Street preaching and ‘persecution’ in the UK

I apologize in advance but this one has got under my skin…

Here is ‘persecuted’ preacher Tony Miano getting arrested in London in July of 2013:

Now the first thing that sprung to my mind is that 1 Thessalonians 4 doesn’t even mention homosexuality! One tiny bit of that chapter is advice to Christians (that’s in bold for a reason but I’ll get to that later) about abstaining from sexual immorality. But Paul makes no further clarification and is no more specific to his Christian audience than that.

Just a few weeks ago ‘The Christian Post’ reported that the same preacher has been arrested again, in Scotland this time, for the very same reason. See the report in The Christian Post.

Part of Tony’s account of the event was to say:

“I was expositing 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, where the Apostle Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to abstain from all forms of sexual immorality… I began to preach from that text by describing all kinds of sexual immorality, from addiction to romance novels to pornography, fornication, sex outside of marriage, lust of the heart, lust of the mind, lust of the eyes and homosexuality.”

Now we have already established that Paul said nothing more than “sexual immorality”. Now there can be little doubt that homosexuality will make up part of what that means but the point is that Paul does not feel the need to be more explicit than this general reprimand. Tony would no doubt point us to a different passage such as 1 Timothy 1:10 or 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 where there are explicit references. The problem is, and I have already hinted at it, that all of these passages are written to those who are already in Christ – they are addressing the church. Where in the New Testament was the gospel ever about getting all your sins sorted and then coming to Christ? These admonishments were being made to those who were already saved. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 to make a couple of points:

“[9] Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (ESV)

So the first problem with this type of preaching is that it is methodologically flawed. Should we take all the New Testament passages aimed at the church and make that part of ‘the gospel’ message to the unsaved (and, by the way, if we did that what percentage of our time would be spent preaching about homosexuality do you think)? Since when was listing sexual sins a necessary part of proclaiming the gospel anyway? It never happens in the New Testament. The only mentions of homosexuality (and they are very few) come in the context of advice within the church.

The next issue I have is also methodological. If one feels the necessity to list sins people commit against God then why not choose some of the others listed for a change? I don’t remember the last time I heard a street preacher attempt to convict people of their sin by preaching on the sin of gluttony. If we were to take Tony’s approach and start listing them explicitly it would start to sound like this:

“Woe to you London! You who eat from these fast-food outlets, making yourself chubby in your zealous over-eating! Do you not realize that eating too much is a sin? Therefore repent and drop those doughnuts, cease consuming chocolate and ban those burgers!”

Notice, that to be fair to the list in 1 Corinthians, that Paul has placed over-eating next to worshiping idols and sexual sin. Yet the modern church in the Western world places almost no guilt on excessive eating! This methodological problem is therefore the problem of being selective about what we choose to talk about. We let certain modern influences determine our message rather than allowing the Bible to dictate what matters most.

The next problem I have is what you could call pastoral. If I were walking along a street in the UK with my 9 year old son and a street preacher was ranting on about homosexuality I am not entirely sure I would want him hearing it. Would I want Tony making a list of sexual sins when there are little children around? I think issues such as these really need some careful thought. I don’t ever recall hearing of a church youth group being given ‘the sexual sins of the Old Testament’ as a research topic. In our churches we protect the innocence of our young children in church services and children’s classes from being overly explicit about sexual talk so why can’t we extend that courtesy to everyone else in society? I think it’s common sense that we ought to and I think it’s a disgrace that some take their ‘freedom of speech’ to be more important than the parent’s right to choose when their child is exposed to talk of a sexual nature.

My last complaint will sound more controversial (since I get more Americans reading my blog than British people) but I promise you it’s not so please listen carefully to what I am saying. I am not saying the British hate Americans. I am not saying the American accent(s) is/are unpleasant to our ears (I quite like them). I am not saying Americans cannot preach on British soil. My bookshelf is full of books by Americans, some of my favourite theologians and philosophers are American and the person who preached at the meeting I went to when I got saved was an American! But I am asking people who want to do so to consider this:

Most people in the UK have virtually no experiences to draw on when they see an American street preacher. So what do you think (fairly or unfairly) is the first thing that will spring to mind when they hear one? Yes – it’s the hate-speech the church universally condemns as demonstrated by the Westboro Baptist Church. Now some will reply at how unfair that is (and I largely agree) but that is the reality. So I think that anyone from America considering street preaching anywhere in the world (not just the UK) ought to consider the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church have most likely already reached the people you’re trying to reach because hate speech travels faster through social media than love speech tends to. One advantage of living in Britain is that any demonstration by Westboro Baptist Church would soon be disbanded by the police because it would cause a breach of the peace. I happen to think that is a good thing.

Then there is the issue of showing courtesy to the local churches that exist in the area. It would appear that even James White (who was having a rant against the UK a few weeks ago in regard to these kinds of stories) admits that the pattern in the NT is to go first to the church established in that area (if there is one) and not immediately to the streets. In fact some wonder whether the Apostles even went to the streets in the NT where there was not a church but rather to places where people expected to hear public speaking (the synagogue or the Areopagus for example). A missionary should ask what is already being done by Christians in that area and ask whether their efforts are helping or hindering the local church. The local church know the people, the history, and the culture better than the missionary. There could be something which took place recently which is vital to know about when considering mission to that people. It would appear to be both courteous as well as strategically wise to do so.

Another important thing to consider is the mode of communication. When do I ever get shouted at as an adult? Occasionally by my wife if there’s a spider on the ceiling but other than that it’s pretty tough to think of any times I get shouted at. Shouting (or as some call it talking-normally-through-a-microphone-which-amplifies-my-volume) constantly in public places in the UK can be considered a breach of the peace no matter what you’re shouting. If someone shouts constantly in the high street about how wonderful the world is it doesn’t necessarily mean that when they get arrested for breach of the peace that everyone around them hates a jolly person or that they don’t have sympathy for the view that the world is a wonderful place! It just means they’re tired of hearing about it now and want you moved on. Sometimes street preachers think they are being stopped because of the message when actually it’s the means that get them stopped.

In a truly awful video, I have put at the bottom of this post, some people in the crowd try to engage with the preacher but instead of talking at a normal pitch to them he continues to shout. One by one they walk off. This isn’t a rejection of the gospel – it’s a rejection of inadequate communication.

Another thing such ‘missionary’ work often fails to get right is – dialogue. Such forms of preaching never seem to open up genuine dialogue. Missiologists have been warning about the importance of this for decades. The Lausanne Covenant (one of the greatest declarations made on evangelism) back in 1974 warned about the futility of mission without ears. In one section it states:

“Dialogue is a much misused word. Some people are using it to describe a situation of compromise in which the Christian renounces his own Christian commitment and regards the gospel as open to debate! That kind of dialogue we have already rejected as ‘derogatory to Christ and the Gospel.’ But, properly defined, a dialogue is a conversation in which both parties are serious, and each is prepared to listen to the other. Its purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand. Such listening is an essential prelude to evangelism, for how can we share the good news relevantly if we do not understand the other person’s position and problems?”

‘Making Christ Known: Historic Mission Documents from the Lausanne Movement 1974-1989, edited by John Stott p.22

One last thing to consider is that street preaching is virtually non-existent in the UK. Some might see this as apathy on the part of the church in the UK but actually it is something that is considered a good thing by many academic missiologists (and not only European ones either). The reason is because it is not a culturally appropriate way to reach people. There were times and cultures when being formally addressed in a sermonesque fashion was something people were used to but that is not the case anymore. Street preaching might make the street preacher feel that he has done his bit and preached the gospel but it doesn’t tend to do too much for everyone else.

For these reasons (and a few others) I think the church should think very carefully about how it does mission. We need to be careful not to place unnecessary barriers before the gospel.

Do you want to preach the gospel in the UK? Great! No problem. Just do it in the same way Christians did it in the New Testament and you won’t get arrested!

You can find the whole of Tony’s message here.

PS. Please don’t send me a message about how street preaching can occasionally cause someone to be saved. I know this. I’m not talking about whether it can very occasionally work for the odd person – I am talking about whether it’s a good form of doing mission in the UK.

Here are some other good comments on the same topic by David Robertson:

Persecuting Preachers in Perth

Is it time for the church in the west to grow up?

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About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
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4 Responses to Street preaching and ‘persecution’ in the UK

  1. kangaroodort says:

    Great post. What a mess that video presents. I could only watch a few minutes. Obviously, this guy wasn’t accomplishing anything important for the Kingdom of God. I have always admired the courage of street preachers, but also have always been uncomfortable with the way they come across and have wondered if any of it bears fruit. I haven’t seen much evidence that it bears fruit and this video illustrates why. Your post zeroed in on my concerns. It is an important read for anyone wondering about the success of street preaching or contemplating street preaching themselves.

    God Bless,
    Ben

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks Ben. I listened to the whole preach and it was painful I can assure you. I do actually think his message was homophobic. He certainly was intent in talking about sexual sin more than he was about Jesus.

  2. kangaroodort says:

    BTW, I am talking about the video at the end of the post and not the one at the beginning.

  3. Now Dimly says:

    You make some good points about public preaching in general and this situation specifically. It would be nice to unite with local churches, but I have found it to be rare when churches can agree on one means or method of evangelism. In my own experience, churches I’ve belonged to did not agree with passing out tracts, preaching about sin, or doing things that they thought might be offensive. In the U.S. at least, there’s been a long history of a loose grip on the biblical gospel. So on that topic I agree that sin, righteousness and judgment to come must be preached prior to the gospel making real sense.

    Both josh and tony have some affiliation, at least in the past, with Living Waters/Way of the Master. While Ray Comfort sticks to law/gospel, many (usually Calvinists) have veered away from that narrow focus and attempt to preach expositionally in the open air. I think that serves a unique and good purpose– you won’t find many “seekers” in the pew on Sunday morning who are bound in sins. A public scattering of the gospel seed to warn sinners seems fitting on occasion ( though that is just a foot in the door to open personal discussion and exhortation with hearers hopefully–and I know that’s what Tony does, I’d guess Josh too based on his old blog testimonies from Australia).

    That said, there is a topic that should be focused upon. I can’t say I saw any of the first incident on video beyond Tony’s testimony. I did see an obnoxious one of him at a Kaiser Permanente abortion clinic which grated on me. Speaking against sin will become hate speech, and I won’t let that stop me from calling a spade a spade in the right context. The second video seems utterly pointless. Who is the audience, and what are they hearing? It’s more the internet, and it is not profitable for those present when recorded. Admittedly, it was not the gospel which agitated the hearers.

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