Should Street Preachers Be Arrested?

Contextrecently reportedon Toronto street preacher David Lynn, who continues to await charges following his arrest last June for disturbing the peace. He had taken a megaphone to the Church-Wellesley area of his city, a centre of LGBTQ+ identity, and loudly proclaimed his allegiance to Jesus.

What else he proclaimed isn’t evident in the media record, so far as I can determine. But whatever he said was sufficiently provocative as to arouse an agitated crowd and finally prompt the police to arrest him. So without offering any opinion on Mr. Lynn’s situation, let’s leave him to the eventualities of the Ontario court system for now (the charges have been put off until August 7) and consider more generally what is at stake.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion clearly obtain here. Canadians historically have prized both freedoms and they, like other basic freedoms, cannot be abrogated without sufficient cause.

Public preaching also has a long history in the Christian church, whether one considers the preaching (and loud bands) of the Salvation Army in the slums of London, George Whitefield and John Wesley in the previous century scandalizing their proper Anglican peers by preaching to poor folk at their country crossroads, wandering missionaries bringing their message to villages throughout the world, or the apostles themselves proclaiming their message in ancient Judea and Galilee.

Those preachers, however, were often arrested for disturbing the peace. The apostles themselves sometimes preached explicitly against other people’s religions, thus cutting into the profitable trade in expensive idols fostered by local chambers of commerce. In their very first public sermon (Acts 2), they told their fellow Jews in Jerusalem that the recently crucified Jesus of Nazareth was, in fact, their long-promised Messiah—to the great discomfiture of the authorities who had thought they had finally gotten rid of the Jesus threat.

 So there is in fact a considerable tradition of Christians preaching publicly and then paying the predictable price for, indeed, disturbing the peace.

What about nowadays in our Canadian cities, however? Several considerations should be borne in mind by those pondering the ethics of street preaching.

First, in a society blessed with the printing press, television, and the Internet, it’s hard to make a case for public preaching on the ground that Canadians otherwise won’t hear the gospel. That case could be made at other places and times, but hardly so today.

Second, a Christian can intentionally disturb the peace only in the service of the greater good of helping people become disciples of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells Christians to live peaceably with their neighbours (Romans 12:18), to be people who actually make (more) peace, rather than lessen whatever peace obtains (Matthew 5:9).

The point of public preaching isn’t merely to sound off, as if the preacher scores points with God for bravely annoying his neighbours with Christian propaganda. No, the point of public preaching is the same point of all Christian activity: to please God and to help the neighbour.

So if one’s style of preaching—loud and confrontational—or content of preaching—denunciation of people’s sins—can be predicted merely to arouse fury, then such preaching meets the condemnation of Jesus himself (Matthew 7:6). The Christian is not supposed to hurl the gospel at the world like a stone, but he or she is to offer it as a gift in the loving hope that at least some will receive it with gratitude.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Beauty on Broadway

Fair spouse and I recently returned from a trip to New York City to enjoy our middle son performing at a Theater District cabaret. (We couldn’t get him to be quiet at home and now we have to pay a hundred bucks each for the privilege of listening to him, etc.)

We also had time to tour a little, and we were struck again by the superabundance of beauty that blesses that little corner of the world. Central Park—from its thick northern wildness to its meticulous southern cultivation. The High Line—abandoned railway track turned into a sweet green space literally above the urban fray. The Met and the Frick and MOMA and the rest of New York’s astounding homes for astounding art.

The beauty is everywhere. Look up and around! Grand Central Terminal, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building (I’m still deciding about the Whitney)—fabulous edifices above fabulous stores offering fabulous clothes and jewelry and foods. Even the outwardly humdrum Garment District is beauty-full, where my life partner insists we go for her to procure, like a trader of old, fine fabrics unavailable in our benighted homeland.

We happened to visit New York this year at the end of Pride Month. And the climax of World Pride celebrations was held this year, yes, in New York City, on Times Square. Lucky us: our hotel was just off Times Square, selected to be close to where our son was to perform.

Well, there was beauty on display in Times Square, too. Pride has apparently become a generic “license to display,” whatever your sexual and gender affirmations, and there were beautiful bodies on display. Everywhere one looked, and everywhere one tried to look away, too.

That not being our scene, we took refuge in attending a couple of shows. And in one of them I saw beauty of an entirely different order, beauty that literally moved me to tears. I’m not kidding: I got weepy from about the fifth minute and I went through a pocketful of Kleenex over the next hour. What dissolved this Gibraltar of a man into a tiny, salty puddle?

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

It’s Such a Big, Needy World: What Can I Do?

Context features this week the appalling suffering of the Rohingya people at the hands of their fierce former neighbours in Myanmar/Burma.

Meanwhile, our American cousins can’t believe that their governments are housing (if that’s the right word for it—and it isn’t) children in disgusting border campsof their own.

Those are just two of today’s stories. Meanwhile, what about those refugees from the Syrian civil war—and those Syrians that remain, terrified of what will happen once the vicious Bashar al-Assad, as he seems to be on the verge of doing, regains full authority again?

Remember Sudan—and South Sudan? Has anything resolved over there? The opioid crisis here at home—isn’t that still going on?

Those Canadian indigenous women raped and beaten and killed—what should we do about them? And isn’t Boko Haram still raping and beating and killing women in northern Nigeria?

Meanwhile, the oppression, corruption, and violence of the Central African Republic, and Zimbabwe, and Congo, and Niger grind on…while non-Hindus cower in the face of new electoral power given to the pro-Hindu majority across India, and the Uighur people wonder why no one seems to care about the slow genocide being visited upon them in western China….

What can I possibly do in the face of these gigantic horrors? What can you do?

[For the rest, please click HERE.]