After opening in prayer I stood up to preach. We were able to bring in a crowd quite quickly. It wasn’t long before I drew in some hecklers, who of course voiced their views, many of which dealt with the idea that there is no God and therefore religion serves no purpose. As I was refuting their claims a couple of police officers approached me and asked if they could have a word. I was told that this was not the place to be preaching open air as the crowd that would form would ultimately be deemed an obstruction of a right of way. If you have been to Leicester Square you will know how wide the promenade is where we meet to minister. I explained this to the officer in charge and also mentioned that we had been preaching in the same spot for over six months. However he remained resolute and it seemed that he was not going to change his mind. It was surprising then when he turned to me and said that he would give me ten minutes to speak. This then changed to fifteen minutes, which then changed a third time when he said that both him and his partner would be moving on to another location and that I should be finished when they returned in half an hour. This seemed fine with me and so I stood back up on my stepladder and told the crowd that I had been told by the police that I could speak for thirty minutes.
In terms of what the officer told me with regards to the obstruction of a right of way, consider the following, taken from a document by a solicitor to the Open Air Mission in April 2007. Section 130 of the Highways Act 1980 relates to permanent or semi-permanent obstruction of a right of way. It enables the Council to take action to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway for which they are the Highway Authority. Section 137 of the Act governs the offence of obstruction of the Highway. A highway obstruction has been defined by the courts as ‘something which permanently or temporarily removes the whole or part of the highway from the public’s use altogether’. As this would cover stopping to talk to a friend, no obstruction is committed where there is lawful authority or excuse. This is commonly understood to mean that the reasonableness of the obstruction must be taken into account. Under Section 149(1) of the Act a Council would need to identify that a nuisance is being caused, then require removal of the nuisance by notice, and can apply to the Magistrates Court for removal and disposal order if the person fails to remove the nuisance. Under Section 149(2), immediate action can be taken when there are reasonable grounds to consider a danger is being caused, subsequently the obstruction can be removed forthwith. However it must be clear that there is a clear danger in view (click HERE to read more).
In light of this it would be appear that the officer who spoke with me was not acting in accordance fully within the boundaries of these Acts. While I have no problem with them telling us what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t be doing, ultimately it is not their job to restrict us from doing something simply on the basis of what could ensue should we do it.
As I carried on preaching I got into a dialogue with a man named Frank. I reasoned with him concerning the existence of God, the fact that God is ultimately in charge, and that one day He is going to judge this world in righteousness. Some of his counter points centred on the notion that Christians themselves have proven to be hypocritical of their own beliefs in the things they have done. The issue of the Crusades came up. I asked him if he had heard the expression, “Tarred with the same brush.” I could see that this caused him to stop and think for a second. The point I was trying to make was that you cannot refute the teaching of Jesus simply because men and women who claim to be His followers act in a way that is contrary to His teaching. Consider two men. One is your close friend and the other is his close friend (a man you do not know). If this man were to act unjustly towards you, would it be right for you to blame your close friend? Of course not. In the same way, to use the actions of so-called followers of Christ to dismiss Christ and His teaching is to act unjustly and unfairly towards Christ. The issue that needs to be addressed is whether or not a person is acting in accordance with Christ's teaching. Jesus made it clear that you will know a Christian by his or her fruit (Matthew 7:15-17).
After I finished preaching the team immediately got involved in speaking with people one-to-one. This is the great advantage of open air preaching. If, as a Christian, you are in a crowd when someone is preaching open air, all you need to do after the preaching has finished is to approach someone you noticed had been listening and ask, “Hi there, what are your thoughts on what you just heard?” Before you know it you are in a one-to-one conversation, giving you the opportunity to share the gospel. (See below. The tracts and Bibles we put out always get snapped up!)
Moving on I noticed that Carl had been speaking with Frank, one of my hecklers I had engaged with when I had been preaching. It was very interesting in that he was willing to discuss and talk with us. As we carried on speaking to him we noticed that his tone changed and that he began to use language that showed he admitted there could indeed be a God. When he had first introduced himself in the crowd he mentioned that he was an atheist. This led me to asking whether he knew everything. He admitted that he did not. I then asked him to imagine that he knew one percent of everything (which is still a great deal). Would it be possible in the ninety-nine percent he did not know for there to be ample evidence that God did in fact exist. This is why God does not believe in atheists. You cannot, by definition, be an atheist. To be an atheist you would need to have all knowledge. Someone who professes to be an atheist is in fact an agnostic. They simply do not know whether God exists (although I would maintain that they do know, they are simply restricted by their sinful nature to admit that they do). We had a good conversation and encouraged him to think through what we had shared with him. Below is a picture of Carl and Frank together.
Soli Deo Gloria!