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Pride, police and the preaching of the Gospel

Christian Today asked me to write about the Josh Williamson situation.  I wasn’t that keen to do so but then my colleague Steve McAlpine took a pasting for what I considered to be a sane, sensible and spiritual article on the subject – so I agreed to it.  We really need to deal with these situations a lot better.  You can read the original article here…

Pride, police and the preaching of the Gospel

 

(Photo: Unsplash/Teddy Österblom)

Cornwall Pride is cancelled. Wonderful news? Josh Williamson the Australian Baptist pastor in Newquay thought so. In fact, he tweeted those exact words on the Cornwall Live FB page. The resultant fuss, including threats of vandalism and deportation, has been covered elsewhere in Christian Today, but I want to ask what lessons we can learn from this fuss. So, I asked Josh to tell his side of the story.

Why did he do it? “The ‘why’ of my posting comes from a love and concern for God and the LGBT community. I don’t want to see the LGBT community engage in sinful actions, nor do I want to see people who are made to love God insult Him by their actions.”

What are his feelings about the police action? “Our complaints were basically dismissed, and I feel that we were not taken seriously. This I believe may be due to the fact that Devon and Cornwall Police are key sponsors of Cornwall Pride (which is based in Newquay), so I am concerned that there may have been a conflict of interest on behalf of local Police.”

The police sent three police officers round the Sunday morning to ensure their safety. Despite being shown the threats they determined that no crime had been committed.

“I asked him (a police officer) if saying ‘homosexuality is a sin’ would be a breaking of the law, he answered by saying that it may offend people, and that is where the law may be broken.

“I felt as if we were being ignored. Since Devon and Cornwall Police are key sponsors of Cornwall Pride, I can’t help but wonder if that influenced their reluctance to investigate threats from the LGBT community.”

Josh then goes on to say that they have been inundated with hundreds of e-mails of support from pastors, churches, and individuals – both Christian and non-Christian – and many people asking Gospel questions and engaging with the Gospel, including members of the LGBT community.

Surely this is the story of a faithful Gospel preacher being hounded by an ungodly society and discriminated against by an unjust, politically correct police force? Those Christians who do not speak out 100% in favour of Josh are either not so closet liberals, or just cowards who cave into the culture? As someone who has written about Pride parades in the past, I certainly have a great deal of sympathy with that approach and with Josh, and yet things are not quite as black and white as that.

Stephen McAlpine from Perth (Australia) has written this perceptive and balanced article about his fellow Aussie suggesting that we all need to learn lessons of wisdom in how we communicate the Gospel in a culture that is both hostile and open.

I share Steve’s perspective. I came across Josh in 2014 where in Perth (Scotland) he was arrested for breach of the peace. The headline was of a Christian preacher being arrested for proclaiming the Gospel. The whole story was somewhat different.

I would have hoped that Josh would have learned his lesson and become wiser in his proclamation of the Gospel. Yes, of course, Josh has been treated unfairly. The screenshotting of quotes that were not his, the social media threats, the call for businesses to ban the church and the refusal of the police to take seriously the threats are all unjust and wrong. But, sadly, that is the world many of us live in.

I have no doubt that if Josh had been making death threats against Cornwall Pride, he would have been arrested. The fact it didn’t happen the other way around only serves to illustrate the point that in the ‘equality and diversity’ identity parade, some are more equal than others. But the police did send people round to protect the church and Cornwall Pride did dissociate themselves from the threats and abuse.

In the midst of an increasingly hostile environment where we are sent out “as sheep amongst wolves”, we are to be “as wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). That doesn’t mean we are to be cowards or withhold from proclaiming the law of God. It does mean that we are to adopt the methodology of the New Testament Church who had to live and proclaim the Gospel in a society that was far more hostile than ours. Paul, Peter and Mary did not stand in the public square proclaiming the sexual sins of the nation. They did not see their business as to judge those outside the church, but rather those within (1 Corinthians 5:12).

Our role is not to defend Christendom, or a Christian country, but to proclaim the Good News to a world that rejects Christian ethics and standards – and as a result is becoming increasingly confused and dysfunctional. We have the antidote; I’m not sure that shouting about the disease really helps. This is not to say that we should not engage in constructive cultural criticism, but gloating on a Facebook page about a Pride march being cancelled was not engagement. Our aim is to win people, not bin them!

Of course, it is easy to become a victim in such a joyless and perverse society as ours – and it plays well to our own constituency. But it doesn’t really help if much of that victimhood is as a result of our own unwise actions. And it certainly doesn’t help those who are genuinely threatened and are at risk of losing their jobs, just because they gently hold to Christian beliefs in the workplace.

McAlpine writes: “In other words we should not back Williamson unthinkingly, or buy into the victim culture, or even be astonished at how sin is being described as good, and how bondage is being presented as freedom. We are, after all, living in a missionary context, are we not?”

Six years ago, when Josh was first arrested in this country, I suggested that there were lessons to be learned. This latest incident shows that we still need to learn them.

Firstly, let’s not feed or exploit the fear and persecution complex that many Christians in this country have (take note Christian media and lobby groups). This is not persecution. Secondly, we need to fight the more important battles – the spiritual ones. Our weapons are the armour of the Spirit, not the weapons of this world. Thirdly we need to weep, pray and seek the Lord for the best possible ways that we can communicate the good news of Jesus in this day and age. And we must learn to believe the Bible.

Why should we be surprised when non-Christians act like non-Christians? If we are persecuted, let us both cry out ‘how long, O Lord, how long?’ and at the same time rejoice that we are counted worthy of suffering with Christ.

I was once asked to help a church in reaching out to their local community. The first thing they needed to do was change their notice board and name which included the words “Strict and Peculiar Baptist Church”!

Perhaps that is how we come across to people? We don’t need to change the Gospel, but we do need to change ourselves. We need to show that the Gospel is reasonable, beautiful and good, before we show it is true. Let’s make sure that in all our interactions done in the name of Christ, the story is about him, not us.

David Robertson is director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com

How should the Church React to Inverness and Stornoway Gay Pride marches?

 

10 comments

  1. I find myself broadly agreeing with you.

    I wouldn’t just say that there shouldn’t be surprise when non-Christians act like non-Christians, but there shouldn’t be surprise when non-Christians act like non-Christians when the Christians aren’t even acting like Christians.

    Somehow parts of the church have become convinced that loving the church’s enemies means trying to stir up popular outrage against them.

    FWIW I think it is as likely the threats came from individuals who were not gay possibly from another country, just seeking to cause trouble than from Cornish gay people serious about causing him the same fear that he sought to cause them. It’s not nice having to worry that your fellow townspeople hate you and want you gone.

    By the measure you condemn you yourself will be condemned.

    Far better just to show mercy.

  2. The notice board would actually have read “Strict and Particular Baptist Church” – referring to the doctrine of particular redemption. But”peculiar” is how it comes across today.

  3. Thanks David I agree with your take. My concern with a number of cases has been whether the aim of those involved was clear communication of the gospel or if there is a tendency to court attention. There was an early church issue with those desperate to be martyrs. I have preached and counselled clearly and firmly on LGBT issues but I have long felt uncomfortable with some of the Christian campaign literature coming our way

  4. I cannot see how as Christians we do nothing and say nothing about these situations. For some time now the Church has been sleeping and these issues have been allowed to go on unchallenged.
    For once David I find your article a bit hard to comprehend; you say there are those who are losing their jobs for holding on to Christian principles yet you don’t see it as persecution, does a Christian need to have a death sentence for their faith to qualify as persecution?
    You also state ‘Paul Peter and Mary didn’t stand in the market place proclaiming the sexual sins of the nation’ Have you seen the contents of the new RSE lessons for schools which is largely put together by a LGBT+ group who are being funded by taxpayers money? I blushed when I read them. This is the stuff that will be fed to our children and grandchildren.
    In the book of Acts chap 19 we’re told of of the silversmiths rebellion at Ephesus, why? Paul was accused of saying (vs26) ‘they are not gods which are made with hands’ and there followed a huge uproar in the city.
    In the gospel of John chap 7 Jesus speaking to His unbelieving brothers vs7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that it’s works are evil.
    While I totally agree that we must get the message of the gospel seasoned with love out there, I have no doubt as Christians we must stand for truth no matter how inconvenient.

  5. Working in Policing, I see both sides of this.

    I’m not convinced it is always necessary to highlight the flaws in others. Jesus did not need to expose Zacheaus faults in public, in order to minister grace and the gospel that was life changing.
    Who is my neighbour? The Good Samaritan said what to the man he helped? Nothing. He did…

    It is necessary to be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.

    Jesus was a master at reaching the core of an issue, cutting between soul and spirit, able to discern the motives and intent.
    Often these issues around sexuality have a much wider cause and problem that is missed. I.e. Rom 1 is not about sexual expression, that’s the symptom. The cause is the deeper issue of having exchanged the truth for a lie. This is manifest in many ways, not just sexual behaviour.

    Dealing with symptoms is futile, if the cause remains.

  6. the Good News to a world that rejects Christian ethics and standards

    And rightly so …. most christian standards are revolting, and as history is witness often barbaric.

    That said, the bloke should not have been ”censored”. Let his views, idiotic as they may be, have ”air time.”
    Those that censor often do so because they are cowards and /or afraid of dealing with the topic at hand.

  7. Hello David
    I’m glad that you referenced your earlier piece on Mr Williamson when he engaged in similar activity in Perth, Scotland. It’s hard to believe it was six years ago! I recall that he said he was returning to Australia, where he also has “form”. Whether he did go home and then return to the UK at a later date is immaterial. But Mr Williamson’s actions suggest that he hasn’t learned any of the lessons and he continues as before.

    In 2014 I pointed out that there was a handbook available advising best practice for open air preachers and that Mr Williamson had heeded none of them.

    I hope that he realises soon that we need to be saved from all our sins and not just the one that he sees as guaranteeing a response where he can claim to be the victim. In 2014 his interaction with Scottish police amounted to nothing more than baiting to get some self publicity.
    The book I mentioned is the Christian Legal Handbook but I do not know if it is still available.

  8. Anyone who remembers the Scottish Seaside Missions , as much a part of Beach culture as the Punch and Judy Show , must marvel at the possibility of todays’ Communist Social Workers interrupting a Summer’s Day in Girvan due to the fact of perceived infant religious indoctrination.

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