Freedom of Speech on Parade

I had an interesting chat with the Pope on Sunday.

I was walking along Monument Avenue during the annual “Easter on Parade” event—smiling at the dogs wearing bunny ears and the parents pushing strollers—when suddenly there he was, standing with six or seven other guys in black T-shirts.  At first I mistook him for a bishop, but he said, “No, man.  I’m the Pope!”  He pointed to his hat as evidence.  It did look something like the Pope’s hat.  It was the right size and shape.  But it was made out of some kind of padded polyester material and I’m guessing the Pope’s hat is not.  “Where did you get it?” I asked.  “Costume store,” he answered.  But he told me how much fun he’d had wearing it to the bar where he’s a bouncer.  “I see a couple of Catholic priests sitting at a booth and I say, ‘Hey, you two!  Get back to work!’  And they almost jump out of their skin.” 

I laughed at that, but it was odd coming from a guy pretending to be the Pope while wearing a T-shirt that said, “Jesus Hates You.”  In fact, all these guys were wearing T-shirts with atheist and anti-Christian slogans on them, including one that said, “Thank God I’m an Atheist!”  I remembered last year’s Easter on Parade, when there was a street preacher screaming at people, telling them they were going to Hell if they didn’t accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I wondered if there was any connection between that kind of aggressive evangelism and this kind of in-your-face backlash.  I also wondered what Jesus would make of all this, Jesus—who died for atheists, street preachers, and the Pope.  Wouldn’t he put an arm around the guy in the black T-shirt and say, “You’ve got it wrong, friend.  I don’t hate anybody“?  And wouldn’t he put an arm around the street preacher and say, “Stop screaming, friend.  I came because God loves the world”?

I tried to keep that in mind as I strolled on down Monument Avenue.  I had just come from a worship service where I had preached the good news that “Christ is risen!” and the choir had closed things out by singing the “Hallelujah” chorus.  It was one of those days when a few guys in black T-shirts weren’t going to spoil my mood, when I was sure that in the end the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,

“And he shall reign forever and ever.”

8 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech on Parade

  1. Jim,
    I remember the screamer last year. I remember the pause in my own thinking…”Bud, if you only knew that this may not be the BEST way to lead folks to Christ, even though I know your conviction.” And I also know the jokers…the ones who make fun; was with some this very evening who laughed when their precocious grandson who knows an awful lot, yet nothing of Christ, yelled “Mom, Mom …someone ROSE from the DEAD… and that’s why we have EASTER!” The revelation in a second grader that there just might be more than the Easter Bunny and Dogs on Parade. All we can do is pray…and do what you suggested, as I did; when you had the chance, on that day, proclaim to a stranger “the Lord is Risen.” Pray and proclaim in whatever small, quiet ways you can, at whatever small, quiet chances you get.

  2. I would like to be there when HE puts HIS arm around the guy. I would bet the 7 pound largemouth bass on my wall that they woulld have a wanderfull long walk:) Steve

  3. I like the picture of the dog/bunny. Dog pictures are usually good because dogs always seem to be smiling–even if they can’t do a thing with their hair–or ears . . .


  4. It amazes me that a year from last Easter has passed. I recall the post and comments about the Street Preacher. I penned some words then, that with me being busy never had a chance to see the light of day. Here is what I wrote down a year ago:

    “I too walked by the street preacher during the Easter Parade. I heard him quoting John 3:16 and 3: 17 to those who would stop and listen, and later walking back to the FBC Puppets, I heard him pleading with the multitude to repent. There was talk of things that make us uncomfortable like Sin, and Hell. As I walked with my Daughter, an FBC youth member, I did what a Dad does, explain things. You see, one has to ask why would he do this? Why would he says things that make us uncomfortable and dash the peace and love image we so desperately seek in this world. Why? I know the reason, Love. That street preacher loves you and me and everyone at that parade so much that he would take the anger, the looks, the comments because he is telling us there are but two ends in life. You can live for the Lord and be with him for eternity, or you can live for the world and be separated from the Lord for eternity. We don’t like those options, but on Easter this street preacher was saying PLEASE don’t continue down that road! It ends in death! Turn around! He actually was presenting many opportunities for us as Christians to share what Christ means to us, to present our witness and invite people to see how we live out our calling to be Christians. Perhaps next year we will be better prepared.”

    I see the real opportunity in answering the question why anyone (the preacher or the “Pope”) would get the attention of others in an “over the top” way to deliver a message. I do not distance myself from the street preacher, as we are both brothers who love the Lord and want many to hear the Gospel. Perhaps there was someone who heard the pleading last year, and knew that message was for them. Maybe it was for us at FBC. If we did a better job of evangelizing in our own “backyard”, there would be no need for a lonely street preacher to be so blunt, and a clear alternative to those preaching humanism and the world, as the “Pope” was this Easter.

  5. It is truly amazing how people turned off by faith are still drawn to the symbols and stories at faith’s core. Sadly, the foam pope-hat may be not be exactly what I was hoping when I wrote that!

    Too often people mistake the institutions of faith for belief itself. If we were truly Christ’s church we would likely spend a whole lot more time on both ends of Monument Avenue than we do in the padded pews of any church in Richmond. And if we did spend more time out among the searching, we might just deepen our own personal faith as well.

    Great blog post, Pastor. Risen, indeed!

  6. Thanks for sharing this story just footsteps beyond the front door of our Church. It was sure an opportunity for a Missional Church outreach!

  7. I’m not sure Jesus would put an unrequested arm around the tee-shirted guy. Though he might VERY well buy him a beer.

    *shrug* That matches up more with my experience of Jesus, anyway……..

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