Last week’s bombshell out of Houston that its mayor, Annise Parker, had subpoenaed the sermons from area pastors is still causing ripples both inside and outside the faith community.
On Friday, city attorneys revised their demands. Instead of requesting the pastor’s sermons, they’re now demanding “all speeches or presentations” related to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. The controversial law, also known as the “Bathroom Bill” allows men who consider themselves women to use the women’s restroom.
The targeted pastors had all opposed passage of the ordinance on obvious moral grounds.
Since news of the subpoenas became public, the public outcry has been substantial and caused the mayor to try and clarify her motives late last week:
“We don’t need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston,” she explained. “It was never the intent of the city of Houston to intrude on any matters of faith or to get between a pastor and their parishioners.”
But that’s exactly what subpoenas did, and in chilling fashion.
How have the potentially impacted pastors responded?
Chris Seay is pastor of Ecclesia Houston and penned the following open letter:
Dear Mayor Parker,
I see you as a friend, so I choose to speak to you in the context of friendship. You lead the city that I love, and I want my church, Ecclesia, to continue working alongside you to make our city better. I’m a native Houstonian and a self-proclaimed Houston Geek. I love our diversity, food, sports teams, history, entrepreneurial spirit, and most of all I love the people. I know we agree that all Houstonians are made equal in God’s eyes.
Despite our common aim to better this city, your administration’s actions over the last 30 days confirm that we are now formally at odds. It doesn’t have to be this way, but your decision to subpoena the sermons and communications coming from Christian churches in our city requires a clear and unequivocal response. These actions impede on the historic religious freedoms of America’s churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples, while equally being a breach of the relationship we share as citizens of this city. These efforts will only create further division and mistrust, bringing harm to the greater good of Houston.
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.” As pastors in our great city, we cannot and will not subject ourselves to the editing or approval of the content that comes from our pulpits.
As Christians, our wholehearted belief is that the Scriptures, which are interpreted in many different ways according to our traditions, serve as a guide and an authority for us. That means that our teaching will at times stand in stark contrast to the views of our culture when it comes to serving the poor, loving immigrants, protecting all children, and contentious topics such as sexuality and human identity. As religious leaders, if we begin to change our teaching to accommodate popular opinion, we have failed to practice faithfulness to what we believe is our God-given call. We cannot and will not walk that path.
Mayor Parker, I ask you to rescind these misguided subpoenas and let us do our job. I commit to gather the leaders of the church in Houston in order to oppose hatred that arises in any church and condemn any theology that is not rooted in the love of Christ for all people. The church has come a long way, but we cannot bow to the winds of culture. Instead, I urge you to lead us in a constructive and earnest dialogue, and seek out the many key influencers in our city who share a desire for the common good. Together, we can make Houston a better place for all people.
With sincerity and respect,
Pastor Chris Seay
I appreciate Pastor Seay’s humility and winsomeness along with his direct and unyielding approach to first principles. In the coming days, I believe Christians will be faced with similar challenges. During a recent trip to Washington D.C., a friend quipped that too many people today want religion to be “safe, legal and rare.”
Sadly, I think he’s right.