Based on nothing but a decent imagination, I believe that Houston Mayor Annise Parker was surprised at the blowback she is receiving for her administration’s effort to intimidate pastors who have spoken against that city’s ordinance giving preferred status to homosexuals. She doubtless knew that some disagreed with her, but I think she underestimated the level of outcry that followed the subpoenas issued for the sermons and other communications of five pastors who’d disagreed with her “personal” campaign to normalize what is not normal. She may have not intended, as she says, to issue such broad subpoenas, but I cannot believe she had any regrets prior to the bipartisan clamor.
Houston’s mayor is one of our current crop of liberal politicians who sincerely do not understand religious liberty. To these leaders, we have the freedom to worship in the privacy of our homes and church buildings, but our freedom to live as transformed people in our weekday life is more inconvenient to a pluralistic culture. Freedom of worship makes more sense to them than actual religious freedom.
It seems to me that we have been Mirandized—read our rights. Are we willing for anything we say to be used against us in a court of law? We should be, and we should position ourselves for more direct threats than the one we see in Houston. One author I’ve been reading suggests that “homophobia,” which may be defined in our culture as “disagreeing with popular culture about sexual morality,” could one day be classed as a psychopathology. Tyrannical regimes of the 20th century used such a diagnosis broadly against dissenters of any sort. They were drugged, re-educated or just locked up until they were no longer a threat to the state dogma. So how do we prepare; how do we behave wisely in an age when unpopular sermon topics are reasonably seen as actionable by some public officials?
- Be wise as serpents. One thing that can make trouble for us is foolish talk. Can you adopt the discipline of speaking in email, social media, prayer meetings, sermons and Sunday School lessons in a way that you’d be willing to see it in the public record? Because it is part of the public record and available to those who do not like what you stand for. This wisdom is James’ counsel in James 3:1.
- Carefully draw your lines in the sand. We all need convictions but sometimes boast of too many—more than we’ll actually stick to. Avoid boasting of more courage than you have as Peter did in John 13:37. Think about your priorities. Which things are more important than your wealth, comfort, physical freedom or even your life? The list will likely be pretty short. Now stand.
- Be innocent as doves. 1 Peter 2:20 says there is a difference between suffering for the gospel and suffering because we forgot or refused to pay our taxes. Not everything is a conflict over religious liberty. Peter and John refused to stop preaching in the face of threats from the authorities, but they didn’t disdain law and courtesy generally.
- Be at peace with all people, if you can. Some of us love a fight and others fear it above all things. Both the bellicose and the irenic among us must stifle the urge to always respond as we prefer, with a fist or a hug, as the case may be. Peace with others should be our intent, not at all costs but in most cases.
- Pray God’s best on would-be enemies. That’s not the same as praying that they will get what they want or succeed at what they attempt—we should be careful about praying those things for anyone—but God’s best may be conviction, judgment or prosperity. Those determined to oppose righteous things you do cannot make you hate them, by the way. They can hate you, but you have the power to love them.
The current situation in Houston is not the big test of our era, I predict. It’s startling to see the disdain of public officials expressed toward Christians in Houston, but this is an early birth pang. To me, it’s a warning to get my own house in order—to consider the trials of those like Saeed Abedini, even as that situation seems remote from here. If persecution intensifies in the U.S. or if it does not, we are foolish to be too comfortable or feel too safe in a world that hates our Lord and his righteousness. This is not our home, and we are blessed to be reminded of that.