Anonymous posted a comment on the thread about the Christian Legal Centre’s campaign, defending their freedom to preach publicly against homosexuality. He says “the evidence is that the Christian Legal Centre is doing a good job in protecting the civil rights of Christians.” My first comment – they are not protecting the civil rights of all Christians but only those who think in a narrow, biblically conservative way.
In support of his (or her) claim that they are doing a good job, he refers to the incident which took place in Chorlton in 2007. He gives the URL to the Christian Institute report. I’ve read the report, looked at the leaflet and watched the video clip. It doesn’t substantiate Anonymous’s claim.
Julian Hirst is interviewed. He says that two mounted policemen arrived as they were giving out invitations to Easter services. They dismounted and said it had been reported that they were handing out offensive literature. After 10 or 15 minutes three more policemen arrived wearing body armour, which Julian found a little bit unnerving (“Armour-clad officers jumped out of a police van” is what the written report says). With all these policemen around Julian wasn’t quite sure how they were going to react or how they would deal with the group.
The scenario is one familiar to many gay people from 20 or 30 years ago, when police could be very intimidating, were often prejudiced and set out to entrap gay men. Stonewall and Gay Pride came into being in response to just such an aggressive police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York.
Julian wryly comments that the broad response seemed disproportionate considering that the group was just giving out a leaflet advertising Easter services. Police take hate crime very seriously. The UK government and society have identified hate crimes involving racial, sexual and other attitudes to be unacceptable.
The police returned later and said they had spoken to the person who had made the complaint. He had changed the complaint, now saying that he found the leaflet offensive. He found the presence of Christians from an evangelical church offensive in a place where there is a sizeable gay community.
The complainant seems to be out to make trouble and his complaint is rightly rejected. But many who read this blog will feel instinctively uncomfortable with street preachers. I confess that I tend automatically to assume that part of their message will be a condemnation of gay people and sadly, I am often proved right.
The following day a policeman from the Race and Hate Crime Unit came. They had taken away a selection of the church’s literature and gone through it. He explained that everything was okay and there was no problem with any of the literature.
Julian said he thought freedom of speech for Christians and all members of the community is very important and everybody should have the freedom to express their view freely. If some people try to gag Christians then he thinks our society would be the poorer for it. I agree with freedom of speech and freedom to preach the Gospel, but I also think that freedom should be restricted when people incite prejudice and hatred.
The problem for conservative Christians is their inability to understand that the verses they like to quote about men having sex with men are hateful to gay men. The passages, especially in inaccurate translations used by conservatives, are offensive and do not, in any case, apply to the loving, faithful relationships embraced by Christian LGBT people.
Anonymous said in his comment “the police went in mob handed to stop an evangelical church inviting people to the Easter service.” They didn’t. Their response seemed disproportionate, as Julian Hirst, the pastor, says in the video, but they didn’t stop the church handing out the leaflet.
Anonymous enables me to point up some key lessons.
Conservatives repeat stories and misrepresent them to mean what they want, not what in truth happened. Don’t trust conservative stories until the facts have been checked. This takes time, but Changing Attitude is here to try and unearth the truth.
Conservatives use the 7 proof texts as anti-gay texts, not just anti-gay sex, but anti-gay identity, anti-gays in ministry, anti-gay respect and inclusion.
Conservative Christians are doing immense damage to the mission of the church in England and corrupt the Gospel.
The police should be targeting those Christians who demonstrated at London Pride and will almost certainly be present again at Manchester Pride on 29 August.
CLC cannot be trusted to present evidence truthfully. As with many extreme conservative groups, they will distort the reporting of events and research evidence to present a worse-case scenario.
Finally, the Christian Institute video ends with the text: “Let’s be free to disagree.” Amen to that. We also believe in free speech, but not in Christian preaching and teaching which is hateful and provokes hatred towards LGBT people.