They say that a single pine needle falling at the Augusta National Golf Club would be plucked in midair by an attentive course volunteer during the week of the Masters Golf Tournament. Those who organize this annual event are legendary in their efficiency, attention to detail and hospitality, all of which were on display when I attended the second round of that famed tourney last week.
There seemed only one area out of the control of the Masters’ organizers: the small piece of property immediately across from the pedestrian entrance to the tournament. The crosswalk leading to the manicured fairways of that private club sits on public property, a detail seized upon by a group of leather-lunged evangelists who presumably stood in that spot all week, screaming at and haranguing the tens of thousands of fans (the club insists on calling them patrons) crossing that strategic access.
All who entered or exited the gates of this world-famous tournament first endured a pod of 4-5 men carrying signs about the capacity of hell and screaming for all of us to repent and accept Jesus. A woman and a perhaps 10-year-old girl distributed equally simplistic religious messages to the few takers.
Because I was meeting a friend at the gate, I was subjected to this self-righteous verbal assault for 10 minutes, a man with a portable headset loudspeaker ensuring that nobody missed a single syllable. I was never so glad to see my friend finally appear.
Leaving the course eight hours later, we were bombarded with the same bombast by the second shift. A Richmond County uniformed crossing guard stood on the curb, holding pedestrians back while traffic passed and I commiserated with him, “If there’s anybody in Augusta who is saved, it has to be you.”
“I really can’t stand listening to this much longer,” he replied, rolling his eyes.
“I understand; I can’t stand it much longer, either, and I’m a preacher,” I concluded.
Why do people have to be so utterly abrasive and antagonistic when witnessing to the love of God? I know about Paul’s “being all things to all people so that I might win some …,” but I suspect this group of misguided missionaries ran 50 times more people away from the love of God and the arms of the church than they could have attracted. I gathered – from overhearing their small talk – that they might have been a scare-the-hell-out-of-them road show, having recently been in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Next stop, the Kentucky Derby, Indy 500, or your town?
Finally the crossing guard signaled the crosswalk was open. Looking at me, he spoke out loud what many were probably thinking: “If you want to take them out, I’ll be right behind you.”
When a dedicated public servant suggests that he and a preacher start a riot, one knows things are tough.
I almost accepted the invite. But then I would have had something over which to repent. And maybe bail to post. And another column worth of material.
Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.