HOUSTON – The nation’s fourth largest city has become the epicenter in the conflict over religious liberty as pastors around the country face mounting pressure to comply with laws contrary to biblical teaching. Church leaders are calling Christians to engage in this watershed moment that could influence the course of religious freedom in America.
In an Oct. 22 national teleconference promoting the upcoming I Stand Sunday rally Nov. 2, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Houston Pastor Dave Welch said the nation is living with the consequences of an apathetic Christian electorate and the advancement of an aggressive cultural agenda championed by the LGBT community and their allies. The implications, Huckabee said, are chilling.
Huckabee will be one of 13 speakers at the I Stand Sunday rally (www.istandsunday.org), Nov. 2, 6 p.m. at Grace Community Church, Houston where Steve Riggle, one of five pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by the city attorney, serves as senior pastor. Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd will lead the gathering in prayer. Other speakers include Riggle and two other subpoenaed pastors; Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church Houston; Duck Dynasty family members Alan and Phil Robertson; FOX News commentator Todd Starnes; and more.
The rally was organized in response to the controversy over City Attorney Dave Feldman’s attempt to subpoena the sermons of five Houston pastors. The court order, which was amended Oct. 17 to remove the sermon requests, is part of the administration’s legal defense preparation. The city is accused in a lawsuit of interfering with the certification of a referendum seeking the repeal of an ordinance giving civil rights status to gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals.
“If we allow the bullying to continue we are going to see the silencing of pulpits and churches,” Huckabee said in the teleconference. “I’m not saying that to be melodramatic, but that’s essentially what we’re already beginning to see across the country.”
In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, two ordained ministers—a husband and wife—are being compelled to officiate for same-sex marriages at their business, The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel. The city attorney contends because the chapel is a for-profit business Donald and Evelyn Knapp are not exempt from compliance with the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. The couple faces fines or imprisonment for non-compliance. They sued the city Oct. 17 charging the ordinance requires they abandon their religious convictions.
SBTC churches are encouraged to participate in the I Stand Sunday event either in person or via a live stream connection (www.istandsunday.com/techreq). Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees noted the gravity of the situation during its Oct. 22 meeting by approving a motion by vice chairman Mike Boyd.
It read, in part, “In light of recent events in Houston … the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary urges pastors anywhere and everywhere to stand strong on biblical issues without regards of any intimidation from courts, politicians, or any other group who seeks to intimidate any and all of those who seek to propagate biblical positions on said issues. Further, we go on record supporting Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd in his efforts promoting “I Stand Sunday” on Nov. 2 designed to bring attention to this matter and support these and potentially other targeted pastors, teachers, and any/all who communicate on these moral/ethical positions.”
During the teleconference Dave Welch, one of the subpoenaed pastors, told Perkins that being subpoenaed controverted his views of private speech, free speech and freedom of religion. It was unsettling “to now have the fourth largest city, with unlimited resources, with one of the largest law firms in America, bearing down on pastors for simply exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Huckabee said what is being played out across the nation is the predictable consequence of a movement that went far beyond a call for marriage equality.
‘It’s not isolated; it’s coordinated,” Huckabee said. “It’s an integrated approach to try and make gender something that is no longer recognized. It’s not just about same-sex marriage. … It was never about power of attorney, visitor rights or survivorship; it was about something much larger.”
The Houston ordinance, drafted with the assistance of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy organization that has successfully introduced similar policies in municipalities across the country, states access to public accommodations (e.g. bathrooms) cannot be denied to any one of the 15 listed protected characteristic classes.
A subsection of the ordinance specifically requiring public accommodations for transgender individuals was stricken from the ordinance by Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian who supported the ordinance for personal reasons. But opponents argue the wording in other sections still allows men presenting themselves as women to use women’s bathrooms and vice versa.
Huckabee said, “I think what we’ve seen is that those who have been advocating for gender neutrality and same sex marriage have built a bridge too far. … This is the real agenda. I’m hoping this may truly serve to be the wakeup call that we apparently have not had.”
The I Stand Sunday event serves, primarily, as a rallying point for a national discussion about the First Amendment, specifically freedom of religion. But Huckabee said it provides an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate they are not against gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals but, instead, stand unapologetically for something—biblical truth and natural marriage.
“It gives us the opportunity and a mandate to make sure the very spirit and tone with which we approach this be reflective of the love of Jesus,” Huckabee said. “I think we can be bold in what we say, how we say it, and why we say it. But we want always to carry out everything we do and say with the spirit of compassion.”
Welch added that the attention drawn to Houston has been a source of encouragement for him and the coalition of pastors. He called on pastors across the nation to reach out to like-minded pastors in their communities to promote the cause of Christ. No pastor stands alone, he said.