Islington Tribune - by ROISIN GADELRAB Published: 6 March 2009
Supt John Sutherland with Street Pastor Lewis Ecker
Minister’s attack on street pastors with Bible back-up
Police accused of supporting ‘Christian recruitment’ patrols
POLICE support of pastors who patrol Islington streets helping the vulnerable has come under fire from a church minister who says the scheme amounts to a “Christian recruitment” drive. Last week, the Tribune reported how Islington police are backing a project where church volunteers offer support and guidance to vulnerable people at night.
But Newington Green Unitarian Church minister Andrew Pakula has called for an end to the patrols – where pastors offer Bibles but only to those looking for spiritual guidance – unless they agree to hand out other religious scriptures, such as the Qur’an or Hindu writings.
Mr Pakula said: “I was surprised at the close involvement between the police and proselytising [attempting to convert] – those are two p’s that don’t go together.”
Police don’t hand out Bibles themselves but Mr Pakula questioned their backing of the scheme. He said: “It seems like an absolute transparent recruiting drive sponsored by our government. “This is a police-sponsored programme. You have law enforcement personnel – the visible symbol of strength of the law of the land – and here they are involved in the distribution of one book of one religion and that can give the impression of not only a state preference of one religion but a compulsion. “It may not be the police who are distributing them but it’s clearly tied to the police and that sends a very particular message. They are coupling power with proselytising.”
He added: “Kids are afraid of the police. In order to protect themselves from the police they may take up the Bible. That’s not free will. “If the point of this is to get any knives off the street, will they distribute any kind of book that gives a moral message, the Qur’an or Buddhist or Hindu scriptures? There are many scriptures that include a lot less violence than the Bible. It should end or be broadened.”
Mr Pakula said that the Bible’s message required a lot of study and thought. “One does not just pick it up and be inspired towards peace,” he added.
The pastors are mainly lay people, who have had a longstanding relationship with Islington churches and have been recommended by their vicars.
When the scheme was launched, Pastor Lewis Ecker, of Upper Holloway Baptist Church, who oversees the patrols in Islington, explained that street pastors were “not street preachers or police informants”.
He said: “We’re not standing out there handing out Bibles but, if someone asks, we have them available and when it’s appropriate we might pray for someone but we’re not trying to scare people.”
Eustace Constance, street pastors head office co-ordinator, said: “The minister has the right to an opinion but it’s not necessarily founded in truth. “The pastors are there to care, help and listen to people and we’ll respect an individual’s need. Whether it’s housing or drugs advice or spiritual, we’ll respond to that.”
He added: “It’s nothing to do with belief. It’s about law and order and that sense of bringing safety to the community. It’s not solely up to the police. It’s the responsibility of men and women and this is the church’s response. “I can’t deliver the Qur’an I’m not Muslim. Street pastors may carry a Bible in their pockets. There’s no sense of being ashamed of that and if we meet someone whose need isn’t housing or drugs but they want spiritual guidance and ask for it, it’s nice to have it for them.”