I just read an article on Christian Concern, a British website, entitled, “Church Poster Labeled ‘Hate Incident’ by police.” Because it is a short article and states the story concisely, I will quote a major portion of it.
A Baptist church in Norfolk has been investigated by police after a poster displayed outside the building attracted a complaint.
The poster coupled a picture of burning flames with the words “If you think there is no God you’d better be right!!”. ….
But 20-year-old passer-by Robert Gladwin lodged a complaint. He later said that the message of the poster “could not be further from the often uttered phrase ‘love thy neighbour'”.
A police spokesman said that national guidance required them to investigate the complaint and that the matter had been recorded as a hate incident.
Pastor John Rose of Attenborough Baptist Church said that the Church offered a variety of ways for people to engage with the Christian message. He continued: “Jesus encourages us to love God and to love our neighbour and we therefore regret that the poster has been seen as inciting hatred.”
The poster has since been replaced with another explaining “God loves you”.
Though this event occurred in England, and it seems that they are further down the road than America in regard to embracing progressive social attitudes and legislation, there is a good possibility that events such as this are coming our way. In fact, we already see the cultural seeds sown in America for this type of incident. If our society continues as it is, we will soon be where they are.
I find several factors especially shocking about this story. First, the poster does not seem to be all that offenses. The article did not include a picture of the poster, but the writer indicates that the poster only included the words, “If you think there is no God you’d better be right!!” and pictures of flames. It does not mention hell nor does it use harsh rhetoric, but instead makes the point in a rather oblique manner. It might have communicated a message such as, “If you don’t receive Christ, here is a picture of your future,” but it didn’t. Therefore, for a passerby to take offense that escalated into a “hate incident” seems to be rather thin-skinned. This really manifests the elimination of most free speech for Christians in the United Kingdom. It certainly suggests that preaching on sin would be considered offensive.
A second concern is that this poster appeared outside of the church. Had a number of such posters been plastered in the town square, one might understand that the people of the city did not necessarily appreciate being confronted with this message whenever they turned around. However, one would think that the church had the right to post whatever sign they chose on its property.
A third concern is that the person objecting to the signed did so on theological grounds. It did not fit his perspective of loving one’s neighbor. This would suggest that the church must conform to the theological positions of whoever might walk past. Of course, the poster was as loving as a person yelling “Fire” when a building is engulfed in flames. Most passing by are probably headed for an eternal hell, and therefore it is loving to extend this warning. Are ordinances in England requiring that the church can only put up posters that meet the approval of pagan observers? That being the case, the church has no freedom of speech whatever.
It is also troubling that the church posting a sign that conveys one of its foundational beliefs is cited as a “hate incident.” Doing so conveys that the government knows the motives of those posting such a sign, and that they are hateful, when any reasonable person would come to the opposite conclusion.
My last, and perhaps greatest issue with this incident resides in the response of the church. I realize that they were seeking to be loving rather than cantankerous, sensing that doing so constitutes the Christian response. Consequently, they replaced the original poster with a sign announcing, “God loves you.” I see this as problematic in that it conveys agreement with the person protesting. It seems to be saying, “Yes you are right. God is love, and a suggestion of hell is not compatible with that quality.”
In addition, in failing to take a stand regarding their poster, it seems that the church yielded valuable legal ground. This seems to be an admission that the charges were valid and that the church has no right to display any posters that anyone finds offensive. This seems to be a concession that all elements of Christianity offensive to the secular world are not appropriate for posting.
One wonders how soon this type of incident will arrive in America. Apart from a change in direction, is only a matter of time. When that happens, the noose will be so tight around the neck of the church that it will no longer be able to speak.