Introduction: What To Do with Street Preachers in Downtown Sarnia

Over the last six months or so, our beautiful downtown Sarnia has been inhabited with a Street Preacher (the whole soapbox and everything) and an entourage of Street Preacher Disciples of a range of ages handing out gospel tracts. Children as young as six or seven jump in front of you when you walk by to hand you a track. This is a small downtown, that consists of about 8 blocks total. Every Friday like clockwork the group will show up downtown and proselytizes the public with images of an angry God ready to send you right to hell if you don’t admit you are sinner and accept Jesus into your heart. I’ve now had a number of interactions with the Street Preacher and his comrades that I hope to post here. I’m more interested in being criticized and helped in my responses but I’ll post what I have of their responses as well.

I have asked them numerous times now to leave and focus on their own neighbourhood (rural Sarnia). But they feel a sense of urgency and God’s leading for them to be downtown Sarnia. They admit no one that they preach to have actually joined in their church community since preaching. I’ve exchanged letters with the Street Preacher, had an hour long exchange with another one of their younger leaders and have been trying to deal with the negative effects of them being down here with our friends downtown. We’ve been coming up with ideas on how to shame this whole process. One of us came up with the idea to have clashing cymbals right behind the preacher with ‘1 Cor 13:1’ plastered on our t-shirts. We didn’t do this in fear that we would be associated with what they were doing and people wouldn’t get what we were doing. We heard once of a homeless man who stood next to a street preacher holding a sign that said ‘If you give me a dollar, I will yell at him to shut the fuck up.’ That seemed like it would be entertaining to watch, but probably not to effective in love and grace. He at least made a lot of money. We are still writing down ideas about how to effectively bring the Kingdom of God in this situation. Any ideas are welcome.

I’ll start posting my exchanges with the street preacher this week. In the meantime, you can read this post. It was a letter I wrote to the editor responding to a Christian Fundamentalist about taking care of the environment.  It turns out that this guy who I was responding to three years ago, Harry Deboer, is the street preacher! So he doesn’t mind a little bit of public dialogue which is nice, because neither do I.



21 thoughts on “Introduction: What To Do with Street Preachers in Downtown Sarnia”

  1. Its a distraction. The kingdom grows subversively. Love people and meet their needs in secret. God sees and will support your work. You can’t win in confrontations with these people.

  2. Tricky situation. It’s hard when well intentioned groups fail to understand what God is already up to in a place, and end up hurting the Kingdom in the process… it’s the same cultural sensitivity that you would hope for with any missional engagement in another part of the world.

    My only thought so far is that loving them is probably the only way to truly move beyond warfare. Maybe a dinner party with food/wine on you guys, and then invite people from TheStory to join them for a night of food and conversation?

    At best they might learn more about what you guys are doing and why they’d be better off working with you in building relationships… at worst it would at least be one Friday night they didn’t taint your relationships?

    … though I’m also partial to the cymbals. That’s brilliant, but probably not as effective as we all wish it would be. Clever though.

    Regardless, I’m sure you all will find a brilliant and creative solution. Grace/peace.

  3. Nathan, what do you make of this passage: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,” Philippians 1:18

    1. Andrew, that’s a good point, I think that I am trying to keep this in mind as I unfold this, in not so much getting angry at them but rather challenge them in love. Like in Acts 13 when Paul challenges Bar-Jesus. Like whether I realize or not that Christ is preached, is the proper response to be silent? Can their be a loving outcry? Subversive response that will help Christ be preached even more?

  4. As it turns out happy harry has been preaching from the streets since i was knee high to a grasshopper. tsure he can be anoying at times, but sarnia would
    nt be the same without him. harry has had a very challinging lifeto say the least. he has been persicuted, and beaten up over his beliefes. as a local pagan i respect his beliefs and his right to have them. if you dont like it then just walk away from him. he is harmless and a real kind soul.
    Brightest Blessings Happy Harry!
    p.s. Harry is exactly the man YOUR jesus would want by his side.

  5. Get the local feminists out to claim their right to go topless on the street whenever he shows up?

    (Bet that would actually make him pack up his kids and run faster than anything… additionally, this might also attract more people to your church…)

  6. Become members of his church, work your way through various positions, wait several years til you control the Board, create discord, then fire him?

  7. Tell him all about how the neighbours of the RCV are in desperate need of good news and provide him with a map to that neighbourhood?

  8. (PS — Paul’s words in Phil 1.18 don’t apply to those who preach false gospels… cf. Gal 1.6-9 for what Paul says about that.)

  9. I don’t see why you can’t leave him be. He’s obviously passionate enough to trudge all the way downtown to do his thing. We’ve all been misguided, and in the midsts of those misguided actions, we are all pretty sure we’re doing what needs to be done – as sure of the fact that you are that he’s off base, he’s as sure that he needs to be downtown.
    Another thing is that I don’t think it matters that he hasn’t won any new members over to his community. I’m surprised you’d bring this up – it’s a pretty “churchy” way to gauge success.
    You’ve had the dialog with him, he knows where you stand, so leave it. the whole feud is kinda stupid. You don’t need to regulate this guy because he doesn’t follow your approach. Downtown doesn’t need you to protect them.

  10. Troy’s advice is actually probably the best way to get him to leave as well. People like that thrive on attention of any kind — look, I’m being persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, I’m amazing, etc., etc. — so the leave the guy alone approach tends to make people wander off to places where they can get more attention (positive or negative).

  11. Troy, I think you are misunderstanding me. A few things.

    1. I bring up new members to his community, or the amount of salvations because this is his gauge of success, not mine. If his tactics aren’t working according to his own motivations and hopeful outcomes, then maybe he should rework his approach so he is more successful even on his own terms.

    2. Why do you take this as me protecting downtown? I’m not trying to protect downtown.

    3. My goal is not to change his mind (though I would take it if he did) or continue a feud or to ‘regulate’ him. My goal is to publicly confront him. I think it’s important for other sides of issues to be presented in situations like this, especially when he’s being loud and arrogant about his views on abortion, homosexuals, faith in God and Hell. I don’t intend on using his tactics, but I do intend on responding publicly. He’s been down here almost every week for nine months now and I’m not sure why you would have such hesitancy against confronting him?

    4. Dan and Troy, Surprisingly they have yet to play the card of being persecuted and they’ve been responding to my challenges and they’ve been graceful all throughout. I do not see him leaving because he’s being ignored.

  12. With people who are borderline, the drug is attention of any kind. Positive or negative, it doesn’t matter. How you talk to this guy isn’t the issue… that you talk to him at all is a sign that you’ve already lost the battle.

    I suppose that the problem of y’all employing the ignore him tactic is that there are other people downtown who will still feed that desire for attention.

    That’s why my other suggestions may work better… speedos and boobs are pretty much the last things these folks want their teens exposed to (poor kids) so that may override the desire for attention.

    (NB: not to say that this dude is actually borderline… it’s just that street preachers and people with BPD sure seem to have a lot in common — once you’ve ruled out the street preachers that are in psychosis of course.)

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