October 14, 2014 is a day that may well live in infamy. On that day, news came of subpoenas issued under the direction of Houston Mayor Annise Parker for city clergymen to submit “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.”
The subpoena is the latest, and most troubling, development in the ongoing saga of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The subpoena is manifestly antithetical to the First Amendment; it tramples underfoot religious liberty. Evangelical Christians have responded to Mayor Parker’s subpoenas with outrage—as well we should.
Yet, while news of the subpoenas should alarm us, it should not surprise us—such is indicative of our cultural moment. Evangelical Christians are becoming like corks of biblical conviction bobbing in oceans of moral relativism. This means for those of us holding to biblical convictions, Christianity is about to get really interesting.
For the church, though, the mayor’s handling of the First Amendment is secondary. Our handling of the Bible is primary. Our indignation over the mayor’s boldness must be displaced by passion and resolve of our own. We are called to speak the truth in love; to preach the Word in season and out. Ordinance or no ordinance, subpoena or no subpoena, First Amendment or no First Amendment, God’s Word doesn’t change—and our convictions must not change either.
That is why my concern is not so much Mayor Parker’s orchestration of velvet-gloved persecution. My concern is whether or not Christians will persist in having the courage of their convictions. This won’t be the last time the church encounters intimidation—for we are assured that all who desire godliness in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
And Mayor Parker isn’t the first ruler to threaten the church either. Here we learn from our apostolic forebears. Just as when the Temple authorities threatened Peter and John in Acts 4, their response must now be ours, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
And as we look to Houston, not only should the Apostles’ response be ours, but their prayer should be ours as well, “Now, Lord, take note of their threats and grant that we your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence.” After all, if it is sermons the mayor wants, it is sermons she should now get.
The irony in all of this is, Mayor Parker may have set her city back by stymieing religious liberty, while, unwittingly, moving the church forward, and positioning us more firmly in the apostolic tradition we own. We must now prove ourselves worthy of that tradition. And, whatever we do, like the besieged apostles, we must not stop speaking.topicsAnnise Parker, Religious Liberty