All enthusiastic street preachers are alike; each passionate street preacher is passionate in his own fashion. One thing is certain that their fundamental guidance of street evangelization is simple and basic: that delivering the words of God incarnate in the bible is their sacred duty and responsible for the love of God. In fact, their authentic religious belief and conviction come straightly from the tenets of Reformation that advocated faith on the basis of the Scriptures alone. That said, Zealots they may be, but street preachers are not fire starters of civil disobedience or religious munchausens, forcing their religious convictions on passers-by. At least that had been a mores most civilized societies kept until a certain street preacher was arrested at a train station in London, England a month ago.
His name is Oluwole Ilesanmi, 64-year old peripatetic preacher who emigrated from Nigeria to England 9 years ago. Ilesanmi has travelled all over Britain, preaching what he believes at train stations where crowds of strangers ebb and flow without really paying attention to Ilesanmi and his words of God because well, for the reason that we commonly have when we come upon the likes of Ilesanmi. But on that unlucky day, Ilesanmi was abruptly arrested by the police because he was being “racist”. The beginning of his public disgrace was Ilesanmi’s disobliging reference to Islam in which he called Allah “idol”. What could have/should have been just an ordinary preaching day otherwise turned out to be his day on the pillory of public humiliation, so to speak, because Ilesanmi was handcuffed in front of the crowd of people who suddenly paid attention to the preacher and then rudely bundled into a police car. Furthermore, the police then “de-arrested” him by taking him to a remote area five miles away on the outskirts of London without money into the bargain! The poor preacher was finally able to return home thanks to a generosity of a kindly elderly man who paid for his bus ticket to home. It was indeed a humiliating and disheartening experience for the 64-year old street preacher.
The police later said that Ilesanmi’s inappropriate remarks on Islam, such as “Idol” and “aberration,” were racial enough to apprehend the preacher. But it still does not seem to constitute any valid grounds of the mocking arrest of the preacher because he wasn’t clearly brandishing any weapon or even a banner in public to shout out racial slurs that would really make any passer-by of the target racial category feel threatened. In other words, the police should intervene if someone is willfully intent upon harassing people with abusive words and physical intimidation. And Ilesanmi certainly wasn’t. Was he?
The over-reaction of the police seems buffoonish as if it were an episode of Monty Python. If the police intended to exemplify the Ilesanmi’s unfortunate episode for a textbook case of religious intolerance in public, then they were mistaken because it was exactly contrary to democracy, sovereignty of individuals, by which people have right to express what they think about and believe in unless they use willfully physical and mental violence/intimidation with malice to pontificate about it. What’s more, it was truly shameful of the police to cavil at what the solitary elderly preacher was preaching and poke on him when his presence was part of everyday city landscape. And if by the reason of sheer annoyance or even carbuncles that the police showcased Ilesanmi’s public indignity, then it was their misuse of power and authority because Ilesanmi wasn’t forcing his belief on anyone because his street preaching was always subject to casual dismissal at one’s discretion by the dint of robotic inattention to anything religious anyway. For these reasons, I feel strongly that the police owe the street preacher an apology for the indignities he had to suffer for the day.
Author’s Note: This essay is based upon my reading of an article “Arrest of Christian Preacher” by Tom Goodenough of the latest issue of “The Spectators” last night. What made me indignant about this article was that the police appeared to violate the old preacher’s dignity as well as his religious faith. Why did the police have to drop him off in the middle of nowhere without money? Did they think it as some sort of joke? It always seems to me that the authority and the powers- that- be like to hector the meek because they can’t touch or mess with the strong. So animalistic, that is. It shows that humans, despite the intelligence and spirituality ascribed thereto, are not much different from the other species in the Animal Kingdom.