Sermons should be free

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.

houston

Photo from Houston Chamber of Commerce website (houston.org)

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.

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Preaching a political agenda not only misuses the office of the pulpit, but it also crosses the line between separation of church and state and it divides the church on a political basis, which has nothing to do with its purpose. Thank you for bringing up the discussion, Tony./Al Teel

  2. This proves that stupidity is often a keystone of elective office. Preachers should have the right to say anything they like in the pulpit and everywhere else. The church is exempt from taxes because it’s a non-profit, like any other non-profit such as a college. A college president can say anything he likes in speeches on his own campus, so why can’t a preacher in his own church? Freedom of speech is a right for everyone everywhere. If this silly ordinance should pass, any old stud who claims he is a transgender can go into a women’s restroom in which five-year-old girls are doing their business alone. In Atherton High School in Louisville, Ky., a boy who claims he is a transgender (no proof other than his word) is permitted to use both the girls’ restrooms and locker-rooms. He can shower with the girls after a hard day’s practice. Lots of parents objected but the nutcase school hierarchy told them where to go. It’s perfectly in order for pastors to lead their people regarding everything from homosexuality to transgender to pedophilia to anything else referenced in the Bible. If this involves government and politics, so be it.

  3. You have been reading the Baptist mis-reporting of this matter. One, it was outside attorneys who prepared and sent the subpoenas, and the mayor has said it was wrong to include sermons. Two, there is extensive evidence of falsification of signatures, duplication of signatures, failure to follow the law in collecting and submitting signatures, etc. Three, the mayor did not overrule the City Secretary, who only ruled that, prior to checking there were a certain number of signatures submitted. The City Attorney ruled that many of the signatures were invalid for sound legal reasons. Four, due to the apparent fraud in the signature collection process, and the involvement of pastors in the collection process, the subpoenas were an attempt to identify who was involved in the fraud.

    The outside counsel overstepped, the mayor said that that was wrong, and the subpoenas have been withdrawn, at least as it relates to sermons. And this has been in the non-religious media for days!

    • There’s no argument with the events or that this has been a subject for days. The mayor had sermons left out and speeches left in the order, so when has a sermon not also been a speech. This was stupid! The point is that the subpoena should never have been issued, the use of government to curtail freedom of speech. Lots of other things like communications were in the order and remained after sermon was removed. Throwing the attorneys under the bus was what might be expected, so what else is new?

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