My beloved and I were headed into Artist Alley. It was slow going through the crowd back to the stage area. Richard grabbed my arm and said “check out the signs.”
He read out loud “Don’t Go to Hell” printed on one and then “Read Bible for Details” on another. “It gets better,” he added. “It seems that certain restrictions apply—check them out.”
On the back of the Don’t Go to Hell sign was a very long list of “Satan’s Children” which began with “Hypocrite Christians, Lost Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and all other False Religions. It ended, four paragraphs later, with “Boozers, Dopers, Revelers, Mouthy Women, Girlie Men and all Sin Loving Heathen.”
Practicing open air street preaching and evangelism at the OB Street Fair must be one tough gig. Let’s face it, Satan’s Children seemed to outnumber the Honest to God True Christians by about 69,000 to 35. But come on, how much creditable suffering points can be accrued when the lost souls come packaged in so much mortal youth and beauty, smiling tanned faces, and happy people peacefully enjoying a gorgeous day?
I couldn’t help looking out across all those people in the streets, listening to the sounds and watching those bobbing signs without thinking about the carnage that has occurred these past weeks in the streets of Iran. I felt an overwhelming sadness for the people there and a deep gratitude that so far we’ve managed to hang on to our religious freedom, freedoms of association and speech, and the separation of Church and State. While our own civic discourse on these issues has been contentious, even rancorous, we aren’t Iran by a long shot.
So I went up to one of the men holding a sign. (As an aside, this was a largely male gathering. I only saw a couple of kids and a woman.) He handed me a Get Out Of Hell Free card (www.preachtruth.org) and was ready to start preaching. I asked him to hold off a second and managed to ask “Don’t you think it’s really great that we can all be here right now and not have to agree with each other and nobody gets beat up or killed? He replied “that’s the kind of stuff that happens over there- Iran.” And then he was off and running, preachifyin’ and I walked away.
Two women heard the exchange. They weren’t so pleased about the presence of this ministry. One said- “What have they got to say about the teenage girl that gets raped by two football players?” The Satan’s Children list included “baby killers.” We know what that means…
And of course there’s the rub. Our free speech protection does not have fine print which excludes whack jobs and the angry and deeply disturbed at the most extreme, let alone the people with whom we really really disagree. And I say don’t mess with free speech. Period.
On the other hand, we should be shaming the shamers and turning it right back on them. While I could care less about who someone personally and privately wants to take to lunch, or marry their kid, I would like my fellow citizens to feel that it doesn’t fly to air their Satan’s Children dirty laundry out in public. It’s a real stinker.