THERE is a great need to raise awareness of how the police in modern Britain are clamping down on the freedom of Christians to proclaim in public places the teachings of the Scriptures.
I and my colleague Pastor John Sherwood, the Minister of a north London church, were preaching the gospel together in the centre of Uxbridge (in the PM’s constituency) on Friday April 23, as we regularly do. I began the preaching and referred to the grave abandonment by our nation of its Christian foundations, an abandonment which has manifested itself in, for example, the redefinition of marriage. This redefinition is nothing less than an assault upon the Biblical revelation, which tells us that marriage can be only between one man and one woman.
Pastor Sherwood then preached, expounding the final verses of Genesis 1, declaring that God’s design in creating mankind was to set human beings in families, headed by a father and a mother, not by two fathers or by two mothers. The distinction within mankind of just two genders, male and female, made in the image of God, constitutes the essence of God’s created order.
After a while, a number of police officers appeared on the scene, going up to Pastor Sherwood and stating that three complaints had been received about the preaching. The pastor stopped preaching to speak to the officers, in a courteous and reasonable manner for some considerable time, whilst adhering firmly to all that he had said. The accusation made by police was that ‘alarm and distress’ had been caused to members of the public.
Whilst this conversation was going on, another officer spoke to me about the need to avoid any homophobic statements. I explained that to uphold God’s moral law and to speak about the dangers of sin in respect of LGBT issues implies absolutely no hatred or unpleasantness towards any individual or group of people. Indeed, it is an act of love to one’s neighbour. Nevertheless, the Bible’s description of homosexuality as sinful is plain and clear-cut.
To this the policeman responded that some matters simply cannot be referred to in public places, because there is no freedom to make statements which offend people. I responded that the police would have no objection whatsoever to a Pride parade being held in Uxbridge, yet that would be highly offensive to Bible-believing Christians. The officer did not appear to appreciate the logic behind this argument. Furthermore, there is no law stating that people have a right never to be offended.
Meanwhile Pastor Sherwood respectfully told the police that he had freedom of speech and had no intention of desisting from preaching because of the complaints. People are free to walk past and ignore him, if they do not like what he is saying. He explained to the officers that his previous comments about families needing a father and mother were made in the context of the divine command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28). It is a statement of the obvious that two men or two women cannot reproduce.
Pastor Sherwood then resumed preaching and spoke on the precious right to freedom of speech in this country reaching back to Magna Carta in 1215 and the Bill of Rights in 1689. One man amongst the onlookers, who said that he was bisexual, shouted out that Pastor Sherwood had made homophobic statements, and a woman in the gathering crowd, who said she was a lesbian, said that he was guilty of hate speech. The police took a statement from her.
The conversation then resumed between Pastor Sherwood and two officers, and they asked him to come down from the steps on which he stood, saying that he was now under arrest. The minister refused, arguing that he was engaged in lawful activity and that no crime had been committed.
An officer then took away the Bible in the pastor’s hand and pulled him from the steps. Three officers quickly gathered round to apply handcuffs behind the minister’s back. This dignified man of God, who is in his early 70s, was marched off to a nearby police car, as one of the helpers from my church cried out, ‘What has happened to us as a nation that a man can no longer preach from the Bible?’ There is a short video clip of the arrest here.
Pastor Sherwood was arrested not for refusing to come down from the steps but, according to the police, on the grounds of section 5 of the Public Order Act, namely that he had been causing alarm and distress.
It is worth noting that the arrest took place after a period of continued, reasonable and polite discussion with the police, which was surely evidence that the preacher was highly unlikely to have earlier engaged in a criminal use of intemperate language.
The pastor was driven to a police detention centre near Heathrow Airport, where he was kept overnight and not released until around noon the next day. His solicitor described the attitude of officers during the formal interview procedure as very unpleasant.
One of the questions which Pastor Sherwood was surprisingly asked was what would he do if one of his own children were homosexual? It is surely the task of police to ask questions about the specific alleged offence, not more general questions about why someone holds a personal view on an aspect of Biblical morality. Altogether, the preacher was detained for around 21 hours. Though released, he continues to be under investigation.
This arrest of a faithful minister for doing nothing other than declaring what the Bible teaches about one of the important moral issues of our time reveals a dangerous assault upon freedom of speech and, not least, upon the freedom of Christian pastors to declare in public all that the Bible teaches. The State has no right to designate that some parts of God’s word are no-go areas.
Whatever one’s personal views on homosexuality might be, it is surely pertinent to ask what kind of nation have we become that the minister of a Christian church is arrested for upholding in the public square the very truths which Her Majesty the Queen promised to uphold in her Coronation Oath in 1953, with a Bible in her hand?