Houston made headlines last week over the subpoena issued to five pastors surrounding the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
The short background to the story is that Mayor Annise Parker (the first openly lesbian mayor of a major city in the US) signed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (also known as “the bathroom bill” because it would allow men who identify themselves as women to use public ladies restrooms and vice versa) into law. For obvious reasons—including common sense public safety concerns—Christians in Houston began gathering signatures to put this measure on the ballot. Pastors spoke out against the sin involved and encouraged their congregations to sign the petition to get the measure to voters in Houston.
Petition organizers collected over 50,000 signatures—well over the required 17,269. The city secretary approved the signatures, and all was set to see Houston vote on this law.
Then the mayor and city attorney went back through the approved signatures and said that enough of them either weren’t submitted or authorized correctly to bring the number below the required amount. Petition organizers disagreed and filed a lawsuit against the city.
What happened next is where a sad story becomes bizarre and alarming. In preparation for the court hearing on the lawsuit, the city served a subpoena to five city pastors who had helped collect signatures. (Incidentally, the pastors are not even named in the lawsuit, and the suit is to determine if the petition signatures are valid.)
The subpoena demanded “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” It demands any relevant material from seventeen different categories of information, including text messages and emails between the pastors and congregation members.
In the heat of public outrage, the mayor initially defended the subpoena with an inflammatory statement on twitter: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?” In subsequent days, she has tried to distance herself from the subpoena saying she didn’t know how broad it was, etc. However, as of this writing, the subpoena still stands, with a minimal tweak “narrowing” its wording—that really amounts to nothing.
This unprecedented subpoena—undoubtedly meant to intimidate Bible-preaching pastors—is deeply concerning to me. It is an unveiling of how easily those who most loudly call for “tolerance” will trample the freedoms of those who dare to defy their agenda.
Regardless of the outcome of this situation—or similar subsequent situations—I want to go on record saying that I stand with these pastors in Houston. Why?
Pastors have a biblical responsibility to preach the whole counsel of God.
Every preacher of God’s Word is called to preach the whole Bible—preaching the Word and declaring all the counsel of God.
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.—2 Timothy 4:2
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.—Acts 20:27
This has never been easy, and it has often been unpopular—to the point of persecution in many parts of the world.
Persecution does not change our responsibility. We are not free to follow the cultural whims or philosophies of our day. We must preach the Bible. We should preach it in love and with compassion—but we must preach it.
Pastors are included in the First Amendment.
Although preaching God’s Word has never been popular, in America our founding fathers—listening to those who had fled from persecution—had the wisdom to place the First Amendment in our Constitution, protecting the basic human right of free speech.
For hundreds of years, we have known that pastors are to preach the Bible. This includes speaking out against sinful lifestyles and declaring them to be sin. Yet, the subpoena in question absolutely defies the First Amendment (a conclusion even the Texas State Attorney General has given). It is intended to intimidate and to send a message: You can’t stand in the way of our agenda.
Pastors must be willing to suffer for truth.
For Paul, preaching the whole counsel of God wasn’t popular or comfortable. He was beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and persecuted at almost every turn. He preached Christ as the only way to Heaven, and he preached holiness in conduct and purity in morals as the only way of sincere Christianity.
It was with the voice of experience that Paul told Timothy to expect persecution for godly living and biblical preaching.
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.—2 Timothy 3:12
We preachers have a biblical mandate to preach the whole counsel of God regardless of which direction the current cultural winds may blow. Because of this mandate, I am willing (and I know I speak for thousands of other pastors as well) to be subpoenaed—indeed, to be imprisoned—to preach what God has called me to preach.
I pray for a spiritual revival in America. I believe that without it, we are on a fast track to self-destruction.
Yet with or without revival, I am commanded to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and whole counsel of God. And I stand with those who are willing to likewise stand.
If you are concerned Christian, I urge you to take a stand in this matter by calling Houston Mayor Annise Parker to let her know that you stand in solidarity with these pastors and for First Amendment rights. You can call her office at 832-393-1040.
When you call, be kind and courteous, but be firm and clear in your request. It is likely you will leave a message, so be prepared to be brief as well.
I suggest wording such as this:
I’m calling to ask Mayor Parker to immediately and completely withdraw the unconstitutional subpoena issued to the pastors in Houston. I’m also asking her to stop trying to intimidate pastors or disregard the voice of Houston citizens by acknowledging the 50,000 signatures met the requirement for needed signatures.
Additionally, if you are a preacher of God’s Word, I encourage you to allow this situation to renew your resolve to preach God’s Word boldly and faithfully.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.—Romans 1:16