Houston officials have subpoenaed sermons preached by local pastors who oppose an equal rights ordinance. The ordinance would allow transgender people to file a discrimination complaint if barred from a restroom of their choice. Opponents leading a repeal initiative have sued the city for refusing to validate their petition. Several local pastors and religious leaders have been vocal in opposing the ordinance and supporting the petition. Now city attorneys have subpoenaed these pastors, seeking “all speeches, presentations, or sermons” related to this issue.
How should the pastors respond? Ethicist Russell Moore notes, “A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque, or any other place of worship. The pastors of Houston should tell the government that they will not trample over consciences, over the First Amendment and over God-given natural rights.” John Piper was a little more circumspect, suggesting that Houston pastors “maybe invite Mayor Parker to next Sunday’s sermon on biblical sexuality.”
This story may end in a number of ways. The city attorneys could retract their subpoena. They could be defeated in court by those who are defending the pastors. Or this could be the ominous beginning of a new phase in the culture wars, one in which Christians find themselves increasingly under legal pressure to capitulate to new moral norms.
If so, what should we do? God calls us to obey our highest authority. We render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21). We obey civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7) unless they order us to disobey our Supreme authority. In that case, we choose to obey God at any cost. When the Sanhedrin, the supreme legal authority of the nation, ordered the apostles to cease preaching, they replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Our sisters and brothers in North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Cuba and China would tell us to stay strong.
We must serve our highest authority. And we must seek his wisdom in knowing how best to serve him. Toward the end of his reign, King David faced three years of famine. The economy was devastated, the nation’s future in doubt. So “David sought the face of the Lord” (2 Samuel 21:1). God showed him that sins committed by the previous king needed to be rectified. David did what was necessary to redeem the situation, and God was able again to bless the land. The problem was something the king would probably not have identified apart from divine revelation. But he was wise enough to turn first to God, then to follow God’s leading. And the nation was spared.
These are difficult days. A second Ebola case transmitted in Dallas has been called “an unprecedented crisis” by a health official. Islamic militants continue to gain ground in Iraq and Syria. Record drought continues in Texas and across the west. The battle over same-sex marriage and related issues continues.
Are our leaders turning to God for wisdom? Are you?