Hotel owners Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were charged with a criminal offense under public order legislation in the UK this week. Their crime was to enter into a religious discussion with a Muslim guest at the hotel who reported to the police that she had been ‘offended’ by remarks made to her concerning Muhammad the founding ‘prophet’ of Islam. The couple, both committed Christians who run the Bounty House Hotel near Aintree racecourse are due to appear in court in early December and could face a fine of up to £8,000 as well as a criminal record if found guilty. No reasonable person could stand by belittling or insulting anyone because of their religious affiliation, but sharing the Gospel to somebody of another faith is a different matter entirely. The Gospel faithfully preached always gives offence if rightly understood ,as it cuts across not only ‘religion’ and cultural norms but it even topples the worldly ego and every conceit of the human heart. In recent times Muslim sensibilities were offended by the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad in an unflattering light which resulted in worldwide protests of an often violent nature resulting in several deaths. We also remember back in 1969 the ‘fatah’ issued against Salman Rushdie over his book ‘The Satanic Verses’ which questioned the reliability of the Koran and the character of the ‘Prophet’
Christianity has long been fair game for satirists and critics from the hugely popular Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ to the recent Dan Brown anti-Christian tirade ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Despite these and countless other provocations no one to my knowledge has been harmed or threatened by Christians, certainly there have been rebuttals and heated debates but no mob rule reactions or acts of violence. I suppose living in a Western democracy we have become accustomed to freedom of speech and the entitlement to individual expression. How ironic then that these freedoms borne out of our Judeo-Christian heritage should now be used to stifle the free sharing of the Gospel. The case of the Liverpool couple is an important landmark for all lovers of freedom and religious liberty and we should support these two believers whose only crime was to share the message of Jesus with a lady from the Muslim faith.