It’s now a criminal matter to quote the King James Bible in Britain! The UK culture’s definition of free speech and tolerance now seem to demand silence for those who disagree and believe the Bible. The prosecutor’s statement reflects what religious freedom means to secularists: “To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth.” Be warned: this is also what secularists are forcing on America. Secular ideology is not about having equal rights but about having superior rights for those in power to eradicate Christian speech.
Last week’s ruling by a magistrate’s court in Bristol, convicting two street preachers (Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell) of a public order offence, is just another example of the loss of freedom of speech for Christians in the UK. The prosecutor argued that publicly quoting the King James Bible in modern Britain should “be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.” During the trial, the prosecutor argued:
To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.1
The men were found guilty under Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 of using “threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person . . . and the offence was religiously aggravated.” Although last year British Prime Minister Theresa May said, “We must continue to ensure that people feel able to speak about their faith, and that absolutely includes their faith in Christ,”2 this is obviously not the case.
Our culture’s definition of free speech and tolerance now seems to demand silence for those who disagree. Ironically those who claim tolerance actually turn out to be the most intolerant, especially when it comes to Christians (ex. Asher’s Bakery).3 Freedom of speech within the UK is now severely limited, especially for Christians who wish to speak openly about the truth of the gospel.
This is just another step in the radical secularization of the UK. Secular ideology has long talked about equal rights, but it is becoming increasingly evident that it is not about having equal rights but about having superior rights for those in power to eradicate any speech that reminds them of their sinful behavior and the need to find forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Freedom of speech is fast becoming a right only for those on the left. The goal of the secularist seems to be to silence those who disagree with them in order to achieve their end: the suppression of truth.
First, it is important to remember to pray and intercede for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1–2). In our speech with the world about the truth of the gospel, we are called to be gracious (Colossian 4:6) and to answer with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Yet we must always remember that the gospel is a scandal to the unbeliever, and, therefore, it will always be seen as offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18–23). Although the message of the Cross is an offense to people (Galatians 5:11; 1 Peter 2:8), it does not mean that our speech should be.
When it comes to our cultural situation today, we should also keep in mind that the book of Acts tells us that Christianity was born into a time of adversity and immorality in a world where the church was in the minority. At that time Christians had to find a way to be faithful in an age when they were not (culturally) in control. Even when the emperor claimed to be Lord and the moral code was decidedly in opposition to Scripture, the Holy Spirit gave that early church the ability to be faithful and to preach the Word of God without fear or compromise. He did it then, and He can do so now.
Christianity is not about status or fame or being in control of the culture, but about living day by day under the Lordship of Christ. Whereas the culture may deny that it has a Lord over it, our duty as Christians is to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord over us all (2 Corinthians 4:5). When the time comes that those who are in authority over us demand that we be silent about the gospel, we must not be silent but rather follow the example set by the apostles and obey God rather than man:
But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20)
This is a spiritual battle, one in which we must stand firm even in face of those who would seek to silence the gospel.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)