Pastor Peter Simpson (Penn Free Methodist Church) and Pastor John Sherwood (Pilgrim Tabernacle Church, Finchley) were preaching the gospel in the centre of Uxbridge on April 23rd, aided by two ladies from the church at Penn, who were handing out evangelistic leaflets and speaking to passers-by. A Christian brother from Slough was also helping with the witness.
Pastor Simpson began the preaching and referred to the grave abandonment by modern Britain of its Christian foundations, an abandonment which has manifested itself by, amongst other things, the redefinition of marriage. This redefinition was totally un-Biblical, marriage being only between one man and one woman.
Whilst Pastor Sherwood was preaching, he expounded the final verses of Genesis 1, declaring that God’s purpose in creating mankind was to set human beings in families, headed by a father and a mother, not by two fathers, or by two mothers. The distinction within mankind of just two genders, male and female, made in the image of God, constitutes the essence of God’s created order.
After a while, a number of police officers appeared on the scene, going up to Pastor Sherwood and stating that three complaints had been received from the public about the preaching. Pastor Sherwood stopped preaching to speak to them, which he did so in a courteous and reasonable manner for some considerable time, whilst adhering firmly to all that he had said. The accusation which the Police were making was that alarm and distress had been caused to members of the public by the preaching.
Whilst this conversation was going on, another Police officer spoke to Pastor Simpson about the need to avoid homophobic statements. The minister explained that to uphold God’s moral law and to speak about the dangers of sin in respect of LGBT issues implies absolutely no hatred or malice towards any individual or group of people. Nevertheless, the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality is plain.
To this the policeman responded that some matters simply cannot be referred to in public places, implying that homosexuality is one of them. The officer also stated that there is no freedom to make statements in public which offend people. Pastor Simpson responded that the Police would have no objection whatsoever to a Pride parade being held in Uxbridge, yet that is highly offensive to Bible-believing Christians. Furthermore, there is no law stating that people must never be offended.
Meanwhile Pastor Sherwood respectfully told the Police that he had freedom of speech, and therefore that he had no intention of desisting from preaching. He explained to the officers that his previous comments about families needing a father and mother were also made in the context of the divine command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). It was a statement of the obvious that two men and two women could not reproduce.
Pastor Sherwood resumed preaching and spoke on the precious right to freedom of speech in this country reaching back to Magna Carta in 1215 and the Bill of Rights in 1689. One man amongst those standing by, who said that he was bisexual, shouted out that Pastor Sherwood had made homophobic statements and another lady in the gathering crowd said that he was guilty of hate speech.
The conversation resumed between Pastor Sherwood and two officers and they asked the preacher to come down from the steps on which he was located, saying that he was now under arrest. The minister refused to leave his steps, arguing that he was engaged in lawful activity and that no crime had been committed. An officer then took away the Bible in the pastor’s hand and pulled him from the steps. Three officers then gathered round to apply handcuffs to him. So Pastor Sherwood was not arrested for refusing to come down from the steps, but, as the Police stated, on the grounds of section 5 of the Public Order Act, and allegedly causing alarm and distress.
It is worth noting that the arrest took place after a period of continued, reasonable and polite discussion with the Police, which was surely evidence that the preacher was not likely to have engaged in a criminal use of intemperate language earlier on.
The North London pastor was then driven to a police detention centre near Heathrow Airport, where he was detained overnight and was not released until around noon the next day. The pastor’s solicitor described the attitude of officers during the formal interview procedure as being unpleasant. One of the questions which Pastor Sherwood was surprisingly asked during the interview was, What would he do if one of his own children was a homosexual? However, it is surely the task of the Police to ask questions about the specific alleged offence, not more general questions about why someone holds a personal view on an aspect of Biblical morality. Altogether, the preacher was detained for around 21 hours.
This arrest of a faithful preacher for doing nothing other than declaring what the Bible teaches about one of the important moral issues of our time reveals a dangerous assault taking place in modern Britain upon freedom of speech, and not least, upon the freedom of Christian pastors to proclaim in public all that the Bible teaches (see Acts 20:27)