Although this week’s Perspectives article title “Ebola” was released this morning, I feel the necessity of adding this article on the same day. Unless moved to do otherwise, I intend for this second installment today to take the place of next week’s article. But stay tuned. Who knows?
The first I heard about Houston’s problem was yesterday morning in a number of emails from folks I know and love. They brought to my attention the news that “The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.” (Source of that quote: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/14/city-houston-demands-pastors-turn-over-sermons/)
Today I learned that “Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Mayor Parker asking that she withdraw the subpoenas “immediately.” (Source of that quote: http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2014/10/16/houstons-mayor-backtracks-on-church-subpoenas-tosses-her-own-lawyers-under-the-bus/)
Interestingly, the city’s attorney says: ““I’m just doing my job. I don’t have any issues with these pastors. What I’m doing is defending a lawsuit that was brought against us.” See more on this matter at: http://www.tpnn.com/2014/10/15/pastors-to-mayor-dont-mess-with-texas-pulpits/
Here are my non-legal but hopefully common sense observations and perspectives:
- Out of context, for sermons written and delivered by Christian pastors in America to be subpoenaed by any governmental authority smells like a violation of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech.
- The context of this particular incident seems to be the response of a city attorney to a lawsuit filed against the city of Houston dealing with homosexuality and other gender identity issues recently addressed by the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance (which sounds absurd) and involves a number of pastors who allegedly used their pulpits and other communication vehicles to speak and lobby against the ordinance and those responsible for its adoption.
- Putting the best construction on everything, which is very difficult to do in an emotionally charged matter like this one, the city attorney who represents the defendant in this lawsuit would appear to have the right to gather evidence to support the city’s defense during a time of discovery. If that’s the only purpose for the subpoenas, what’s the problem?
- However, if the intention of the city of Houston is to sensor or take legal action against any pastor or other private citizen for what that citizen writes, preaches or otherwise communicates, that would be quite problematic and undoubtedly unconstitutional.
- My own personal and ecclesiastical perspective is that I have no problem showing the world everything I write, preach or otherwise communicate. That’s simply because I take great care to be as sure as possible that the things I write are true, accurate, responsible and helpful. If the pastors in Houston follow that same principle, why would they have any problem with providing everything the subpoenas are requesting?
- Finally, I love the idea that civil authorities would actually care about what a clergyman in the 21st century is preaching! And if I as a preacher am doing the job I’m called to do, those civil authorities would get from my sermons a meaningful dose of the severity of God’s law and judgment, along with an unmistakably clear witness to the precious truth of the love and forgiveness of a gracious God whose Son Jesus paid the price for humanity’s sinfulness by his innocent death and miraculous resurrection.
The apostle Peter says: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Pet. 3:13-17)
And I say: “Houston, what’s the problem?”