The Pen

Arrested in the Bible Belt’s Buckle for Preaching the Gospel

If you haven’t heard about the pastor and members of the Lighthouse AnaBaptist Church in Springfield, Missouri, you can see a video of the arrest here [click this link]. Before I begin, let me give a few disclaimers.

Yes, I know that “AnaBaptists” are not Reformed like I am. Yes, I argued briefly with Pastor Aaron Brummit about the nature of regeneration and repentance while asking him for more details about the arrest. Yes, I know the Lighthouse AnaBaptist Church has linked The Trail of Blood on their website and I disagree with the historical analysis in that book. Yes, I know they seem awfully “fundamentalist.” What I do know is that Pastor Aaron and his church preach a Gospel of repentance and faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Although they may worship differently than the big box mega-church down the road, the group is within the realms of orthodoxy and are brothers and sisters in Christ.

According to the Springfield NewsLeader and in my own conversations with Pastor Aaron, the church preaches using a battery-powered amplifier (sometimes) and (sometimes) use large wooden crosses and a few signs. Some were wondering if this was the church that’s notorious for mean-spirited preaching in downtown Springfield. That is not this group (I know the name of that group, but choose not to share it). Their signs say “Jesus loves you.”

Prosecutors have filed five charges of “Disturbing the Peace” against Pastor Aaron, and the prosecution admits that the charges stem from complaints filed by private citizens over (supposedly) the volume of the sermons and not the content. Law enforcement should not serve as a complaint department to harass others at the request of third parties; if there is not an explicit violation of the law, they have no cause for action. And although the volume is supposedly the issue, I would remind people of two things. First, almost any time someone is arrested for preaching (as happened recently with street evangelist, Josh Williamson) the reason cited is “volume.” We have a right to be suspicious of this claim for numerous reasons. As was the case with Williamson’s arrest, the Springfield Police Department does not routinely enforce decibel levels for others in the downtown area – even when they are much higher than what’s projected by the preaching of Aaron Brummit. Secondly, that prosecutors admit they are motivated by citizen complaints is an open affirmation that their prosecution is arbitrary and capricious. In subsequent interviews, Springfield PD doesn’t cite the law, but the popularity of Pastor Aaron’s arrest. One’s First Amendment freedoms aren’t open to challenge because one or more people find the speech too loud or even offensive. If the law isn’t being enforced equally, then this prosecution is targeted harassment. If the law isn’t being enforced equally, then this mean’s it’s not about the volume – it’s about the content. I would ask you to listen to the applause as these Gospel preachers are arrested. Is that contempous applause not telling of the real reason for the complaints? Complaints were not filed when only a short time before a much louder concert was taking place. Then we can be certain the issue is not the volume – and if not the volume, it’s most certainly the content of what was preached.

Law enforcement began to seize this group’s person property; chiefly their amplification. Notice, the policemen weren’t citing the group with a legal infraction and neither did the police tell the group that they had violated any ordinance (both news reports and my conversation with Pastor Aaron substantiate this). The group, having violated no law (or at no time being told so), was having their property stolen by the policemen (that’s what you call it when your property is seized without a warrant or without due cause). Not being told why their property was being stolen, the group attempted to prevent its seizure through non-violent protest – in Pastor Aaron’s case, he was sitting on the equipment and would not get up. He was then arrested for “obstruction.” I would ask “obstruction of what?” It certainly wasn’t obstruction of justice. If anything, it was obstruction of injustice.

A little-known fact that will come out later if this incident goes to trial, none of the three arrested were read the Miranda Warning. Furthermore, when one who was arrested asked, “why am I being arrested” they were told by the police officer in the car “I don’t know.” That information was not forthcoming, even when “booked” and mug shots were being taken of the trio as though they were common criminals.

Some have suggested the video on YouTube {click here] is edited. I would ask you to compare it to video made available by the Springfield NewsLeader. It’s the same video with the same content. Furthermore, as some have suggested (as they suggested with Josh Williamson as well), the preacher was not “lying in ambush” to videotape his arrest. Only after the police began to detain them did one of their group begin recording in order to legally protect themselves. In fact, most of the video was taken by bystanders, many of whom were concerned at their treatment at the hands of the police.

I don’t think anyone involved is trying to malign or mistreat their police, even given their improper and illegal treatment of the group. Instead, this is an issue of the American populace (law enforcement officers are but a part) that are wholly ignorant of the United States Constitution and our First Amendment liberties. Perhaps the police view their role as “keeping order” even if there’s not a legal violation and someone should explain to them that this isn’t how our country is designed to operate and that they enforce laws, and are not to make them up as they go along. Shockingly, the Springfield PD has basically said “we did this because citizens wanted us to.” It’s frightening when law enforcement serve by popular consensus and not the rule of law.

Sadly, many Christians are taught that Romans 13 requires a thoughtless obedience to government authority but not what – in this country – constitutes “authority.” For believers who castigate Pastor Aaron or his church for not blindly following the tyrannical and illegal orders of local law enforcement, please be reminded that the authority in our nation is vested in the people as defined by the rule of law. There is no authority in the badge if the one wearing it is exercising power or authority he’s not been given.

Furthermore, please understand the power of preaching the Gospel. I suppose if one thinks Christianity is a popularity contest and someone is saved because they’ve “accepted Jesus” then Pastor Aaron is doing more harm than good. But if salvation comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) then this leads to the salvation of souls. If one thinks, because of the heckling, that people get further from God because a preacher offends them in the public square, then they don’t understand the nature of human depravity. I man can’t become any more spiritually dead than he already is. Behavior – like the applause at the arrest of a preacher – is simply depravity coming to the surface. God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to save (1 Corinthians 1:21), even though a certain kind of “Christian” thinks it’s as foolish as the demonstrably lost.

In the mean time, here’s some information regarding Springfield’s growing gang problem [click here]. But I’m sure the citizens of Springfield can go to bed sleeping soundly, knowing that the SPD has served and protected them from the Gospel.