The pervasiveness in public thought, and even the introduction into law, of the concept that giving offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation is always to be forbidden is more than just one of those things to which Daily Mail readers respond with groans of ‘Political correctness gone mad’. The idea that being found to be offensive is a criminal offence is a direct attack on Christianity.
It is difficult to imagine a way in which the proclamation of the gospel cannot be offensive to some. The offer of salvation holds out both a salvation to something and also a salvation from something. If we call people to repentance and a new and radically altered life then we inevitably condemn an ungodly lifestyle. If someone is told that adultery, fornication, homosexuality, idolatry or anything in which they indulge or condone is a symptom of a disordered lifestyle and is actually sinful then they are liable to be offended.
Such is the nature of the state’s intimidatory stance that in the last three months three street preachers have been detained by the police in the UK. Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff Tony Miano was arrested outside the Wimbledon tennis courts in July after a passer-by told the police he had made homophobic remarks when in fact he was reading from I Thessalonians.
On 4th September street preacher Rob Hughes was arrested by Basildon police in Essex on the grounds that he ‘caused harassment, alarm or distress’. Hughes denied the accusations and was eventually released without charge, but only after being held in custody in a police station for seven and a half hours.
In Scotland we have our share of intimidation. Recently Josh Williamson was detained by police on two occasions for breach of the peace whilst preaching on the High Street in Perth. The police at the time seemed curiously deaf to the nearby buskers plying their trade. Only the message of the Prince of Peace was considered to be breaching the peace.
Williamson said afterwards, ‘One policeman told me that the content of what I was saying was the issue. I asked them to clarify, but they wouldn’t. People were making abusive comments to me and swearing in public, that is breaking the law, but instead they went straight to the street preacher. I think it is a form of discrimination and I think that comes back to the content. It becomes dangerous when police say it’s due to content, you get into a position where you wonder what part of speaking from the Gospel is illegal.’
These are only the most recent incidents of street preachers being harassed by police on the grounds that they have given offence. This practice has been occurring for several years now. In 2010 Shawn Holes was fined £1000 for homophobic offences when preaching in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. Ironically the motto of Glasgow originally read, ‘Lord, let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of Thy Word and the praising of Thy name’.
Our supposedly triumphant secularists should listen to the warning bells when ‘offensive’ speech is criminalised. Here in Western Europe we have entered a post-Christian society. This does not mean we have a society which has emerged into the broad sunlit uplands of liberty, free from supposedly restrictive Christian moral and ethical dogma. Rather it means that we have entered a polytheistic culture surprising akin to that of the Roman empire where any belief system was tolerated no matter what, as long as that system acknowledged the state as supreme.
The early Christians were persecuted not because they preached Jesus, but because they taught Jesus is Lord. That was seen as a political act and the state could not tolerate a rival authority.
How long before our humanistic fellow citizens begin regretting their stance when the state turns upon them and their cherished ideals? How long before their dearly held convictions become unfashionable?
It couldn’t happen here? How many liberals in 1913 Germany, the most educated nation in Europe, could have predicted what their country would be like a quarter of a century later? How many Russian progressives agitating for total freedom in 1900 found themselves slave labour in the gulag a quarter of a century later? When we abandon that which has given us freedom of expression, the Christian faith, we abandon the basis of freedom.
That we have freedom at all is largely down to the political radicalism of the Reformers and the Puritans whose empowering of the common people ushered in an era of expansion, discovery and free thought. Where else but in the Christian based West were the foundations of democracy and political freedom laid?
Not in Islam. Not in communism. Not in fascism. Not in the ghastly French Revolution so beloved of progressives. Not amongst the noble savages of romantic idealism. Not in the polytheistic culture of the West today.
So a few ranting street preachers are harassed by the police, so what? So a great deal.