“Touch an Englishman in a hundred places about his freedom and he will not squawk. Touch him in his pocketbook with unfair taxes, and he will revolt.” That is what Edmund Burke, 18th Century British Member of Parliament speaking about the causes leading up to the American Revolution.
In October, Houston Mayor Annise Parker found out you can bother a pastor in a hundred places, but if you try to touch his pulpit, he will revolt. To be specific, the controversy erupted after “five Houston pastors were issued subpoenas by the Houston city attorney to turn over sermons” related to speaking out against the “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO),” which makes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protected classifications. Also implied in the ordinance was the proposal that people who claim transgender affiliation could use any public bathroom they wish.
This is but the most recent chapter in the culture war over sexual moral and ethics, as embodied most in the homosexuality debate. In previous chapters of this debate, however, the pulpit was considered the last free-speech zone standing, a sacred institution of American freedom. In this crisis, that pulpit freedom, and by implication, the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and free assembly, were threatened.
The backlash was immediate and far-reaching, as pastors took to the street in protest and groups spoke out.
In fact, on Sunday Nov. 2, the Family Research Council and other organizations are staging a major rally in support of the five pastors. The event will include the likes of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and some of the Duck Dynasty folks.
Southern Baptists will be represented at the event as well, including Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president Ronnie Floyd, who said, “Regardless of the nature of communications they want from the pastors and churches, this … is a clear attempt to silence the voice of the Church in Houston, Texas, America, and the world.”
The happenings in Houston brought together those who do not ordinarily speak with one voice, including the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell D. Moore and the Cooperative Baptists’ Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, who issued an open letter of objection to the Houston city leaders.
Since the backlash, the city of Houston has narrowed the scope of subpoenas away from pulpit material, but many think the damage is already done. Moreover, many see that the intimidation tactics are still in place for any who speak out on homosexuality.
The issue of homosexuality continues to provide a line in the sand for Christians. Some churches have considered the notion called a “third way” in which we maintain our position on marriage and Christian beliefs on sex, but that we never publicly speak on the issue. As the Roman poet Ausonius said, “no man pleases by silence.”
Still other Christians, seemingly motivated either by fear or disdain, are only shouting more loudly about our unchanging viewpoint on homosexuality and, thereby, are repelling more people than we are reaching.
Meanwhile, many Christians are finding that we must speak the truth in love. Moore has called this “convictional kindness,” by which we stand true to our biblical beliefs, but do so in winsome ways that see all people as made in the image of God and within His saving reach.
Time will tell where the showdown in Houston leads, but in these upcoming days are defining moments for the Church and Christians that will reverberate for decades to come. May God give us the moral courage to use our words wisely and reach all people for Christ.