A British court has convicted two street preachers of a public order offence for preaching the Bible in public. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutor in the case claimed that publicly quoting parts of the King James Bible in modern Britain should ‘be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.’
Michael Overd of Creech St Michael, United Kingdom and Michael Stockwell of Seldon, New York were found guilty under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 at Bristol Magistrates’ Court. Prosecutor Ian Jackson also told the court, ‘To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.’
Overd, Stockwell and two others were preaching in a Bristol shopping area last July. They took turns speaking and answering questions from the crowd that gathered. Video showed bystanders hurling abuse at the preachers. The men explained the difference between Islam and Christianity, using the Bible and references to the Qur’an. They spoke of God’s love, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
After about an hour, Overd was forcibly removed from the scene by a police officer. The video records the police officer saying that Overd was preaching ‘homophobia’ and ‘challenging Muslims.’ Avon and Somerset Chief Inspector Andy Williams said the court ‘determined that these men crossed that line and used their platform to comment on other religions and sexuality using disparaging and offensive language.’
What the men had said was an orthodox biblical understanding of the Christian faith as it has been historically understood. Both the conviction and the claims made by the CPS prosecutor raise considerable concerns about the UK’s longstanding constitutional commitment to freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The transcript of what the preachers said – which was filmed by them – shows that although they were subjected to considerable verbal and crude abuse by hecklers, they responded politely. Yet the police chose to arrest them instead of the hecklers.
The claims of the prosecutor that merely quoting the Bible is both abusive and criminal goes to the very heart and foundation of freedom of religion in the UK. What the men were preaching was biblical Christianity. The CPS lawyer was therefore in effect claiming that it is no longer legal to speak publicly about some aspects of this.
Another accusation against the street preachers is that of homophobia. This refers to the quotation of passages from the Bible, which say that homosexual practice is sinful. This can be seen as part of a trend to outlaw the teaching of biblical sexual morality in public life. In July 2015 the government asked Dame Louise Casey, a senior government advisor to draw up ‘The Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration.’ In her review she calls for immigrants and public servants to take an ‘oath of British values’. These are specified as ‘tolerance, democracy and respect’.
That may sound fair enough, but what Dame Louise understands by tolerance can be seen by what she said to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee: ‘It is not okay for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage. … it is not how we bring children up in this country. It is often veiled as religious conservatism, and I have a problem with the expression ‘religious conservatism’, because often it can be anti-equalities. We have got to be careful that people can choose, obviously, to live the lives that they want to live, but that they cannot condemn others for living differently.’
This does not just apply to Catholics, but also to evangelical Christians, who are identified with ‘religious conservatism.’ Those who believe the Bible is the Word of God cannot accept the validity of all sexual arrangements which people choose to make, whether heterosexual or homosexual. To say ‘they cannot condemn others for living differently’ means that you cannot say that sex outside of marriage is wrong. According to the Bible the only sexual relationship sanctioned by God is that between a man and a woman committed to each other in holy matrimony. This means that homosexual marriage or civil partnership is never valid in the eyes of God, and that casual sex between an unmarried man and woman is the sin of fornication. The Bible teaches us that living this way puts us under the condemnation of God. The Gospel message convicts us all of sin and offers the way to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to receive forgiveness and eternal salvation.
The fact that civil servants and all in public office are being asked to take this oath means that the state could have the means to remove anyone from public office who makes a statement considered to be intolerant. Christian Concern writes:
‘Holders of public office who would be expected to swear the oath may include school governors, civil servants, councillors, parliamentarians, police and judiciary. The way this oath is likely to be interpreted risks becoming a formal bar on Christians from public office. One value in particular, that is interpreted in a way that Christians would not agree with is the value of ‘equality’. It sounds so uncontentious, but it is the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland that prosecuted Asher’s bakery for not being willing to make a cake that would promote same-sex ‘marriage’. It is this same doctrine of equality that has been used by Ofsted to interrogate pupils and teachers about their beliefs on same-sex ‘marriage’. Several of our cases highlight problems with how these ‘British values’ are defined. Felix Ngole was expelled from university after posting on Facebook in support of biblical teaching on marriage. This shows clear intolerance of views that the university disagrees with, and lack of respect for free speech by the university. But it is Felix who has been discriminated against. This case highlights how an ‘equality’ oath could easily bar Christians from multiple occupations and result in a society that is extremely intolerant of those who do not subscribe to state doctrine.’ So absolute truths and moral values based on the Bible become an expression of intolerance.
After the trial of the street preachers, their solicitor, Michael Phillips said: ‘This prosecution is nothing more than a modern-day heresy trial – dressed up under the public order act.’ The heresy these men have committed is to go against the new orthodoxy of political correctness, which is being imposed upon us by the state, the educational system, the media, the social services and the police. According to this view it is offensive to those of other faiths to state that there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, Jesus Christ. So you can’t quote the Bible where Jesus says: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but by Me.’ John 14.6.
So the Gospel itself is out of order. In Acts 17 Paul goes through Athens and ‘his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.’ He preaches the Gospel to the people there telling them that they are wrong to worship these idols because, ‘We ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’ Acts 17.29-31.
From the point of view of the Bible, not just the idols Paul saw in Athens, but all religions and philosophies are man made systems which conflict with the one way of salvation God is offering us in Jesus Christ. They all have something wrong with them and so God is calling all people everywhere to repent and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again from the dead.
A Muslim who believes that the Koran is the word of God and that Muhammad is the last of the prophets is wrong, so is the Koran when it conflicts with the Bible and denies the person of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. A Hindu who believes there are many gods is wrong, because there is one God and one mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus. Hindu guru, Swami Muktananda, said, ‘Kneel to yourself. Honour and worship your own being. God dwells within you as You.’ This is wrong. God our Creator is holy and separate from sinners and within ourselves we find a sinful human nature, which is under the power of the devil. Those who accept Jesus as Saviour are born again of the Holy Spirit who comes to dwell within us by faith, but without this experience we will never discover God within ourselves. We could go through all philosophies and religions and measure them by the standard of God’s Holy Word in the Bible and show that they all fall short of what God requires. Therefore those who are following them are on the wrong road and should change their direction and change their thinking and their actions, i.e. repent.
If we say this we are going against the diversity agenda and so we are seen as going against the direction which the world wants us to go down. One of the signs of the last days is persecution of those who stand up for the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Over the past century we have seen people suffering persecution and being hauled before judges and sent to prison for preaching the Gospel under Communism in the Soviet Union and China. We have seen Christians being killed and driven from their homes as a result of Islamic intolerance and persecution. Now we are seeing Christians being brought before judges and condemned for their faith even in supposedly Christian Britain. We should not be surprised at this but remember that the Lord Jesus warned of such things happening in the days before His return.
‘But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls.’ Luke 21.12-19.