By now most people would have heard about how police in Geelong broke up a Christian display of the crucifixion over Easter. While most people today associate Easter with bunnies and chocolate eggs – and sadly many churches do too – one Christian church in Geelong decided it was time we get people to think about the real meaning of Easter.
So they had a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus near a shopping centre. The Australian a few days ago described the situation this way: “Police in Victoria say they were responding to public distress when they pulled the plug on a re-enactment of the passion of Christ in the Victorian city of Geelong.
“With a fervour that would have done Mel Gibson proud, the Heaven On Earth Christian Church (whose website carries ‘miracle videos’ such as blind girl sees, deaf five-year-old boy hears and deaf mute girl healed) took their bloodied Christ on to the streets of Geelong over Easter. The re-enactment included a semi-naked ‘Jesus’ covered in fake blood being ‘crucified’ on a large wooden cross. Police said yesterday they acted under laws forbidding obscene, indecent or threatening language or behaviour in public, carrying a maximum two months’ jail sentence.”
The article continues, “‘The closing down of the display was not about religious beliefs; it was due to numerous complaints from the public regarding offensive behaviour,’ a police spokesman said. But pastor Sarah Kenneally said the purpose of Saturday’s re-enactment, using liberal amounts of body paint, was to ‘get people to stop and think about what Easter was really about’. She did not believe it was offensive. ‘How do you define what is distressing or offensive?’ she said.”
The story continues to make headlines. A story in yesterday’s Herald Sun said this: “Church leaders behind a graphic crucifixion re-enactment will go to Victoria’s police chief Simon Overland to challenge what they say is unfair treatment of religious demonstrations and double standards. Heaven on Earth Apostolic Life Ministries say police have apologised for stopping the gory re-enactment in a busy shopping area in Malop Street, Geelong on Easter Saturday.”
Senior minister Reverend Rory Lennon said, “They apologised to us. We’re happy (now) with the conduct of the local police, but for us there is a bigger issue. We want to clarify … what safety measures do we have if we are going to get harassed every time we do some overt demonstration and not keep it quiet.”
The article continues, “Mr Lennon has attacked the double standards of police who participate in demonstrations supporting gays and lesbians, including Melbourne’s Pride March, and did nothing last month to stop World Naked Bike Ride participants’ ‘lewd’ behaviour.”
He said, “The gay mardi gras or parades and things like that, the (police) commissioners walk in those and there were complaints there, but nothing was done. We want to clarify what the standards are with the commissioner. We’re confused on why one thing is dealt with like we were, yet another thing isn’t.”
As is often the case when Christians seek to stand up for Christ in the public arena, some other Christians were eager to criticise the display. Admittedly, one can debate the merits of such a public and high-profile display of Christian convictions.
And details seem to be sketchy here. The church claims they were not aware of any child being offended or in distress. And police later admitted that they only received two complaints. It seems that the organisers have a point: we have far more offensive public displays occurring all the time, offending far more people, yet the police don’t intervene on those occasions.
While we all need wisdom, tact and discernment as we seek to make public our faith in Christ, I for one am glad that some believers are willing to take a stand. There are far too many armchair critics who are doing nothing to publicly stand up for Christ and the Kingdom, but are all too happy to take pot-shots at those who are.
Some Christians may not feel comfortable with such a display, conducted in such graphic fashion. That is fine. We do not have to all think alike here. But since I happen to be one Christian who is on the frontlines all the time, seeking to make an impact for Christ, I am well aware of fellow Christians who simply want to criticise me from the comforts of their own safe environment.
There are plenty of such critics who are not putting their necks out for the Kingdom, not risking anything, and are simply seeking to be men-pleasers. But they are always happy to condemn other believers who feel called of God to take a stand, even if it means rocking the boat and ruffling some feathers.
As I said, believers can rightly differ on how wise or productive this particular Easter display was. I don’t find any major problems with it. What I do find problematic are all the armchair Christian critics who are so quick to judge, yet they seem to be unwilling to lift a finger for the cause of Christ.
But it has always been the case that those who are willing to stand up and risk all for Christ are the ones who will get most pilloried by fellow believers. Jesus faced the same thing. Can we expect anything less? If being right with God means being unpopular with men – even other Christians – then so be it.
A. W. Tozer once said, “The true church has never sounded out public expectations before launching its crusades. Its leaders heard from God and went ahead wholly independent of popular support or the lack of it. They knew their Lord’s will and did it, and their people followed them – sometimes to triumph, but more often to insults and public persecution – and their sufficient reward was the satisfaction of being right in a wrong world.”
Or as A. B. Simpson warned, “The chief danger of the Church today is that it is trying to get on the same side as the world, instead of turning the world upside down. Our Master expects us to accomplish results, even if they bring opposition and conflict. Anything is better than compromise, apathy, and paralysis. God give to us an intense cry for the old-time power of the Gospel and the Holy Ghost!”