The tireless activity of the Christian Legal Centre in defending people arrested for daring to read in public from the Bible continues. The Church of England Newspaper (CEN) reports today that Miguel Hayworth, a 29-year-old street preacher has been released on bail following his arrest on Monday morning in Maidstone, Kent.
Mr Hayworth gets around the country preaching in the streets. He had been given an initial warning by Manchester Police at the end of July having been approached by Officers in St Anne’s Square where he was threatened (that’s the word the CEN uses) with an arrest and given a warning that reading portions of scripture in public could be classed as an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The Police had received a complaint about his conduct being offensive and inciting racial and religious hatred. (Are there people dotted around the country ready to make complaints like this to the police?)
Mr Hayworth apparently has a particular vocation to preach from Romans 1-6. He was arrested in Maidstone for preaching from the same chapters as he was preaching from in Manchester.
The CEN says Romans 1 to 6 deals with sexual orientation. This is clearly wrong. St Paul’s letter to the Romans doesn’t deal with sexual orientation. Nowhere does the Bible deal with sexual orientation. St Paul is dealing with the behaviour of members of the Christian community in Rome, turning his argument in chapter 1 back on his readers.
Onn Sein Kon is the case worker from The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) dealing with Mr Haywoth’s case. Mr Kon says that: “Romans 1 to 6 is (Mr Hayworth’s) normal modus operandi but under the Human Rights Act, why should this be an offence at all?” Do street preachers have a ‘normal modus operandi’?
Andy Banton, General Secretary of the Open Air Mission, is reported as saying: “We got legal advice on this two years ago so preachers know their responsibilities before the law and their rights and as far as that is concerned, we’re free to preach the Christian message. The difficulty is that the legislation is very grey and open to interpretation, which invites mischief-makers.
In an extract from a letter stipulating the rights of Preachers, Ormerods Solicitors note that freedom of speech “includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, provided it does not tend to provoke violence. “Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”
Mr Banton added: “So few people are attending church, under 10 per cent a week, so 90 per cent aren’t hearing the most important message in the world. We’re braving the fear and going into the public place.”
Changing Attitude agrees with the argument about freedom of speech. No doubt our message will be irritating, contentious, eccentric, heretical or unwelcome to some. I hope we are not teaching and preaching selectively but proclaiming the message of full inclusion for LGBT people in the context of the Gospels and the Christian message.
The problem for the CLC and the people it chooses to defend is that they are not preaching the most important message in the world, the Good News of Jesus Christ. They are preaching from passages condemning sexual activity between men. You might think they are obsessed about human sexual activity and especially same-sex activity.
I don’t know whether legally, reading Leviticus 18.22, 20.13, Judges 19.22-26, Deuteronomy 23.17-18, Romans 1.18-32, 1 Corinthians 6.9-10 and 1 Timothy 1.8-11 in public can be construed an offence. These verses are in the Bible, and I deal with them in the same way I deal with other offensive passages – those about dashing brains out and rejoicing over the killing of enemies.
I’m annoyed when bad translations are used, those which enhance the passages to read as condemnations of homosexuality (which is never an accurate translation in the first place).
These passages become problematic in public when they are read out of context and used to preach a message against lesbian and gay people (though the preachers would almost certainly use the word homosexual).
Changing Attitude argues that we are talking about different categories. Loving, faithful, adult same-sex relationships are not what any of the above passages in the Bible are referring to or describing. Therefore, I do find it offensive when I pass a preacher who is using these passages to condemn me and describes me as a homosexual. I’d prefer the Church to learn that condemnation of lesbian and gay people or faithful same-sex relationships is not found in the Bible.