I recently read with interest about a British Street evangelist, Mike Overd, who is being prosecuted for an alleged religious aggravation public order offence.
According to CharismaNews, the charges follow a complaint to police in Taunton that Overd made a comparison between the perfect life of Jesus and the life of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. A Taunton police sergeant recently gave an interview to BBC television and a newspaper locally, urging residents to film the evangelist’s preaching as it was alleged that Overd’s preaching was “causing offense.” The officer has also asked local traders to film Overd if they believed he was preaching “offensively.”
Overd insists that when he made a comparison between the perfect life of Jesus and the life led by Muhammad, he did not speak in a hateful way. “It was a simple comparison and it was factual. Muhammad did marry a 9-year-old girl. I have no hatred of Muslims in me at all and only preach the truth of the gospel. Recently a Muslim man came to my defense when I was preaching and a local shopkeeper started to shout at me. The Muslim gentleman didn’t take offense because he said he knew I was simply preaching what I believed and agreed there was no hatred in me. I’ve got this incident on video, and I also have video evidence of the incidents which have led to this forthcoming prosecution.” Overd has been told his case will come to court before the end of this year.
Now in no way do I stand in judgment of Mike Overd (Romans 14:4) but I am intrigued as to why a Christian preacher would use an obviously inflammatory example in his message. He says, “I only preach the truth of the gospel.” But is that correct? Is a comparison between Jesus and Muhammad actually preaching the truth of the gospel? I think not. It’s also a mistake to judge all history through 21st Century Western eyes.
It’s true that Muhammad married Aisha when she was six or seven years old. She was nine or ten when the marriage was consummated (according to Sunni scriptural Hadith sources). Muhammad had 19 wives and concubines. Child marriage was not uncommon in many places at the time, Arabia included. It often served political purposes. These days we view this as wrong (and rightly so) but those who lived in other cultures in times past didn’t see it that way.
Muhammad was not unlike some of the great people of faith in the Hebrew Scriptures: Moses, Gideon and Jacob for example. David had at least eight wives (probably many more). Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (this was long before credit cards). When Jesus came along He refocused people back on God’s original plan for marriage:“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-5).
Mary was probably pledged to marry Joseph before she turned 13 (the age a child became an adult) and since she hadn’t married him before she became pregnant, she probably wasn’t much older than 14 when Jesus was born.
So, is a comparison between Jesus and Muhammad necessary – or helpful – to preaching the Good News? The simple answer is “no.” The Good News of Jesus is simply that – Good News. That’s what “Gospel” means. It’s good news because Jesus died on a cross to pay the price for all that we have done wrong. He rose from the dead to defeat death and fully pardon all people who place their trust in Him for salvation. The Christian message is a simple message of God forgiving people. It’s a life changing truth and it shouldn’t be complicated with unnecessary illustrations that serve to cloud the good news and repel people who God loves and for whom Jesus died.