When news broke out of Houston, Texas, Oct. 15, most of us were thinking, this cannot be true. It must be a cruel joke.
Houston’s city attorney issued subpoenas demanding certain pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or with the city’s first openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.
This heavy-handed government bullying is in response to pastors who are resisting the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance that allows transgendered individuals to use any public restroom or locker room that fits their perceived gender identity, thus subjecting children and women to sexual predators. The law is tagged the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
This action has created a new ground zero of the assault on religious freedom. It must not to be ignored by anyone who treasures basic constitutional freedoms.
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., called the action a scandal. “This is a breathtaking violation of religious liberty – and it is political thuggery at its worst,” he said in his blog.
“The very fact that the subpoenas were issued at all is scandal enough. … But the actual wording of the subpoenas is draconian – almost unbelievable. The attorneys working for the city demanded all sermons ‘prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession’ on matters that included, not only the mayor and the ordinance, but homosexuality and gender identity,” Mohler said.
“This is the kind of scandal that would lead most elected officials to backtrack like crazy, but Mayor Annise Parker is standing her ground, even as she tries to escape the heat by a mere change in the coercive language. What she is doing amounts to raw political intimidation.”
The president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore wrote a blog titled, “Houston, we have a Constitution.”
In it he said, “I am simply stunned by the sheer audacity of this. … The preaching of sermons in the pulpits of churches is of no concern to any government bureaucrat at all. This country settled, a long time ago, with a First Amendment that the government would not supervise, license or bully religious institutions. That right wasn’t handed out by the government, as a kind of temporary restraining order. It was recognition of a self-evident truth.”
Moore recommended, “The churches and pastors of Houston ought to respond to this sort of government order with the same kind of defiance the Apostle Paul showed the magistrates in Philippi” (see Acts 16:37).
“A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque, or any other place of worship,” Moore continued. “The pastors of Houston should tell the government that they will not trample over consciences, over the First Amendment and over God-given natural rights.
“The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever.”
Rit Varriale is the pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby and author of Reformation in Responsibility. He said the events in Houston, “… highlight the reality that the left is playing a zero-sum game when it comes to their religious intolerance. They will not stop when same-sex marriage is legal in every state. They will not stop when they control our private businesses under the guise of anti-discrimination laws. They will not stop when the only people speaking out against the LGBTQ community are a few courageous pastors. They will go right into the pulpit and seek to silence the church.”
He believes Christians must be prepared to be comfortable with a new level of conflict.
“The civil disobedience demonstrated by the Houston pastors is the way forward,” Varriale said. “We serve Christ, not Caesar. When the government asks us to violate our commitment to God, our only recourse is civil disobedience.
“We should have been disobedient when they started telling us what we could not say from the pulpit politically. We should have been disobedient when they told us to stop praying with our children in the schools paid for by our tax dollars.”
Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte said the chaos in Houston “is a perfect example of what we have warned could be faced. Once government, through the courts or any other means, sanctions same-sex marriage, anyone who opposes such a lifestyle, even based on the teaching of God’s Word, is seen as a bigot, and in favor of discrimination.
“Pastors must awaken, stand strong together in their communities, and keep their congregations informed and alerted to what is happening around us,” Harris said. “Can you imagine the day when simply standing and reading Romans 1, even without comment, just reading the text out loud, could land you in trouble with the government in this country?”
Every Christian in the United States should tremble. Every business owner, magistrate, pastor and church should be deeply fearful. These will be the targets of government discrimination and intolerance against their faith if the Houston scandal is not confronted quickly and decisively. Indeed, every person who holds a faith of any kind should be enormously troubled.
We need to ask a question that confronts the issue at its core. Who elected the mayor and the City Council of Houston? The answer is not the people of Houston. The answer is the voters in Houston. That’s right. The voters.
Which puts two additional questions on the table. First, are you a voter? If you are not a voter, but you are a Christian, there is a fundamental conflict between your actions and the teachings of Jesus. His followers are salt and light. Salt is applied to prevent decay. Light’s sole function is to dispel darkness. Voting serves these functions.
Second, are you a voter who blindly votes for those who do not hold Christian values?
There is no room in the Christian worldview for ignorant activity of any kind, especially when it comes to the selection of those we entrust to lead our towns, cities, states and nation. Learn the values of the candidates – not just what they say, but their basic moral values. If you are not willing to do that, expect the Houston scandal to hit your community soon.
Vote Nov. 4, or sooner if you practice absentee or early voting.