The ongoing flap over Houston’s mayor subpoenaing sermons from five pastors who were instrumental in promoting opposition to the city’s new anti-discrimination ordinance has raised questions as well as eyebrows, not to mention gasps of disbelief.
The flap started when Houston passed the “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance,” which was designed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. A bunch of people who opposed the new law then started gathering signatures on a petition calling for a ballot vote to repeal the law. They got way more signatures than needed, in part — apparently — because the five pastors in question encouraged their members to sign up.
Mayor Annise Parker, who overruled the city secretary in judging that most of the signatures were invalid, had her legal team issue subpoenas for correspondence, speeches, and even sermons, presumably to look for evidence that the pastors were using their pulpits for political purposes.
That was wrong on so many levels.
Much has been said (here’s a page with links to several stories), and no doubt much more will be said. If nothing else, it’s one thing that has managed to unite both conservative and progressive Baptists: all agree that issuing subpoenas for sermons clearly crosses the line of separation of church and state, a value that Baptists have both fought for and defended from the days of our country’s founding.
Just a few observations:
1. The primary purpose of preaching is to faithfully proclaim the gospel with all its implications for life, and to encourage the faithful along the way. If the pastors were using the pulpit to promote a political agenda, they were misusing their position.
2. Sermons are free: pastors shouldn’t say anything in a sermon that they wouldn’t want anyone to hear and hopefully profit from.
3. Government officials have no business interfering with Christian worship. If they want to know what a pastor is saying in his or her sermons, they can attend services and listen for themselves.
4. A policy of discrimination does not honor the church or God. Grace and generosity do far more to promote the kingdom than do judgment and condemnation.
5. A policy of pressuring persons — pastors or otherwise — to feel incriminated for expressing their beliefs does not honor the country or the principle of religious freedom.
Those are thoughts that come to my mind. Feel free to disagree. After all, it is a free country.