A 71-year-old Christian pastor and grandfather was arrested in London on the charge of making “homophobic comments” for preaching on what the Bible says about marriage.
John Sherwood, pastor of 35 years at an independent evangelical church in north London, was arrested after police officers were told he was “making homophobic comments outside Uxbridge Station in west London.”
He was preaching outside the Uxbridge Tube station. Sherwood said he was bruised by officers who pulled him down from the “mini-stepladder” he was standing on and “cuffed his hands behind his back.”
The arrest was made for Sherwood’s “allegedly homophobic comments” under a vague section of the Public Order Act, which stipulates that action be taken if one’s “abusive or insulting words” do “harm” to someone else. The charge against the pastor was that he was “allegedly causing alarm or distress” to others. The police had received several complaints about the pastor’s language, according to the Daily Mail.
“I wasn’t making any homophobic comments, I was just defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. I was only saying what the Bible says – I wasn’t wanting to hurt anyone or cause offence,” Mr. Sherwood explained. “I was doing what my job description says, which is to preach the gospel in open air as well as in a church building.” A later Facebook post on a Christian group says that Sherwood was preaching on Genesis 1, saying that there were only two genders and that God had intended men and women to join into families headed by one man and one woman.
Approached by the police, Sherwood told them, “I was exercising my religious liberty and my conscience. I was forcibly pulled down from the steps and suffered some injury to my wrist and to my elbow. I do believe I was treated shamefully. It should never have happened.” A video taken of the incident shows officers dragging Sherwood down from the ladder after the pastor refuses to get down, and Sherwood apparently struggling to get out of the officers’ grasp, while onlookers advise police to “take it easy with” the “elderly” pastor. Another onlooker seems to mock Sherwood’s Christianity. In the video, the police roughly cuff Sherwood and take him away.
Sherwood said that he was “grilled” by police later concerning his opinions on “gay people,” and even questioned as to what he would do if his own children were gay. Sherwood insisted, “The question was irrelevant to the allegation against me. I said I would seek to bring them to Christ, but of course I would love them no matter what, because they’re my children.”
“A Met Police spokesman said its directorate of professional standards had assessed video footage of Mr. Sherwood’s arrest and had found no evidence of misconduct by officers,” according to the UK Daily Mail.
Pastor Peter Simpson, Minister of Penn Free Methodist Church in Buckinghamshire, was preaching with Sherwood before the latter was arrested. He pointed out, “If there was a Pride parade in Uxbridge, the police would support it even if Christians were offended.”
“You don’t have to be an evangelical Christian to be shocked by this,” Simpson added. “Anyone who cares about liberty should be concerned about what happened in Uxbridge. This is about defending our Christian civilisation, or what is left of it. The belief in Genesis 1:27 is fundamental to Christian belief. This arrest of a faithful minister for doing nothing other than declaring what the Bible teaches about one of the important moral issues of our time reveals a dangerous assault upon freedom of speech and, not least, upon the freedom of Christian pastors to declare in public all that the Bible teaches. The State has no right to designate that some parts of God’s word are no-go areas.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, commented, “Street preaching has a long and honoured history in the UK. In many ways it is symbolic of the kind of freedoms we have treasured in this nation. So to see a. . .pastor arrested in such a manner for preaching the gospel in London is deeply concerning.”
Sherwood’s file has now been passed onto the Crown Prosecution Service “for review and consideration.”