five or six states, including Sam Houston State University. Every few weeks, Herridge stands on a brick wall outside the Smith-Hutson Building and proclaims the gospel to students walking to classes or chilling in the plaza.
According to his faith, the King James Bible is the infallible, preserved word of God, and repentance is necessary for man’s salvation. He interprets this as meaning that all men are born evil, but by turning away from their sins, they become saints who retain the ability to do wrong but choose only to do right. That said, he believes that exposing others’ sins will make them feel convicted and thus choose repentance and salvation.
But not all who hear are willing to listen. The pastor’s message often comes across as unrealistic, aggressive and offensive, accusing passersby of grave sins for listening to rap music or wearing a blouse that is cut a little low.
More times than not, these surface-level judgments do more to incite frustration and anger than a will to repent. Students often respond by ignoring him or standing to listen before moving on, but others retaliate by arguing with him or distracting his audience.
A couple of girls mocked him by laughing every time he made a point they disagreed with. Another student distracted his friends by dancing between them and the pastor, and some got so heated that a fight nearly broke out. Three policemen arrived to keep the peace.
Lane Bertrand stated, “[Herridge has said that] if someone’s wearing shorts, they’re a slut, and that women are inferior to men, and all sorts of terrible things, and that infuriates me.”
Many listeners think Herridge’s comments cross a line, which is one reason why he draws such large crowds. Shelby Slade addressed some of her concerns with both his message and all the attention he gets.
“[Herridge] causes traffic in the mall area,” Slade said, “and he lowers students’ self esteem by criticizing them, and that’s not good for students’ mental health.”
Regardless of denomination, most Christians seem to agree with him to a certain extent. They congratulate him for standing up for his freedom of speech and spreading the word of God, but they claim it is his method of sharing that causes issues.
One man who grew up Lutheran used to protest at Herridge’s appearances, but after an hour-long conversation with him, he understood a little more about where the pastor was coming from. Herridge believes one needs to know and obey the word of God before he or she can accept grace of God, and his open-aired preaching style is similar to how Jesus taught during his time on earth.
“[Herridge] has Biblical evidence … for everything that he says and everything that he does, and I respect that,” the student said. “Even though I don’t like his [methods], I think that what he’s doing is important to students’ beliefs, and I respect people’s abilities to practice what they believe.”
Despite students’ misgivings about the pastor and his views, Herridge acts purely out of love. He fears that they have been misinformed or misled about what the Bible defines as sin and how their actions might affect their lives after death. He claims his purpose is to call others to repentance and let Jesus save them from an eternity in Hell.
“The reason I do this is not because I hate people but because I love people,” Herridge said. “I’m not trying to be mean; I’m just doing what God has clearly commanded in the scriptures, and [all Christians] should be doing this … for the glory and the love of God.”