If you’ve ever skirted past the man on a soapbox in your local town centre who’s shouting about salvation – you’re not alone. Most of us have, probably more often than we’d like to admit, avoided the watchful eye of those who brandish Bibles and loudly proclaim that The Day Of The Lord Is Near while shoppers, in a wonderful display of British propriety, scurry on and pretend they haven’t just been told they’re facing eternal damnation. We question these preachers’ motives, assume they’re a bit mad, and quietly feel smug that our own conversations with non-Christian friends involve a lot less talk about the burning pits of Hell.
But for two open air evangelists interviewed by Christian Today this week, it’s not ridicule that’s their primary concern, but arrest.
Preacher Rob Hughes has just been awarded £2,500 in damages for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and breach of his human rights after being arrested in September 2013, accused of homophobia by a passer-by. Held in custody for 11 hours at the time, he was released and told no further action would be taken due to insufficient evidence. Hughes had recorded himself on a dictaphone in his pocket which proved that he hadn’t even mentioned homosexuality, but says that the police chose not to listen to it. A full-time evangelist, he and goes out every week to share the gospel with those on the street who would never think of entering a church. Andrew Geuter, who was arrested in April this year, has been doing the same for over 20 years.
Geuter was taken in by police following a complaint that he too had made homophobic comments – he maintains that he “most certainly hadn’t”. A statement from the Christian Legal Centre, which supported both Hughes and Geuter, said he “had been preaching on the Christian definition of marriage arguing that the present Government has destroyed marriage in its determination to redefine marriage to include relationships between people of the same sex.”
So why the hostility?
Hughes, who trained as a pastor, says that open air preaching is a form of ministry that’s “misunderstood even by Christians”.
“By nature, it’s very public,” he told Christian Today. “Some ministries take place within the confines of a church building…whereas open air preaching is on the street, out in the open. It’s a ministry that has to be done well because it’s so public.”
The image of a zealous bigot preaching fire-and-brimstone at anyone who walks past is a misrepresentation, he insists. Though these individuals certainly exist, many open air preachers, like Hughes and Geuter, simply want a chance to share their faith with a wider audience and encourage people to think openly about Christianity.
SOURCE: Carey Lodge