Shopping Center Evangelism
Dear Christian friends,
San Francisco is an ideal city for street witnessing. Any time, day or night, you can find people on the streets to witness to. It never gets very cold here and the rain usually doesn’t last too long. However, you may live in a small town where the streets are dead after 6 PM. Winters may be horribly cold. Where can you go to witness? Chances are, there is a shopping center somewhere near you. The problem is that shopping centers have security guards and usually have “no soliciting” rules. How do you get around this?
In 1972, the US Supreme Court ruled in Lloyd vs. Tanner that there is no implied right to free speech in a private shopping center. The ruling specifically said that a shopping center can prohibit handing out literature that is unrelated to the center’s business.
However, in 1980, the same court ruled that the California Constitution does give people the right to give out literature in a shopping center (Pruneyard vs Robins). If you live in California, you have more free speech rights than in other states. In California, the management of a mall must allow you a place where you can distribute literature and talk with people about Christ.
What about talking with people about Christ in a shopping mall? Attorney David Gibbs, Jr. of the Christian Law Association offers some great insight into this issue. “It is not unusual for security guards to ask people to leave a mall when it becomes apparent that person is talking to people about Christ, and sharing gospel tracts.”
Gibbs has promised that the Christian Law Association is prepared to go to court in every state, if necessary, to make sure Christians are permitted the same privileges as anyone else to speak about whatever they wish while shopping. They can be reached at (727) 399-8300.
He reports that already, the courts in the states of California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Massachusetts, have recognized that even though they may be private property, shopping malls are “public forums” where people gather and share their ideas and views.
It would be considered perfectly acceptable for a shopper to tell another person about his favorite vacation destination, and even pull a brochure describing it from pocket or purse, and give the brochure to that person.
Christian shoppers deserve the same rights already being exercised by “non-religious” shoppers.
The key word here is “shopper.” In many states, malls are private property, where the owner can control what happens at his site. But Christian shoppers cannot be prevented from what courts call “incidental” interactions with other shoppers.
It doesn’t matter whether the subject discussed is a vacation resort, a football game or hobby. People can discuss what they want, and even share a piece of literature. But if you’re not a shopper, you can be asked to leave.
If the management forbids you to engage in conversations with people at the mall, you need to decide whether to go to court. If that shopping center is the best place to witness in your area, it may be wise to go to court. Also, a favorable court decision will help Christians in other places who want to witness in shopping centers. But you need to count the cost. Legal action can take a lot of time, energy, and money. Even if you get free legal help, it’s costing the lawyer his time. Nonetheless, there are times when we must fight for our rights, or we will lose them. The apostle Paul took advantage of his rights as a Roman citizen, and several times rebuked officials who acted illegally. One thing that we need to remember is that the shopping center administrator is not our enemy. We must relate to him with kindness and respect, showing him Christ’s love.
Finally, you can always request permission from the management of the shopping center to set up a table. Sometimes shopping centers allow music, drama, clowns, or other entertainment. Perhaps you can get permission from the management to perform. At Christmas and Easter times, religious music is particularly welcome, and often you can share the gospel openly. A number of years ago, my church got permission to play Christmas music at several shopping malls. We also were allowed to pass out literature and talk with people.
Recently I saw a video on YouTube that has been viewed by over 30 million people. It showed a “Flash Mob” by about 100 members of a choir surprising unsuspecting shoppers having lunch at the Seaway Mall in Niagara Falls, Canada. The choir was seated in various places in the food court where hundreds of people were eating. Suddenly, a few singers at a time, they stood up and started singing the “Hallelujah chorus.” A similar event near Sacramento drew so many people (5000) that the shopping center was evacuated.
On the Streets
On Friday December 10, we witnessed at Powell and Market. The last time we were here, we had problems with the police, but we had no problems this night. Dave witnessed to Miles and Steve, both of whom had a Christian upbringing but who were not following Jesus. Kylan witnessed to Ali, a Muslim who had attended Catholic school.
Normally in the winter, we get two permits each Saturday, one in Berkeley (in case of rain) and one at Fisherman’s Wharf (for sunny days). However, on December 11 and 18, Berkeley has a “holiday fair” so we can’t get permits there. And this month, the street performer who normally gets permits for us at the Wharf decided not to do so, so we didn’t have permits there either.
On December 11, we originally intended to witness at Powell and Market, but another street performer was there with a large 200 watt amplifier. He doesn’t have a permit, but the police seem to leave him alone. We moved down the street to 5th St. and Market and used a small amplifier. Tim Moon played music, including some Christmas carols, and several of us preached. We had many good conversations and prayed with a few people. Kylan witnessed to Robbie, a homosexual who thought he was born gay but was open to the gospel. Dave witnessed to Kate, who was listening to Kylan’s preaching and who grew up in a liberal church. Dan witnessed to a young Russian man who believed in evolution. I spoke with Randy, whom I had known when he attended New Hope Christian Fellowship in Sacramento, but was now homeless and quite confused. We are trying to get him into a Christian discipleship program in Sacramento.
At 4 PM, Janet Long was preaching when a police officer and another man approached her. The officer told her she couldn’t use the amplifier. We were planning to leave anyway so we did. This is always a difficult issue for us. The use of our amplifier is legal, and other performers are regularly allowed to use much large amplifiers without permits. However, we have spent many years fighting these issues in court, and wish to avoid future legal battles if possible.
Saturday December 18 was our last outreach of the year. Newscasters were predicting the “worst storm of the decade” so we went to our rain location, Powell & O’Farrell St. Richard Griffin played guitar and sang Christmas carols and other songs. Dave May played drums and preached. There were thousands of people passing by, but it was difficult to get people to stop or take tracts. I prayed with Darrell, a Christian who was having struggles and needed fellowship. A policeman ordered us to take down our signs, probably in response to some complaint. So we leaned them against the wall.
Note: Outreaches are subject to change. Call (510) 761-6120 to confirm outreaches or for more information.
Friday February 4, 11, 25 Witnessing in San Francisco neighborhoods. 7:30-10 PM (Call for location).
Sat. February 5, 12, 26 San Francisco or Berkeley Outreach. Location depends on weather. (Call for location).
Some Thoughts on Turning 65
This month I turned 65. In the 1960’s we had a saying “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” At that time, 30 year-olds seemed very old and out-of-touch with our generation. Many of the people I witness to are young, as they are often more receptive to talking about Jesus than older people. I try to relate. I have thousands of Facebook friends, but I don’t Twitter. I know what a “flash mob” is. If I didn’t, I would “google” it. Last week I was talking with Kylan (who is 24) about some of our early outreaches in the 1980’s. I didn’t realize until later that these outreaches took place before he was born.
God has blessed me with good health, but I am very much aware of the brevity of life. “The length of our days is seventy years-or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” Psalm 90:10-12. It is interesting that this Psalm, attributed to Moses, speaks of the fear and wrath of God. The fear of the Lord, we are often told, is the beginning of wisdom. More than anything, I want to walk close to God each day I am here on the earth, and I want to redeem the time, because our days are evil and few. I want my life to count for God’s kingdom—to bring the gospel to as many as I can. “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” 2 Corin. 5:11.
Charles T. Studd was a champion cricket player in England. In 1884 after his brother George was taken seriously ill, Charles was confronted by the question, “What is all the fame and flattery worth … when a man comes to face eternity?” He had to admit that since his conversion six years earlier he had been in “an unhappy backslidden state.” As a result of the experience he said, “I know that cricket would not last, and honour would not last, and nothing in this world would last, but it was worthwhile living for the world to come.” He gave away his inheritance and dedicated his life to missionary work in China, India and Africa.
Thank you for your prayers and financial support for this ministry. Please pray for those we have witnessed to this month, and those who have responded to tracts, including Paul, Piper, Ken, Maria and Barbara, as well as those mentioned above in this newsletter. I hope some of you will join one of our outreaches this month.
Yours in His love,
1. Richard sings Christmas songs at Powell & O’Farrell St.
2. Lilia from Peru prays with man at 5th & Market.
3. Kylan witnesses to Robbie at 5th & Market.
4. Janet prays with woman at 5th & Market.