The sign said, “Turn or burn”. Another said, “Ask me why you deserve hell.” These are some of the messages displayed when I clicked into the Official Street Preaching website.
Today I saw a street preacher. He was a young guy – maybe mid 20s. He was preaching through the 10 Commandments. Pacing back and forth on a low wooden bench, he confidently directed his message from a safe distance to the people across the road from him waiting at a bus stop at a busy intersection.
In the short time I heard him, the tone and theme of his message was not interpreted by myself as anything welcoming, encouraging or understanding. Words I would use to describe his message would be: combative, challenging, almost shocking.
But that was just me.
I must admit I admire the guts it must take to do the job of a street preacher today and the willingness to cop whatever and whoever comes at you while spruiking your beliefs. Especially because within an Aussie context where 92% of the population are very suspicious of organised religion, the risk of getting some aggressive kick-back from the public is potentially quite significant. So it takes something internal to do this. Guts? Maybe.
“The third Commandment is Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain…” the preacher continued as he referred to his notes (yes, he had notes). As a pedestrian, I waited briefly at the lights to cross the road when a young teenage girl approached me with a flyer inviting me to their church. I noticed a few teenagers lurking with bundles of similar flyers to hand out.
How would you respond?
During the brief time it took me to walk through this scene, my overwhelming emotion was embarrassment. I don’t quite know who I felt more embarrassed for – the captive audience at the bus-stop, the preacher, the flyer-hander-outers, or the uncomfortable-looking pastoral types lurking nearby.
I think I also feel saddened. Saddened? Yeah, because I belong to that 92% of Aussies who are suspicious of organised religion and if I understand the spiritual landscape of Australian culture at all, then I expect that the street preaching would only harden the suspicion that lurks in so many hearts. So I am highly embarrassed by their methodology.
“Excuse me,” said a gentle girl next to me, “I’d like to invite you to a concert at my church,” she said as she presented me with a colourful flyer. Decision time. To accept or reject. What would you do? Let’s have some comments to this please. Would you respond positively to such an invitation? Would you accept the flyer? Would you say ‘no thanks’? Or something else?
What would you do?