Houston, We Have (Another) Problem

Social media is having a field day, and rightfully so.

Annise Parker, mayor of Houston, TX has decided to pressure a handful of pastors who are vocal in their disagreement of a new ordinance which adds sexual orientation to the list of protections against discrimination. Here is an article about it. However, Parker cites this article on her twitter feed to offset the negative publicity directed at her over the last several weeks.

This is a big deal, so much so that a Houston pastor penned an open letter to the mayor to voice his disagreement with her policies and the decision to subpoena five pastors, their sermons and other materials relating to their opposition to HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance).  After the media firestorm, it appears that the mayor and her administration recognize that things could have been handled in a different (better) way and are trying to temper the opposition. Parker appears to portray herself as a victim in this matter rather than taking responsibility for creating this backlash. I’ve attached a few of those news stories on my twitter feed (apparently a lot of other folks have too).

The problem I have with Parker is not her support of HERO, but her treatment of those who are in opposition to HERO. I realize the world of politics can be a brutal place. However, pastors cannot be subpoenaed for speaking out and against those in authority, especially if they are speaking out on something that in their mind is a biblical or moral issue. Incidentally, I would feel the same way if these pastors were in support of HERO and the mayor wanted to subpoena them for that reason as well.

I’m grateful that America is place of religious freedom. I have a low tolerance for folks who say American Christians are being persecuted when there are Christians in Syria who fear for their life from ISIS simply because of their faith in Christ. There is, however, a culture clash taking place in our country and it’s happening on the political and religious playing fields. When these two paths intersect, it can create a real mess.

Churches should not endorse political candidates. But, churches can speak out on moral or ethical concerns as they seem prudent and appropriate. This shouldn’t result in governmental interference or oversight. There are undoubtedly other details which will surface related to this news story, but the principle at stake is one of a free church in a free state. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “the church must be reminded that it is not the master nor the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

I’ve tried to really be mindful of the variety of opinions and political views of those in my congregation, and I encourage them to vote without telling them how to vote (I am not sure they would listen anyway). And, I do not always share the opinions or viewpoints of fellow pastors in what they say to their own churches. However, I would support these pastors in their right to interpret the Bible and present their findings to their people. I operate with a high view of the pulpit in this way. I also approach the matter with a high view of the pew, and trust people to determine for themselves the validity of what they are hearing, especially as it relates to matters of politics. If you don’t like what you hearing, or if you think the preacher isn’t being truthful in his/her interpretation, then there are many other houses of worship to check out.

Citizenship is a privilege in this country, but it’s not easy. Tolerance and respect should be mutually applicable. C. Weldon Gaddy’s open letter to the mayor is a good read, especially from someone who is supportive of her policies but not her recent actions. Gaddy writes, “My understanding is that the sermons that reportedly were subpoenaed take a very different perspective than mine. However, I will work as hard to defend the freedom of speech from the pulpit for those with whom I disagree, as I will to defend the rights of the LGBT community. As long as a sermon is not inciting violence, the government has no business getting involved in the content of ministers’ sermons.”

If you want to hear a sermon, attend a house of worship on Sunday or go to a church’s website. Many of them have sermons online or in manuscript form. They are freely given and freely received.

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