The topic of religion is always a sticky subject, and some choose to be more vocal and open with their beliefs than others.
Since its founding in 2008, realTALK has sparked numerous debates and controversy among Tyler Junior College students and other organizations as well. As an offspring from a Longview-based church, realTALK is a proclaimed on-campus ministry whose mission is “to reach, train, and network college students to fulfill their destiny and calling in Jesus Christ, the Son and only mediator of God,” according to their Facebook page. There are also realTALK groups on the campuses of The University of Texas at Tyler, Kilgore College, and LeTourneau University.
TJC students may have seen this group handing out flyers or playing music on the steps of Rogers Student Center to advertise their weekly meetings. However, when this group was giving “Tickets to Hell” to passersby recently, people began to question their motives. Jordan Francis, president of realTALK, does not deny these allegations. According to him, 80 percent of college students who graduate without faith never find it, and realTALK strive to decrease that number for the Glory of God.
“I find it no different than someone passing out a free ticket to the club…we have set the standard for ourselves and deemed what is acceptable or unacceptable,” said Francis. “I could see that some people were feeling judged, however, we judged no one. If we don’t do something about it by accepting Christ, then a free ticket to hell is ours. If you’re not following Christ, then you already have one; you just haven’t seen it yet.”
Lauren Tyler, Student Life Coordinator, gave her view religious clubs in general.
“Any kind of [religious] organization is going to stir up something because, of course, there’s difference of opinions,” said Tyler. “But you’ve just got to keep in mind that that’s the benefit of freedom of speech and being at a university that allows us to have these different organizations.”
Since their beginnings on campus, realTALK has had the reputation of being vocal and both defensive and offensive in nature. Some of the other religious organizations on campus have also noticed their behavior.
“I think their initial impression that they made was a strong, kind of militant, us-against-them mentality,” said Mark Jones, director of TJC Baptist Student Ministry.
Rev. Sunny Farley, director of the TJC Wesley Foundation, feels realTALK approach to witnessing and getting students to join them may seem harsh or perhaps hurtful at times.
“I think the best approach is to reach out to people in love because that’s exactly what God did,” said Farley. “Love works; it’s a proven technique.”
A sophomore individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, describes her experience at a realTALK meeting.
“I felt very threatened and that my faith was being poked at instead of enriched. I just feel like they don’t understand sometimes that hell, fire, and brimstone doesn’t work for everyone.”
This alleged instance of radical proselytism is not the first time realTALK has overtly defended their faith. In the past, the group, praying on Pat Hartley Field, became defensive when asked to relocate by a community organization who had reserved the field. They refused. According to Jones, realTALK members seemed like they felt they were being told not to express themselves or pray in public. He tried to assure them that is was simply the other group’s time on the field.
“I told him to just be really careful and not pick a fight where there isn’t a fight to be picked. Don’t assume that the school is working against you when they may not be.”
While these instances are seen as negative, realTALK has also been seen as a good-intentioned effort. Last spring when the Bahá’í Faith Club appealed to become a recognized campus organization, it took several times to finally allow them to pass. However, Karen Anglin, professor of mathematics and one of the leaders of the Bahá’í Faith Club, seems to enjoy realTALK and appreciate the positive effects it has on campus.
“I love the name of it. I love the thought that students are able to have open discussions about religion,” said Anglin. “Like us, it’s not going to agree with everyone else sometimes, and sometimes we’re going to offend people.”
Other organizations including BSM and the Interfaith Club praised their efforts and knew some of them on a personal level. Jones even noted that the current student leaders have really turned the group around since the beginning of the semester to reach out to students in love.
as stubborn any more and seem more willingly to help,” said Brad Stenberg, member of the Wesley Foundation. “They’re not condemning anyone any more.”
Tyler also noted that their activity in this year’s homecoming celebration was huge and that their involvement was nothing but positive.
Vincent Nguyen, director of Student Success, offered his advice and help to any student organization and, specifically in this case, realTALK.
“We’re going to be here to help guide them and teach them the right path in order to be successful as an organization…I think realTALK is a new organization trying to understand how to recruit members, but I think sometimes like others, they lack guidance. And sometimes, they could come across a little bit too extreme for others.”
He also recognizes that they have fallen off track a few times like at one point not having an advisor as an on-campus mentor to help them with the process of becoming successful.
“I personally feel that they lack proper guidance to connect with students their age. I think they lack the level of communication that would help attract people…It’s a very delicate subject,” he said. “But I think right now…they’re slowly moving in the right direction. Honestly, that’s how I feel.”