street preacher arrested uxbridge john sherwood
Freedom of Religion

Stop arresting street preachers, and laugh at them instead

Another street preacher has been arrested for proclaiming the gospel in a public place. This time it was in Uxbridge, in front of the Underground station. We’ve been here before (well, not Uxbridge), so there’s no need to reiterate all the concerns and arguments, the rights and wrongs or the pros and cons of this sort of method of doing mission, which may be no kind of effective method at all in this culture and in this day and age.

But each to his own.

Or her own.

The street preacher in this case is Pastor John Sherwood, who is a grandfather in his 70s. According to reports, his preaching of the gospel included an assertion that God made us male and female, and that marriage is between a man and a women. This may or may not be intrinsic to soteriology, but it is, of course, an absolutely and undeniably homophobic rant, and so people who were ‘distressed’ or ‘alarmed’ by this preaching complained to the passing police, and Pastor John Sherwood was duly arrested for a Public Order offence (Section 5 of the Public Order Act, or just click on all the links in the first paragraph [or see ‘Hate Speech‘] to find out how this works).

You can decide for yourself if John Sherwood is a hateful bigot. Here’s the video:

Rather than demanding that street preachers be arrested, why don’t those who decide to get offended just laugh at them instead? If you disagree with “the grave abandonment by our nation of its Christian foundations”, just scoff. If you are offended by their refusal to accept the redefinition of marriage, just argue. If you believe marriage can be between two men or two women, shout it out loud and proud right back at them.

Tell the street preacher very politely and calmly that you are LGBT and that you, too, are made in the image of God. If he goes on about your sin, ask him about his. Ask him when was the last time he set up his stall outside a pub at closing time and railed against drunkards. Ask him when was the last time he set up his stall outside the Stock Exchange and railed against greed. Ask him when was the last time he set up his stall outside Parliament and railed against liars.

Instead of running to the nearest policeman or policewoman and crying about your ‘alarm and distress’ at the man’s ‘hate’, just laugh at him; lampoon his homophobia and deride his apprehension of God’s moral law. Ask him how his preaching is loving his neighbour. If he responds with something along the lines of that telling you about your sin is an act of love to you, ask him when he last housed the homeless, fed the hungry, or welcomed an immigrant into his house.

If he goes on (and on) about the sin of homosexuality being “plain and clear-cut”, ask him why Jesus never mentioned it. If he goes on (and on) about St Paul or Leviticus, ask him again about Jesus. And if you ever get stuck for a neat riposte, just laugh, laugh, and laugh again. And then laugh louder.

If you don’t like street preachers in the public arena, drive them out with your own din, just like the mob did with the prophets of old. They’ll tire. They’ll get hoarse. They’ll give up kicking against the pricks. At least until next week, when the whole battle can start again.

Preaching the gospel is a costly business, and it has always been: ‘..for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you‘ (Mt 5:12). Indeed, ‘Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?(Acts 7:52). And Jesus warned of an unavoidable future:

Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:
That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation;
From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation (Lk 11:49ff).

Thus is the lot of prophets.

Now, you may cavil that Pastor John Sherwood is more homophobic bigot than prophet, but that is neither here nor there: in this day and age, one man’s prophet is another man’s heretic, and vice versa. Or perhaps it was always thus. But that isn’t the point: the point is that the way to deal with self-styled prophets is not to have them arrested, but to ridicule them:

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head (2Kgs 2:23).

And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face, and asked him, saying, Prophesy, who is it that smote thee? (Lk 22:64).

O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me (Jer 20:7).

Others were told just to shut up:

But ye gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not (Amos 2:12).

But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court (v13).

And others were subject to physical violence and humiliation (1Kgs 22:24, Jer 37:15f, 38:6) and threatened with death (1Kgs 19:1). Others, of course, suffered death (2Chron 24:21, Jer 26:20-23). We don’t do that any more, at least in the United Kingdom, but neither should we be arresting street preachers and locking them up in cells for the night.

Instead of remonstrating with the police, Pastor John Sherwood should have blessed those who persecuted him (Rom 12:14). Instead of preaching hell and damnation and praying God’s wrath might fall upon them (cf Jer 18:21-23), he should visibly and demonstrably love his enemies with actions of service rather than words of salvation. The latter will be manifest in the former.

Street preachers are free to preach the gospel in the public arena, and so they should be. They are also free to offend, and so they should be. The police don’t always seem to appreciate that fact, but those who hear the gospel and don’t want to hear it are also free to despise the gospel and reject the preacher of it. They are free to walk on by, and they are free to mock and scorn. Let us return to heckling and laughing, rather than running like a cry baby to the nearest officer of the law and screaming about hurt feelings.