Some enemies of the gospel want us to be discouraged from passing out our tracts in public places. Even some quasi-governmental bodies are attempting to discourage us. But we cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged, because this is a vital issue.
In ancient times the marketplace was all-important to the proclamation of the gospel. The Apostle Paul could go where people were buying and selling and talk to them about Jesus. Peter even used the porches of the Temple. People stood at the gates of a city when they had something to announce. There were also the crossroads, where travelers would stop to meet a caravan or a fellow traveler.
Now, with the advent of the automobile and the airplane, it’s different. Cities have no real gates, and at 55 mph or more crossroads are no place to stand if you want to stay alive. Even if we cared to risk life and limb by standing at important highway junctions, we would be regarded as a traffic hazard. And if they allowed us to stand there, it’s doubtful that we could proclaim anything to those who whizzed by. So much for the traditional crossroads type of forum!
Despite this, we still have traditional forums—airports and train and bus stations. We Jews for Jesus were probably the first to hand out tracts in those public places as far back as 1970—even before we were an official organization.
We always wore either embroidered jackets or T-shirts to indicate who we were, so people would know what kind of literature we were offering and have the option of accepting or refusing it. We were always polite and only handed our pamphlets to those who wanted to take them.
We would smile and offer a word of cheer, and some would respond. Some stopped to talk. Many gave us their names and addresses for follow-up. We were always careful not to block traffic, and if someone threw a pamphlet on the ground, we always picked it up and threw it away because we would not hand anyone a pamphlet someone else had walked on.
Our broadsiding principles now, as then, are simple and straightforward. We do not stand in anyone’s way or block foot traffic because people would not see what we were offering. For efficiency, we always stand off to one side.
Still, some have called our broadsiding "confrontation tactics." We were not being confrontational. Those who were angry with us were! Sometimes it was amusing. A person would walk all the way across a terminal just to shout: "Why are you shoving your religion down my throat?" (If they were chewing up our pamphlets, it was not a diet we prescribed! We merely handed our pamphlets to those who reached out to take one.) It’s amazing how aggressors manage to shift blame from themselves to the victims of their aggression!
The people we reach by broadsiding in public places are not those who might come to an evangelistic meeting if we announced it in the newspaper or over the radio. They are Jewish people who might be afraid to attend a meeting where Jesus is preached and they might be seen by other Jews.
But out of curiosity or real interest they do allow themselves to take our pamphlets, and we follow up those who respond. We send them ISSUES, our publication for Jews who do not yet believe in the Messiah. Then within a short time one of us visits them in their homes.
You would think that such a simple, straightforward ministry would be seen as harmless, but from the very beginning that was not true. When we went to the airports to hand out tracts, some of those same people who shouted and aggressed us also complained to the airport management that our presence was offensive. (We don’t want to offend anyone, but the Scriptures teach that the gospel itself is an offense to those who do not believe.)
After receiving complaints from those who were offended the security people would ask us to leave, though we had done nothing wrong. In the beginning we did leave when asked, until we realized that if we kept leaving there would be no places left for us to hand out our tracts. Even on the public streets police would ask us to move.
We did a great deal of legal research. Friends who were lawyers assured us that we had a right to distribute our pamphlets in public places. Handing out a pamphlet is the same as speaking directly to someone, and in this country we have the right of freedom of speech.
I think Baruch Goldstein was the first to be arrested for handing out tracts in an airport. That was at the San Francisco Airport in 1972. Instead of prosecuting Baruch, the District Attorney warned the airport that if they did not stop bothering us they could be liable for legal action.
I myself have been arrested or detained seven times—always for the same thing: handing out tracts in a public place. A couple of incidents occurred on college campuses, but mostly they were in airports. We like to distribute literature there because flying is stressful. The gospel is good news and should bring cheer to weary travelers. I think it usually does, or at least many flash us a smile or say "Praise the Lord!" when they see us.
A few scowl and sometimes say mean and nasty things. My mother would have washed my mouth with soap if I said some of those words! We never answer in anger. We have learned the meaning of the proverb, "A soft answer turneth away wrath…" Proverbs 15:1a).
In 1987 when we went to the U.S. Supreme Court and won our case, we thought the harassment and arrests would be over. The case was The Board of Los Angeles Airport Commissioners vs. Avi Snyder. I was there in Washington, D.C. And though I was impressed with the dignity of the Supreme Court, I almost cheered aloud when Justice Thurgood Marshall said to the airport attorney, "It seems to me that you are trying to prohibit what we are trying to protect."
The vote was 9-0 against the airport. You would think by now they would know the law regarding those things, but last March they began hassling us again. People kept coming up to us to ask, "Do you have a permit?" The Supreme Court had ruled that they could not require one. When they arrested us, it was not for handing out pamphlets without a permit, but for trespassing—as if it were possible to trespass in the public halls of an airport! Then, since the Supreme Court had declared the old rules unconstitutional, they proposed new rules.
Oddly, the new rules were virtually identical in what they prohibited. There were only a few cosmetic changes. As I looked them over I thought to myself, here we go again.
Maybe we ought to be discouraged. The opposition certainly wants us to be discouraged—enough to quit handing out tracts—and they are trying hard to do that. Here’s how it works: The security guards approach and ask us if we have permits. In some places they don’t even issue permits, yet when we explain that we don’t have a permit and we don’t think we need one, they say, "You have to leave." We explain that we are there in accordance with our constitutional right of free speech. At that point the security men (and sometimes the police) show by arresting us that they don’t think much of the Constitution.
We have to sit in jail for several hours and pay money to be let out. Most of the time we don’t get that money back. Then we must appear in court, so we arrange for a lawyer (no small expense) and go to court only to find that the charges are dropped—no trial. They don’t need a trial to punish us. Our people have already been put in jail. We’ve already had to pay for bail and an attorney. At that point we already have been punished for handing out gospel tracts in public places.
Now I understand what the psalmist meant in praying for judgment. If we could ever get these cases before a judge, we would win. As it is, we are punished before we ever have the chance to defend ourselves.
The biggest disappointment comes when some of our supporting and praying friends say we must be doing something wrong or the officers would not keep arresting us. In addition to arrests and jail, sometimes we must endure that pain of friends scolding us for doing what we ought to be doing.
Nevertheless, I will not remain discouraged. The Bible says we are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. I don’t think the devil would bother us or try to discourage us if we were not being effective in our gospel proclamation.
I could be dismayed when, after we win a battle in the Supreme Court, the very same people keep trying to deprive us of our rights. But I have learned the meaning of Romans 5:3-4: “…Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope…” I would never plan a difficult task just because the trouble it might produce would strengthen me spiritually. Trouble is never welcome—particularly if it’s trouble from the law. Yet we must not give up. I have seen so many Christians lose their story because they allowed themselves to be muzzled by authorities who had no right to try to stop them.
Some ask, "Why don’t you just simplify things and get a permit?" We did try that a couple of times, but we discovered that once we accepted a permit, the issuer could and did revoke it in a rather arbitrary manner. You cannot count on a bureaucrat to protect your rights.
Most police are good people. They want to keep order. They are not only against crime, but also against people getting bothered. The problem is that some people are bothered by seeing others hand out tracts in public. Those who are bothered go to the police, who try to help them by bothering us and trying to make us leave. The police do this not because they are bad people, but because they want to help other good people. Unfortunately most police don’t see much need to hand out gospel tracts in public places, but then they are policemen, not evangelists.
I could be discouraged by all this, but I’m not. These "discouragements" have given us opportunities to defend our right to share our faith, and now all Christians can use the Supreme Court decision to defend their right to proclaim the gospel in public places.
Besides, people whom we first contacted by tract distribution in public places keep coming to Christ through our ministry. I don’t think Jews for Jesus—or anyone else—ought to quit handing out tracts in public places! Do you?
A LETTER OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Dear Mr. Rosen,
How I needed…your article "What’s Wrong With Being Nice?!" [Volume 3:5750] I am a pastor’s wife in a small community. Over the years my zeal for sharing the gospel has waned.
Early in my Christian life I took every opportunity to share Jesus. God blessed with some coming to know our Savior. But there have been many times after excitedly sharing with another Christian the opportunity to share the gospel they would ask, "Yes, that’s all well and good, but how well are you loving them? Did you come across loving?"
"Oh," I’d say, "well, I hope so—yes, I think so—but now that I think about it…well, I don’t remember my tone of voice. I was so excited, you know. And gee, I may not have listened to them enough. And maybe I did come across too pushy…and… "
Well, over the years I began to analyze all my evangelism experiences. And each time I could think of something wrong I did. Soon a fear set in that I was never loving enough to share the gospel. How I lived my life became more important than the "Words of Life." And of course I could not share the gospel with strangers because I had not had any previous opportunity to love them—nor would I be able to prove the truth of the gospel by loving them later.
Well, it’s all poppycock, isn’t it?!! The most loving thing I can do for stranger, neighbor, friend is share the precious word of life.
Oh, may the Lord give me zeal for souls again. And may I become more obedient to him.
Thank you for encouraging me in the area of evangelism. I needed to hear that!
Because Jesus lives,
Mrs. Carol Totten
P.S. I have a dear neighbor lady who just received Christ. She tells me today that I was pretty insistent with her (maybe even "pushy"). I talked the Bible over with her with every casual meeting. But praise God! She’s in his loving arms today. There’s a twinkle in her eye and a peace in her heart that was not there before!