Friday, October 05, 2007

Free speech!

This morning I went to Bridport, Dorset to help friends from Chardsmead Baptist Church with their open air witness. The church has permission from the local authorities to preach in the town square. This is a public forum for everybody from street preachers to country and western buskers. One slightly irate man interrupted my friend as he was preaching to complain about our activities. We explained that we were in the square to share the Christian message and that we had permission to do so. But that didn't satisfy him. When we brought up our right to free speech, he objected that he had the right to drink his coffee in peace and quiet without having to listen to us preaching. A nearby policeman noticed our little disagreemen. He came over tried to defuse the situation. The friendly PC stressed that we were in a designated pubic forum and that we had the right to make our views known. After some discussion, we were able to get on with our witness. My friend resumed his preaching and then I proclaimed the good news of Jesus to all who would listen.
We need to declare the gospel beyond the four walls of our church buildings. Jesus was an open air preacher, as was Paul. It is no good having George Whitefield as our hero, yet never preaching to people in the public square. But open air preaching isn't necessarily going to be welcomed by everybody. Our protester said that he knew a Christian who objected to our witness! But for as long as we have free speech in this country, we must preach the good news of salvation in high streets and town centres.
In our rights oriented society, what comes first, the right to free speech, or the right to drink coffee in silence? Thankfully, in this case, the consumer was not allowed to triumph over the street preachers!

3 comments:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I can't comment on the legalities in the U.K., but in the U.S. any public space is free for free speech. I would have thought that would also be true for any society made famous by soapbox speeches in Hyde Park.

While street evangelism may not always be the most effective means of spreading the gospel, I would always support it as an option. I have, myself, engaged in street evangelism.

Gary Brady said...

A few points 1. The local authority cannot have given permission to hold an open air as the right already exists (as long as it is not blocking a public right of way) 2. 'Defuse' probably intended though he probably diffused rather than defused 3. The man had a point, drinking your coffee in quiet is a precious thing too 4. Keep on keeping on with the gospel

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Gary,

1. In this case the local authority (Bridport gives permission for people to use the public square. The area is used for musical and speech-based events etc. Those wishing to use the square have to pre-book a "slot". The church holds open airs in the square every other month.

We don't have to do this in Westbury. We just turn up and get on with it, taking care not to cause an obstruction.

2. I meant defuse. I don't know why diffuse ended up in the post. Now corrected.

3. I had some sympathy with the bloke who wanted a quiet cuppa, but the Bridport square is a designated public forum. There are lots of other nice places in the town where you could enjoy an undisturbed coffee.

4. Yes!