I VIEW street preachers as part of life’s rich tapestry – or at least as the grubby and annoying frayed bits at the edges. I don’t take them seriously unless they step seriously out of line, in which case I am quite prepared to take action.
Some years ago I intervened when an evangelist outside a hospital in Paddington, London, stood screaming at a picket line of nurses protesting against health service cuts. Dressed entirely in black, and brandishing a Bible the size of a breeze block, he let loose a torrent of misogynistic abuse, branding the nurses “harlots” and “whores” and much else besides.
When I told him to shut the fuck up, he tried to belt me one with his Bible. I grabbed it, forced it out of his grip, and threw under the wheels of big red bus – and whoops of delight came from the picket line. I left the lunatic sobbing and trying to salvage bits of his shredded “holy” book from the middle of the road.
But, by and large, these inadequate little reptiles – intellectual midgets with their heads full of Jesus, their silly signs, bullhorns and pathetic biblical tracts – are easily avoided, and there is no reason to invoke the law to shut them up when you can simply plug in your iPod – after all, that’s why it was invented.
But despite the fact that Section 5 of the Public Order Act in England was amended late last year to erase the word “insulting” from the clause in the Act that covers speech and writing on signs – every now and again cases still arise that irritate me intensely because they represent a waste of police time and resources.
Worse, they give more ammunition to the “persecuted Christian” brigade.
The latest of these involved an American evangelist who was arrested and detained this week in London during the Wimbledon Championships while preaching about “sexual immorality”.
According to this report, a bunch of evangelical wackos – members of something called Sports Fan Outreach International – have been active in England over the past week “to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with attendees of the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament”.
Tony Miano, a retired Los Angeles police officer who traveled to the UK with the team, claimed that he was preaching about sexual immorality from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 on Monday when a woman became agitated by his message and began to curse.The posturing nincompoop said:
[I preached about] the fact that people are in sin and are violating God’s word and His law by engaging in immorality — both heterosexual immorality and homosexual immorality.
Since he had included homosexuality in his sermon, the woman, who had gone into a nearby store and came out to find Miano still speaking, called the police to complain. Moments later, officers arrived and notified Miano that he had allegedly violated Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
The words that the police officers used was that I was guilty of using homophobic speech that could cause people anxiety, distress, alarm or insult. I tried to explain to the officers that there is nothing homophobic about my speech because I am not afraid of homosexuals — that I love homosexuals enough to want to bring them the truth of the Gospel.
Miano was then told that he was under arrest and was asked to follow the officers uncuffed to the police station, which was five minutes away from where he was standing. The evangelist states that he was booked, photographed and fingerprinted, and police also took a DNA sample to ensure that he was not a wanted criminal.
Miano outlined that he was later questioned meticulously by a detective about his beliefs.
It was surreal because I was interrogated about my faith in Jesus Christ. I was asked if I believe that homosexuality is a sin. I was asked what portion of the Bible I was reading. I was asked if a homosexual was hungry and walked up to me, would I give them something to eat.
Police then concluded by asking Miano whether he believed he did anything wrong, and if he would make similar statements again when released. Miano replied by contending that he had done nothing unlawful, and that he would indeed preach the same message again if he felt led to do so by the Lord.
After the detective and Miano’s attorney – Michael Phillips of Christian Concern – spoke, Phillips returned with bad news.
He said that my answer to the last two questions basically sealed the deal — that they were going to go forward with prosecution [and] that I would be in jail likely for 24 hours. And then I would appear before a judge … [who] would order me to remain in the country until the trial was completed, which could take four to five months.
Miano was then escorted back to his jail cell where he believed he would be spending the night. He began preaching and singing in his cell, and also asked his attorney if he could have a copy of the Bible. Miano said that after he received the Scriptures, he turned to the Book of Acts and began to find “great comfort” in the stories of the apostles who were also jailed for their bold preaching.
However, much to his surprise, after some time, the detective came to his cell to inform him that there had been a change of plans, and he was free to go.
Miano used his blog to say:
I was interrogated because I was a Christian … It’s coming. It’s coming to the United States. No doubt about it, the day is coming when Christians will be arrested not only for what they say, but for what they believe.
His experience inspired him to return to the spot where he was arrested to deliver a sermon, the gist of which was how:
Great Britain like America has forfeited the soul of the nation.