By the time you read this, election day will have passed and, barring a runoff, the constant bombardment of negative campaigns will subside, at least for a year. I have come to believe that the fact that any person would spend someone’s hard-earned dollars to do nothing but call their opponent a liar should immediately disqualify them from office. But that’s just me, and I could be wrong.
We pastors have to be careful what we say about candidates from the pulpit. I get that. I can have my opinions; however, I should not cross the line into promoting one candidate over another while in front of my congregation. That’s the law, or so I thought. If what is happening in Houston is any indication of the future, the scrutiny we pastors will face in the future will go beyond our actions and words during church service.
The city of Houston recently passed through its city council an ordinance called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). This ordinance is supposed to protect gay, lesbian and transgendered people from discrimination. They unequivocally have the right to pass such an ordinance.
But, this ordinance, in its effort to ensure non-discrimination, discriminates against those who oppose it for religious reasons.
A few conservative Houston pastors who oppose HERO began circulating a petition in an attempt to the ordinance repealed. They have the right to do that too.
How did the city respond? They issued the pastors subpoenas. For what? For “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the petition, (openly gay) Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” The city spokesman said the subpoenas were to evaluate exactly what the preachers said to their congregants in their attempts to get the law repealed.
But wait, for the pastors who think they are safe in their opinions because they have never promoted any political agenda from the pulpit, think again. The city also requested all the pastors’ speeches and presentations (no matter where they took place), text messages, and emails in any way related to the ordinance! My goodness, text messages?
Whatever happened to the First Amendment? Does the fact that I am a pastor mean I can be sued for having a conversation in the grocery store if someone doesn’t agree with me on a political issue? Don’t we decry this kind of governance by intimidation in other countries?
In the end, the city rejected the petition by the pastors to get the law back on the ballot. The city said it did not go through the process the right way. Now the issue is in court.
In the meantime, well-regarded preacher Ed Young of Second Baptist Church in Houston jokes that he is delighted to send his sermons to the mayor.
I can’t think of a better thing to do with them. God help her read them.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.