15 October 2014 A.D. Houston to Pastor: Turn Over Your Sermons
Lee, Brian. “Houston to Pastors: Turn Over Your Sermons.” The Federalist. 15 Oct 2014. http://thefederalist.com/2014/10/15/houston-to-pastors-turn-over-your-sermons/. Accessed 15 Oct 2014.
Soon after Houston passed a ‘non-discrimination’ ordinance, it has ordered dissenting pastors to submit their sermons for legal review. So, what?
October 15, 2014 By Brian Lee
“The city of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons.” This headline, within hours of being posted on Foxnews.com, was forwarded multiple times to my inbox, with comments such as “unbelievable.”
My response? So what? Sermons are public proclamation, aren’t they?
If a government entity comes to me and demands that I turn over my sermon manuscripts, well… I think I’d be inclined to send them along. And I’d be sure to send each one with a carefully written cover letter explaining exactly how the blood of Christ redeems sinners from death and the grave. (Although good luck deciphering my rough outline, and reading my marginal handwriting. I can send you a link to the audio.)
Sermons aren’t exactly what the legal profession would call “privileged information.” (News reports suggest, however, that other “pastoral communications” might be a part of the subpoena, and insofar as those are private communications of pastors, I would fight their release.)
I grant that there are complex legal issues involved. And, seeing how it has just been a few hours since this story started to bubble up on the Fox News outrage-of-the-week radar, I make no claim to understanding the merits of the legal case.
It Started with a ‘Non-discrimination’ Ordinance
All I can tell so far is that the city passed a controversial non-discrimination ordinance, which among other things, would allow biological males to use the ladies room, and vice versa. A petition in opposition garnered 50,000 signatures, then was thrown out on a technicality. Next, a lawsuit against the ordinance was filed, to which the city responded with a subpoena for sermons from pastors associated with churches opposed to the ordinance.
And why, I ask, should pastors be unwilling to send their sermons to whoever should request a copy?
“This is designed to intimidate pastors,” said Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Erik Stanley. The ADF knows a thing or two about religion and politics, as the organizers of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Stanley suspects Houston’s openly lesbian mayor wants to shame the pastors, holding sermons up to public scrutiny to “out” the pastors as anti-gay bigots.
Free Speech Is Never Guaranteed
What happened to “not being ashamed of the Gospel, the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16)?
It is not as though we don’t have precedent, or direct biblical command, addressing such a situation. The Apostle Paul was put in chains—illegitimately—as a result of preaching the Gospel, and when Roman authorities sought to release him, he insisted on the basis of his Roman citizenship on his right to appeal all the way to Caesar in Rome. And in that same epistle to the Romans, Paul wrote in chapter 13, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
The government’s request for sermon manuscript—even a mandate to that effect—seems to be one a Christian can in good conscience submit to, and even celebrate as an opportunity for bearing witness to Christ.
But isn’t the First Amendment a good thing? Don’t we have the right to preach whatever we want in our pulpits? Shouldn’t we fight to defend and preserve this right? Absolutely. But having the legal right to preach whatever we want does not equate to keeping records of our public preaching secret. And while Americans have every right to fight to protect and preserve this freedom, Christians have no guarantee that they will live and minister in a land that protects this freedom.