Today I woke up to find a Fox News Opinion piece by Todd Starnes explaining that a group of pastors in Houston, TX have had their sermons subpoenaed by their local government. Apparently, the small group of pastors targeted were part of a collective of over 400 churches that banded together to oppose a move by the local authorities to establish and enforce a new city non-discrimination ordinance that, according to Starnes, “among other things, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa. The city council approved the law in June.” Apparently, anyone (including religiously leaders) can be penalized for publically expressing disagreement with the ordinance, indicative by the subpoenaing of the group of pastor’s sermons or other communications with church members that have referenced homosexuality, gender identity, or Houston City Mayor, Annise Parker. I would encourage you to read the full opinion piece by Starnes.
How should Christians respond?
In the fallout of this move by Houston City authorities there will undoubtedly be more details, unknown at this time, which shed light on the particulars of this specific situation. But with the recent developments with SCOTUS on the issue of gay marriage and the ensuing reactions of various states that are shifting to a more pro-gay marriage stance, this is probably just one of the first of many similar situations we will be hearing about on this issue in the near future. With that probable reality, it is a good time to think freshly on the Christian response to these kinds of civic issues that collide with the biblical Christian faith.
So how should we respond as Christians? Consider three thoughts:
1. Obey the government as much as possible
Christians are not primarily called to be advocates of political reform, but of kingdom expansion. We are called to make disciples of all nations. We are called to share the love of God with every nation, tribe, tongue and people. The example and explicit instruction of the gospels, the book of Acts, and other New Testament epistles make clear that the kingdom of God is not going to be established via human military power or political influence. We are on a healing, loving, gospel preaching mission, representing Jesus to lost and broken people.
I am thankful for Christians who work in the political and governmental arenas, but we must keep the kingdom priority straight. Whenever possible we must obey the leaders God has allowed to be appointed to office over us in our nation. Christian leaders must think thoroughly and carefully about whether civil disobedience is truly necessary as issues like those in Houston continue to unfold in the future.
Personally, I’m not convinced that the group of pastors in Houston shouldn’t release their sermons to the city government. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. The reason for this is that there is a difference in demanding to know what we are saying and forbidding us from saying it. Perhaps these guys are preaching some really amazing sermons and God intends to use this subpoena situation to distribute them in government or other circles where they never would have had influence otherwise. I am not sure. But I tend to think that if the Roman government had demanded a copy of the book of Romans for examination, Paul would have gladly provided it for their reading and distribution, whatever their motives may have been. But again, the point that I am making is that we need to have a posture of obedience toward our government leaders as much as is biblically possible.
2. Pray and maintain a posture of love and humility for those in authority over you
What lost people don’t need more of are proud, loveless, yell first and communicate later kinds of Christian responses to these tough situations we are facing. We need to speak the truth, by all means, but we need to remember to do so in love. Are those in authority over you promoting unbiblical, blasphemous, sinful world views and lifestyles? Perhaps they are, but so were you before Jesus saved you.
As followers of Jesus we have to fight to remember that “those people and their sin” are not the problem; “WE people” and OUR sin are the problem. Jesus didn’t have to make the trip from heaven to earth to suffer the righteous wrath of God for “those horrible sinners out there” but for our horrible sin and spiritual crimes. He suffered for the sinners inside the church. Sin and eternal guilt are the shared human reality, whether you are gay or straight, black or white, upper class or poor. And the Christian’s knowledge that we are as morally and spiritually bankrupt as every single other human on the face of the planet should produce an attitude of humility, love, and prayer toward our leaders, and all other human beings, especially those who may be overtly promoting sinful lifestyles or fighting against the spread of the teaching of the gospel. We cannot let fear and alarm dictate our attitude and demeanor toward lost people, whether they are on a mission to promote values that are immoral or not.
3. When a choice is necessary, we must obey God rather than human authority
As the book of Acts clearly demonstrates, even after we’ve done all we can to obey human authority and maintain a posture of love, humility, and prayer toward those who openly oppose Christ and His teaching, sometimes civic disobedience is unavoidable. If the government forbids us from preaching the gospel, the Bible, or worshiping in community, we must follow the example of the apostles and, “obey God rather than men.” Again, in these cases we must still be extremely thoughtful regarding how we engage in civic disobedience, and we must still fight to maintain a posture of humility, love, and prayer for those who may persecute us. But at the end of the day, sometimes rebellion is the right thing to do before God.