Who is Sister Cindy? Evangelist Christian Preacher Turned TikTok Star

Cindy Smock has 300,000 followers on TikTok. Gen Z loves her. She has iconic catchphrases and is asked for selfies wherever she goes. But Smock isn't an L.A. teen doing the "Renegade" in her content creator house. She's a 63-year-old evangelical Christian campus preacher from Indiana.

"Welcome to Sister Cindy's Slut-Shaming Show," she says in one of the many videos that catapulted her to TikTok fame. After finding that college students had been sharing videos online from Cindy and her husband Brother Jed's frequent campus preaching sessions, she started her own account in March.

Now, the hashtag #sistercindy has 194 million views on the app, while Smock sells her own merchandise and, for $59, followers can buy their own personalized videos. "I am at celebrity status among the college students," she told Newsweek. Having spent five decades preaching on campuses across America after reforming from being a "bad girl at the University of Florida," Smock says she wasn't liked on campuses before, but now it's all changed.

"The crowds started being there when I arrived. I just had to say on TikTok when I was coming, and there would be 100 to 1,000 people waiting for me," she said.

So how did a previously disliked religious preacher manage to ace the game of 'winning Gen Z and influencing people'? By linguistically becoming one of them— Smock asks her listeners to be a "ho no mo," amid references to a "Hot Girl Summer" and anecdotes of dating frat boys.

In one viral video, Smock recites the lyrics to Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B's record-breaking hit "WAP"—the lyrics need no explanation. "When I read the words, I was aghast, it was not empowering women. The woman was saying the man was bringing her pain. And she was happy about it. So I just wanted to speak their language," she explained.

"Some Christians are very critical of me, because I will say wet a** p****," added Smock, no stutter present. WAP isn't reminiscent of the word of god, but she explains that, "I use the term kind of for a shock value. But I think when they're calling themselves that, it seems cool. But when a 63-year-old woman says that, it cuts their hearts a little."

It's that shock value which has handed her a place in the metaphorical TikTok hall of fame, explains Riley Pereyra, who hit over ten million views with a video of Smock preaching at California State University Long Beach. "From a marketing perspective, it's genius. She's taking what Gen Z loves, shock value, and she's just riding it out. And if it's a little controversial too, that's the perfect formula. So what she's doing, it's successful, because it's wrong."

But at what point are her preaching methods, and consequential fame, no longer so-wrong-it's-right, and just wrong? "She said 'You need to cover up young lady, you're an accessory to the rape crime on campus', and then at that point, my jaw just dropped. I think that's when I was like, 'people like this actually exist, because you see on social media people victim blaming for assault but I didn't know that people actually said those kinds of comments," said Jenna Gosz, who stumbled across Cindy preaching at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2019 and, although it's off little importance, says her clothing was far from revealing anyway. In another of Gosz's videos, Cindy tells a man he needs to repent after asking if he's a "homo."

Reagan Lowden, who regularly shares clips of Smock on TikTok, had a similar experience at Auburn University in 2019: "I had less than an inch of skin showing and because of that and the fact that I had dyed hair, she called me a whore and told me I would burn in hell." Pereyra saw her in 2019 too and described her words as, "verging on hate speech."

Lowden, who regards herself as a Christian, managed to speak with Cindy after and "had a deep conversation with her. We talked about many things, both biblical and personal opinions, and left with a mutual understanding of everyone's opinion."

Meeting in the middle wasn't possible for Gosz though, who decided to post the "rape crime" video after a few of her funnier ones went viral. "There are some messages, like the porno pervert [in one video, Cindy dubs someone a 'porno pervert'] we can all laugh and shake off, but in addition to those funny comments, she is saying things that are very messed up."

In a statement to Newsweek, Purdue University, where Smock preached at in April and had a sex toy thrown at her by a student, said: "Purdue University is public, and publicly accessible spaces on our campus are open to visitors. Our Commitment to Freedom of Expression means we maintain an environment where individuals are not shielded from viewpoints and opinions they may differ with or find unwelcome. Our public spaces on campus—one aspect of that environment—are designed to be places for free and open expression and debate. By law, we cannot allow some viewpoints to be expressed there while prohibiting others—even ones that the vast majority in our community may find deeply offensive."

Purdue also pointed Newsweek to a video they show students upon enrolment on how to deal with preachers.

Pereyra told Newsweek that he feels somewhat responsible for the fame Cindy has, after uploading a video when she was only at 10 million views and didn't yet have an account. Now, 300,000 followers on, he thinks it's got out of hand. "There's people who genuinely support her without really understanding the gravity of what she's preaching because even in some of the comments on my video, they're like, 'She's such a queen, slay Sister Cindy' it's like, 'are you listening?"

But perhaps the question here isn't whether she should have a platform, but if she actually has one. Beauty gurus may be able to sell out palettes in seconds, but does Smock have that sort of influence? "Based on the comments and responses to my videos, I have the feeling most are just there for the entertainment," said Lowden.

"They were saying 'I love this lady,' in the sense of she's hilarious, not that they were taking her seriously and loving this lady for preaching what she was preaching. They love this lady as a comical figure," confirmed Gosz.

Smock's in-app fame is seemingly also an in-app joke, but it's one she says she's in on too. "I'm not saying everybody is suddenly believing like me, and I know there's still a big element who follow me or come out to hear me just for the humour," said Cindy to Newsweek.

"I watch them come up and take pictures, and sometimes they'll try to act like they're sincere, because they think I don't want them to take a picture or a video if they're not sincere, but I can see through them most of the time," she added.

But it's not something that bothers Smock, who says that although "liberals want to silence [them]," she has confidence that if they listen long enough, jokingly or not, "the truth is going to touch them."

She does however believe it's only a small part of her audience that are in it for a few cheap laughs, especially when it comes for her pay-for-video Cameos: "I would say only 10 to 20 percent are a joke. More like 80 percent are for real. They want the humor in it, because maybe their friend is following me and is crazy about Sister Cindy, but still is partying way too much."

"I even had somebody whose friend is doing crack-cocaine, asked me to make a video," she added in the belief it was a genuine request.

"These young people are tired of their parents partying, doing drugs, living irresponsible lifestyles and they realise there's got to be something different. So even though I do the good old fashioned slut-shaming, they're drawn to me as a mother and grandmother figure," she claimed.

Judging from her comments sections, it may be hard to believe but Cindy does have some kind of conversion power of her followers, albeit seemingly not 80 percent. With the help of her TikTok account, Cindy holds regular Zoom bible study classes where no filming is allowed, and "not the slut-shaming" stuff.

"I had this one guy from New Zealand, and he was 19. He had been an atheist for 10 years, since he was nine, and just the first week he became a Christian, by the Bible, and has been going on eight weeks now," said Smock of one of her Zoom attendees.

Of course, converting to Christianity isn't a bad thing, but there exists questions in the community over her perception of it. "I think she's a sweet woman, but I feel like she could go about better with the way she preaches. Some of what she says is biblical but a lot of it is infused with her own political and personal opinion," said Lowden, who brought a bible and read the verses Cindy was citing aloud during her preaching, "so people could hear it straight from the bible."

Moral dilemma aside, Cindy's year-long TikTok reign could soon be coming to an end, according to herself. "I expect that I might get kicked off TikTok," she predicted. "Even though i'm trying to go by their community standards and not say anything they don't want said and keep it age appropriate, I think people are really upset that I'm liked by the Z generation."

Her response? "Your hater of today, is your Christian of tomorrow."

Sister Cindy preaching on campus
Sister Cindy preaching on campus. Image courtesy of Cindy Smock. Cindy Smock