Evangelism as hate speech?

censorshipA news story from across the pond about Christian preachers being told by police officers not to preach in a predominantly Muslim area is an example of how a news organization slant can present a relatively simple factual situation in any number of different ways. Here's the Telegraph's headline followed by the first paragraph:

Christian preachers face arrest in Birmingham

The evangelists say they were threatened with arrest for committing a "hate crime" and were told they risked being beaten up if they returned. The incident will fuel fears that "no-go areas" for Christians are emerging in British towns and cities, as the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, claimed in The Sunday Telegraph this year.

And here is The Sun:

Preacher 'hate jibe by a cop'

Two Christian preachers say a police community support officer accused them of "hate crime" for handing out gospel leaflets in a Muslim area.

Lastly, here is the BBC:

Christians 'told not to preach'

Two Christians claim a police community support officer told them to stop leafleting in an area of east Birmingham where many Muslims live.

The usual back-and-forth ensues in these stories with various perspectives emphasized, or ignored all together. Notice that the BBC does not even mention the word "arrest" in its report, while the Telegraph puts "arrest" right in the headline.

The Telegraph also highlights the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester. What is interesting about Nazir-Ali, and likely unknown to most Americans, is that he is Pakistani-born and holds Pakistani and British citizenship. GetReligion readers also need to know that he is one of the directors of the Oxford Centre for Religion & Public Life, which oversees this weblog. Here's a recent tmatt column that adds some more information about the bishop and his role in these debates in Great Britain.

This story is also an example of where reporters would best serve their audiences by going beyond the police reports and statements from the parties and finding some outside source to comment on the legal issues at play. The weak free speech laws in the United Kingdom likely make this type of incident more probable than in the United States and other countries with strong tradition of free speech. However, could some, such as the police officers, see Christian evangelism in a Muslim community as akin to yelling fire in a crowded theater?

This leads into the theological and social perspective that is missed: why is it that Christian evangelism is so offensive, particularly to Muslims, and how much of it has to do with the fact that Muslims are a minority in the UK? There are answers to these questions, and reporters shouldn't overlook those questions even if even if there are no easy answers.

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