Spirituality & religion

The Tyranny of Subway Preachers

Sishui A recent video circulating in social media shows Lea DeLaria, who plays Big Boo on Orange Is the New Black, confronting a gay-hating subway preacher in New York City. The preacher waves his Bible like a concrete block, cherry-picking passages and refusing to respond to DeLaria’s challenges to his rants.

I didn’t realize that subway preachers were a fixture of city life, though I’ve lived in Chicago since 1987. I guess I was lucky in timing or in train lines.


But my luck ran out two weeks ago, right about the time that Lea’s encounter popped up on Facebook.

I was going about my business, riding the L into the Loop and trying to read a book and listen to music. Trains in the early morning are typically quiet, with most people minding their own business. But after 27 years of mostly uneventful rides, my time was up.

The first minute or two of this preacher’s rambling was harmless enough, if listening to anyone with a raised voice in the early morning can be described as such. He talked about what a beautiful day it was and suggested that we all be grateful. I couldn’t find fault with that, but then he said we should all be grateful to Jesus Christ who made the day and everything in the world possible. Of course, he didn’t mention who was responsible for poverty, Ebola, ISIS, or disease, but those are minor oversights, right?

Anyway, he was merely annoying up until that point, but then he launched into a tirade against gays. “Men sleeping with men is an abomination and homosexuals will go to hell for their perversions. Women sleeping with women is wrong. The Bible says so,” he shouted.

I glared at him, turned up my music, pulled The Hunchback of Notre Dame closer to my face and tried to ignore him. Thankfully, when our train pulled into the next station he shuffled off and onto the car directly behind mine.

I was annoyed, but did my best to forget him. And then a few days later he was back on my car. I told him to shut up, but that seemed to only encourage him.

And the week after that he showed up again.

What’s a person to do? Put up with this? Get into a shouting match? I’m not as outgoing as Lea, so singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall wasn’t an option.

If it’s a question of freedom of speech, then shouldn’t we allow the Ku Klux Klan to preach on mass transit? Or neo-Nazis? I get that it’s his (and others’) religious beliefs, but if Muslims were on the train preaching in even vague terms that Christians should die violent deaths because of their beliefs, I’m thinking we’d have helicopters hovering overhead and Fox News reporters foaming at the mouth.

And why should this preacher and others single out gays? In his world, aren’t Jews going to the same fiery hell for not accepting Jesus Christ as their savior? And Buddhists and Hindus? But no, he (and plenty of others) focus on gays.

It makes one wonder. What’s the hang up with sex that so many religious people have?

Are they afraid of what’s going on inside themselves? A look at the history of many conservative religious sects might lead one to conclude, “Why, YES!”

We’re all here because of sex, so why are so many religious people hung up about it?

Regardless, other gays and I have paid to ride the train. It’s a public space and don’t we all deserve not to hear anyone giving a voice to discrimination, prejudice, racism or sexism? An American has the freedom to share his/her views, but is a train car in the early morning and with a trapped audience, the appropriate place to hold a sermon?

What do you think?


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  1. Deborah Goldstein says:

    There should be a line drawn in spaces we have to share. When I’m driving the kids from one place to another, I tell them that they have to respect the fact that I am not able to just get out of the car and leave them to shriek and fight and behave like animals, as much as I’m tempted to do so.

    I’m all for free speech – even hateful speech, but if I don’t have the opportunity to “change the channel,” then my rights are not being respected. Right?

  2. In complete agreement. This is a form of abuse & harassment, though I do of course believe in free speech!

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