BBC highlights squeeze on Christian street preachers

BBC highlights squeeze on
Christian street preachers

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A BBC report has highlighted some of the religious liberty issues facing Christian street preachers.

Listen to the report

An extract from BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, broadcast on 23 August 2009. Visit the BBC’s website to listen to the entire programme.

The report, featured on Radio 4’s Sunday programme this weekend, included a recording of a recent incident where a street preacher was told by police officers that it is a criminal offence to identify homosexuality as a “sin”.

They said this to Andy Robertson, an evangelist with the Open-Air Mission (OAM), even though he had never mentioned homosexuality in his preaching.

Mark Jones, an employment lawyer who specialises in religious liberty issues, told the programme: “Giving offence of itself is not against the law.

“There is no protection that I may have from somebody simply walking up to me in the street and saying something that I might disagree with or I might be offended by.”

Mr Robertson is not alone in encountering problems while preaching in public.

Earlier this month it was reported that a street preacher had been arrested after reading out Bible passages in Maidstone, Kent.

Last summer a street preacher in Birmingham was arrested after he had mentioned homosexuality while preaching about sin and its consequences.

The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge told the Radio 4 programme why more cases like this are taking place.

He said: “I think the reason for this increase has been there is a diversity and equality agenda that doesn’t seem to allow for Christians to express their faith in a way where other people may disagree with them.”

He said that sensitivity about issues such as minority faiths and sexual orientation has put police officers and local authorities “under huge pressure to be seen to be responding”.

He added that “sometimes you get over-zealous public officials who want to step in and say, ‘you can’t say that because someone might be offended’, and that over-zealousness is I think part of the problem”.

Another evangelist with the OAM was recorded for the programme as he preached in Hounslow, West London.

Tim Whitton told the reporter: “Our approach generally is just to speak but not shout, to be friendly”.

He said the aim was to make sure that “if anyone is ever offended, they’re offended by the message of the Bible, rather than by anything that we’re doing”

Knowledge of Bible ‘in decline’


Knowledge of the Bible is declining among people in the UK, according to academics from Durham University.

The National Biblical Literacy Survey found that young people believe the Bible is old-fashioned and for people like EastEnders’ character Dot Cotton. More than 900 people from faith and non-faith backgrounds were surveyed, with fewer than one in 20 able to name all of the Ten Commandments.

But the study showed many still turn to the Bible at times of emotional stress. The researchers said their findings showed the Church and politicians could no longer make assumptions about people’s knowledge of the Bible, which in under 45s is in decline.

No assumptions

The study revealed that 62% of respondents did not know the parable of the Prodigal Son and 60% could not name anything about the story of the Good Samaritan. One respondent said David and Goliath was the name of a ship, while another thought Daniel – who survived being thrown into the lions’ den – was the Lion King.

The study was funded by a consortium of national churches, charitable trusts and Bible agencies. Younger interviewees told researchers that the Bible was “old-fashioned”, “irrelevant” and “for Dot Cottons” – in reference to the churchgoing character in the BBC One soap. The Rev Brian Brown, a Methodist minister and visiting fellow in media and communication at St John’s College, Durham University, said: “The Church and political leaders should take serious note of the findings and recognise that we cannot make the assumptions we used to make about the Bible and its place in contemporary people’s lives and culture.” But he added: “Many respondents said they still turn to the Bible for support and guidance at key moments.”

BBC host says Britain Needs Marriage

The presenter of a new BBC documentary on ‘broken Britain’ says the decline of marriage is to blame – but that social liberals will find that hard to accept.

John Ware, whose programme The Death of Respect goes out on BBC2 tonight, says the “post-war experiment in individualism” has left us with a fragmented society.

He said: “This started in the 1970s with the increase in unmarried parents, lone parents, cohabiting parents and step-parents.

“In its wake came generations of children who have been shifted from pillar to post.”

Mr Ware says that in the “rush to sweep away from the 1960s much that was bad”, Britain “also abandoned much that was good, including the institution of marriage.”

But despite “the evidence of marriage being generally best for children”, Mr Ware said the Government had “avoided debating” the issue.

He said: “Despite such authoritative warnings, ministers and their advisors seem reconciled to the relentless rise in family breakdown and single parenthood, seeing this as an irreversible social trend whose expensive consequences we will just have to crisis manage”.

Mr Ware said the only way to reverse the problem is to “accept that the fragmentation of society is closely linked to the decline of marriage.”

Mr Justice Coleridge, a leading family judge who features in Mr Ware’s programme, said the BBC had given it an 11.20pm TV slot because the content on family breakdown was deemed “too dark” for prime time.

He wrote last month of inviting a BBC researcher to spend the day watching a run-of-the-mill High Court case.



He said she was “stunned into silence and remained speechless” when he told her that “within the Royal Courts of Justice, there were 20 or so other judges engaged in similar cases”.

“Across inner London, well over 100 family courts were dealing with family breakdown that day, in one guise or another. Multiply that across the rest of the country, and you get some feel for the scale of the epidemic”, he commented.

Gay Tory’s TV quip about murdering beauty queen

Conservative frontbencher Alan Duncan may face a police investigation after joking on TV that he wanted to murder Miss California because she disagrees with gay marriage.

Mr Duncan, who became the first Conservative MP to form a same-sex civil partnership last year, was appearing on the BBC’s satirical news quiz, Have I Got News For You.

He made the joke as panelists discussed Carrie Prejean, the Miss USA contestant who lost out on the title after stating her belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Mr Duncan said: “If you read that Miss California has been murdered, you will know it was me, won’t you?”

Fellow panelist Katy Brand was visibly shocked that Mr Duncan had made the statement on television, while Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine, remarked: “Nothing like freedom of speech from a Tory, eh? She disapproves of same-sex marriage so she deserves to die by your hand!”

Mr Duncan’s joke has prompted complaints to the BBC, the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom and even the Metropolitan Police.

The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “It is inconceivable that a prominent politician would retain his position on the Conservative front bench if he joked on television about murdering a supporter of gay marriage.”

Defending his comments, Mr Duncan, who hopes to be Home Secretary if the Conservatives win the next election, insisted: “Of course it was in jest. It is a comedy show after all. I’m sure Miss Prejean’s very beautiful and that if we were to meet we would love each other.

“I have no plans to kill her. I’ll send her a box of chocolates – unpoisoned.”

However, according to a reader of the homosexual news site Pink News who was in the show’s audience: “The BBC must have used canned laughter when screening the programme as the audience weren’t laughing that much. Everyone thought it was a really weird thing to say.”

Miss Prejean, who already holds the title of Miss California, came second in the Miss USA beauty contest earlier this month where she responded to a judge’s question about gay marriage.

She answered: “I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offence to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised.”

The judge who asked the question told ABC News: “She lost it because of that question. She was definitely the front-runner before that.”

He also said Miss Prejean has ‘half a brain’ and, and that he would have stormed onto the stage and ripped off her tiara if she had won.

However, the 21-year-old has stood by her comments.

“I was representing California. I was representing the majority of people in California,” she has since said.

Last year a majority of Californians voted to amend the state constitution to make it clear that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognised in California.