How many angry voices does it take to censor an ‘offensive’ sign? Apparently, the answer is ‘one’.
When Robert Gladwin walked past the Attenborough Baptist church in Norfolk, UK, he became so upset by one of the church posters he was compelled to call the police, who investigated the sign as a hate crime. The ‘offending’ image depicted a wall of fire with the caption: ‘If you think there is no God, you better be right!!’ Gladwin felt the sign was offensive to non-Christians, and went against ‘Christian traditions’. After talking with police, Pastor John Rose removed the message of damnation.
It seems the church’s only ‘crime’ here was using double exclamation marks, but Gladwin had stronger convictions. ‘It is my basic understanding that Christianity is inclusive and loving in nature’, he said, ‘the message being displayed outside of the church could not be further from the often uttered phrase “love thy neighbour”.’
Gladwin’s understanding of Christianity may indeed be basic. After all, Jesus is also credited with saying ‘I came not to send peace, but a sword’. By many, if not most, interpretations of Christianity, the sign legitimately represents Christian views. But whether the A2-sized piece of paper in question represents scripture or not isn’t really the core issue.
How is it that a lone man passing a Baptist church can involve the police because he doesn’t agree with that church’s religious interpretation? For example, the Mormon belief that native Americans are a lost tribe of Israel might strike many as odd. But unless we intend to ban the right of any religions to proselytise completely, there is no reason why one man or a hundred men can ask the police to muzzle the beliefs of another, even if he believes you’ll burn in a lake of fire.