Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dearborn Moves to California?

This video ignited a firestorm on my facebook. Take a look:

The complete story about this incident can be found here.

The controversy surrounds not with the behavior of law enforcement, which I think should be the focus this incident, but the behavior of the man reading the Bible. Much was said about how this man was an "obnoxious idiot," a "Bible-thumper," and a detriment to the Church. I really don't see that in the video, but let me grant it for the sake of the argument. Even if the man were to behave 100x's worse, would that justify an arrest? Even if he were Terry Jones can anyone justify an arrest--oh wait, that happened too!

As Lydia McGrew pointed out, this incident happened on public property on which no laws were broken. The video shows that the men were peaceful and stood at a distance away from others. Had this man been a Muslim, I think this point would have hit home, for political correctness would have seen to his protection, and no one would have dared lay a hand on him.

As believers, we should be just as compassionate for these brothers in Christ as we would have for the nonbelieving public. To reserve from them that which we would give to others is duplicitous. The man has been called an "obnoxious idiot," but not one said that the security guard or the patrolman were "obnoxious idiots," even though they were. I cannot in good conscience shame fellow Christians in public for what they were trying to do and for which they were unjustly arrested. I have even had one individual tell me that the man got what he deserved even though the patrolman was wrong--hello, contradiction? The three fellow believers in the video have been unjustly treated; I don't know why as a matter of principle we don't defend their legal rights first instead of savaging someone's character. We don't do this to nonbelievers, but we find it somehow acceptable to eat our own.

Having said that, I can now address the separate issue of the wisdom of standing at a DMV and reading aloud from the Bible to people who clearly don't appreciate the effort. First of all, that's weird. Out of context and out of place, it is a gratuitous intrusion on the sensibilities of the general public, especially to read Bible passages without an explanation of the reader's intentions. Christians and non-Christians alike readily attribute a negative character to anyone who would do so, as shown by the comments on my facebook thread.

Second, this type of "cold" preaching is, as people have accused, detrimental to the mission of the Church. By creating a situation in which the people associate the Gospel with weird, intrusive, and annoying Christians, one may taint the impression of the Gospel itself. This, of course, is not how real missionaries operate. In a strikingly similar case, believers who traveled to Dearborn, MI were unjustly arrested for trying to preach the Gospel to Muslims. But in that case, the Christians had a context, a clear limited scope, and brought people willingly into a dialogue about Jesus Christ.

I think we all agree that maybe these men should have behaved more wisely leading up to being falsely arrested, but if we justify the arrest in any way, shape, or form over and against the Constitution, we have all taken a step toward losing our own First Amendment rights. Hey, it's your freedom (and mine).  It takes surprisingly few cases to set off unconstitutional limitations if they aren't constantly being defended.


drbrouk said...

This whole thing appears to be about fear and civil rights. Little if anything to do with the gospel. There is no love, no faith, no grace. Only fear.
The actions of these Christians were unwise, inappropriate, and obnoxious. The reason for public chastisement is because he did it in public and put it on YouTube. He is asking people to support his lawsuit. He has made it very public and therefore a public critique is appropriate. I’m not going to give him a pass just because he is a Christian. Christians do foolish things and we should call them out for their own good, and the good of others and the church. I have to wonder if this whole thing was planned, knowing full well the outcome. Did they do this before? Were they run off and then came back with video camera and the full intention of getting push-back from the authorities? Did they investigate everything beforehand and determined they weren’t breaking the law? Was this a setup of the local authorities? It’s very suspicious. They show no surprise. In the exchange with the security guard, the first thing the reader says is, “Sir, I am going to keep reading, you do what you are going to do.” The guard said nothing about calling the police. And when the police did arrive, the Christians just kept saying, "What’s the law, what’s the law", apparently confident that, according to their research, there was no law. If this was a set up, that’s even worse since they are using the gospel to further their constitutional agenda. Obviously during the civil rights movement, people intentionally created a crisis with law enforcement. The purpose of those events was to free people from blatant and oppressive discrimination. But surely this is not following in that tradition. However you interpret it, California Penal Code Section 602.1 is hardly oppressing our civil rights and the church can function just fine with that statute in place.

drbrouk said...

You say others could get away with this when a Christian could not. I’m not so sure of that, but if so, why would that be a surprise? And besides, we aren’t Muslims, we aren’t from Westboro, we aren’t neo-Nazis or atheists. We’re Christians. We’re supposed to be different. Kind and respectful. Stand up for the gospel and for justice for the oppressed, but don’t go out of your way to get arrested in this way and for this reason. Our civil rights are not as important for Christians as they are often made to be. We should be willing to give up our rights for the sake of the gospel if that is required. This is another situation when it is not about the gospel as much as it is about constitutional rights. We might end up with our rights, but everyone thinks we’re stupid, petty, foolish, and self-serving. Early in the book of Acts people praised Christians. But after stuff like this, we continue to look bad. The Apostle Paul did once invoke his rights, but he didn’t fight for them, or go to court, or sue anyone. He spoke up for his rights to keep from being beaten. But if no one cared about his rights, he likely would have taken the beating rather than hire a lawyer or file a suit. Our responsibility as citizens of God’s kingdom is to represent and promote God’s kingdom. That is more important than America and the constitution, and our rights as American citizens. There are so many legitimate ways to share the gospel, why choose ones that will cause problems just because you have rights? What about the rights of the people standing in line? I’m sure everyone in line really appreciated the love this guy showed to them. They couldn’t leave just because he started shouting at them about the wrath of God. It’s just totally inconsiderate and taking advantage of people. It was thoughtless. Why put the cop through this trauma? Who knows what nut-cases are going to do? He might have been as much afraid as he was mad. There is no reason to criticize anyone else because no one else is representing the Kingdom of God. We can’t produce a stressful situation and then criticize unbelievers for not acting the way we think they should. I don’t expect anyone else to act like a Christian if they are not. This was totally inconsiderate, all because someone has rights and wants to exercise them.

drbrouk said...

Apparently many are coming to see that the Christian’s methods were questionable, but still think there is a larger issue to consider, an unlawful arrest. But an unlawful arrest is not the larger issue for a Christian. It may be for an American, but not for a citizen of the Kingdom of God. The larger issue for the Christian is, “Is my conduct becoming of Christ and his church?”, not “Do I get to exercise my right as an American?” If you are unlawfully arrested for doing what is right and good, that should not be a major surprise for a Christian. And if you are arrested for doing what is wrong, then you shouldn’t be surprised either. I’m not convinced he didn’t do anything wrong. They cited an ordinance and of course there is some interpretation involved. But just because it is public property doesn’t mean you can say and do whatever you want. I doubt if I could even do this in my back yard across the fence at my neighbor having a BBQ. They would call the police and they would tell me to stop. And I’m on my own property. The question is, what is expedient for a Christian? All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. This is about fighting. Fighting for our rights, which is what every American does. Christians should be different. Willing to give up rights to show love and respect for people. To refrain from shouting at these people would in no way hinder the spread of the gospel. And what they did was by no means helpful.
The headline says: Man arrested for reading Bible in public! Freedom of speech violation. The man was not simply reading the Bible in public. That is a very misleading and disingenuous headline in an attempt to take advantage of people’s fear. He addressed the people and started reading out loud, very loudly, in the direction of people standing in a line, and reading at a level that those people considered inappropriate. Some kid with a boom box would probably have been chased away too. This was inconsiderate to everyone involved. He should be ashamed, not proud. No one should be surprised at what happened. Don’t do something foolish and then cry foul about the consequences.
One question we must continually ask to help evaluate and reevaluate our conduct is, “Am I acting like an American or am I acting like a citizen of the Kingdom of God?” They are not the same. There are great blessings living here, but as Christians, we can’t assume that the rights we have as Americans transfer to our responsibilities as Christians. We need humility and the willingness to sacrifice our rights. There is too much automatic association of Christianity and America in these events.
The cop was more than willing to let people go but the Christians would not oblige and kept saying “what’s the law what’s the law”, continuing to provoke. This is nothing but a constitutional test. If they are so concerned about making this a legitimate practice, then go through the proper channels. They found out what they needed to, the people didn’t want them there, the cop didn’t want them there. Leave when the cop asks. Take it to your local politicians, try to change the law or clarify the law. Why go through being arrested and jailed and putting it through the courts, spending people’s money wasting people’s time? This is arrogant and totally unbecoming of a Christian. It might be a great ploy by an American trying to assert his rights, but it is totally unbecoming of a citizen of the kingdom of God.
This is all about fear; fear of Muslims, fear of losing our rights. All about fear. All about self serving. All about fighting. There is no grace, no faith, no love. Only fear.