Home » Uncategorized » Preachers, Prophets and Pissin’ Contests (Part 1)

Preachers, Prophets and Pissin’ Contests (Part 1)

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The religious liberty of Christians is once again being infringed upon by the government. Same play, different cast. In the latest remake of this epic tale, the role of the emperor Nero is being played by the mayor of Houston. It seems the city of Houston passed an immoral law. Area churches embarked on a noisy campaign to get the law repealed, the first step of which was a petition and signature drive. They needed a certain number of signatures for a referendum, and they ended up getting more than enough. The city claims, however, that the petition did not comply with the rules, and therefore rejected it. No referendum. Several pastors have filed a lawsuit against the city of Houston. In a quest for evidence that the pastors were lying about issues pertaining to the petition campaign, the city issued subpoenas for certain church communication records. Initially, the subpoenas demanded the sermons of the five pastors involved in the signature drive.

Immediately the cry of government oppression was heard from the usual sources. For example, a post on FoxNewsOpinion warned that this sort of infringement on religious freedom has been developing for quite some time and called for activism on the part of churches.

I predicted that the government would one day try to silence American pastors. I warned that under the guise of “tolerance and diversity” elected officials would attempt to deconstruct religious liberty.

Sadly, that day arrived sooner than even I expected.

. . . Now is the time for pastors and people of faith to take a stand. We must rise up and reject this despicable strong-arm attack on religious liberty. We cannot allow ministers to be intimidated by government thugs.

It is true that the city probably included more in the subpoenas than they have a legal right to. But remember that it is the pastors that sued the city of Houston, claiming their petition was valid. The city thinks the pastors have misrepresented the way they conducted the petition campaign. So they issued subpoenas to get the evidence. Their subpoenas, however, demanded “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the petition, Mayor Annise Parker [the mayor], homosexuality, or gender identity.” As independent legal experts have observed, they have probably overreached. They have a legal right to subpoena communications in the church regarding the petition campaign. I can’t see where they have a right to see the other stuff.

I suspect they included all of this in the subpoena as a harassment. It’s a power game on both sides. As the mayor tweeted, if the pastors are going to use their pulpits for political agendas, then what they say from this platform is fair game. If the churches are going to use the pulpit as a political tool to force change, then the city will use these subpoenas to play the same political game. The court will probably limit the scope of the subpoena to cover communications related to the facts at issue in the litigation. Everything else is posturing and pissing.

The church’s involvement in this sort of conflict bothers me deeply. It is the wrong battle with the wrong weapons against the wrong enemy. The Apostle Paul wrote the two following well-known passages:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:12)

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

First, petition campaigns to repeal public law and other such means to win the culture war are “weapons of the flesh.” Please don’t misunderstand me. I personally think the law is stupid and that a referendum to repeal it is a perfectly valid course of action. What is inappropriate from a biblical perspective is the church using its facilities and influence to effect this change. The more Christians engage in this sort of “worldly warfare,” the more we will see our religious freedoms come under attack. It is retaliation that the church has provoked with its self-righteous and judgmental rhetoric and its use of Christian platforms to influence political processes. The more we attempt to fight this battle, the more our supposed enemies will attempt to restrict our power and freedom. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying that this is how it is. We’ve provoked this anti-Christian sentiment, and the more we play this game, the more hostile the sentiment will become. We cannot win the culture war through political means. To continue to do so is not only futile, it is dangerous.

Second, none of this is part of the story the Bible tells about the world and the church’s role therein. The church has no mandate to impose the rule of God or “biblical morality” on society through political processes. In fact, this sort of activity actually undermines what Christians are called to do in the world. The more we engage in this, the more outsiders will show contempt for what we have to say. We have subverted our own witness. We have compromised our mission in order to fight losing battles in the culture wars. This is a major theme in the ongoing biblical story. Israel did much the same thing. The Bible has strong words on this subject, not for non-believers, but for those who claim to have the revelation of God and who are called to be light. Thumping Bibles and conducting petition campaigns don’t generate light; they generate noise.

I think it is in the best interests of Christians, both their civil interests and their spiritual interests, to stop engaging in the culture wars. It is also in the best interest of what the Bible calls “the Kingdom of God.” In the name of Jesus, stop it! Shut up about the Houston law and the Houston mayor. Shut up about homosexuality and gay marriage. Shut up about Obama and liberal, godless government. Stop bitching about these things in blogs and on Facebook.  It is not the church’s role to change or even to publicly condemn these things. Furthermore, it doesn’t do any good. It only does damage. Our engagement in this public wrangling and these political power games will ultimately have negative consequences for our own freedoms, not to mention the immeasurable harm it does to the mission of Christ.

When Paul wrote those passages in Ephesians and 2 Corinthians, he envisioned a kind of “spiritual warfare.” These pissing contests between Christians and government are not what he had in mind.  I’ve written this sort of thing previously. In my next post, I will discuss some of the responses I have provoked from Christians who are committed to these battles and who are intent on justifying their continued engagement.

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What about the biblical precedent of John the Baptist’s condemnation of Herod’s union with his brother’s wife? Is this not an instance of a believer imposing the rule of God and biblical morality on an unbeliever?

What about the historical precedent of the American Revolution against England being born and raised in the churches? Is this not an instance of using the facilities and influence of the church to effect political change?


3 Comments

  1. Tony says:

    What some examples of how your religious liberties are being infringed? I am not talking about identifying clashes between government and the faith community. I would seriously like to know how your personal rights are being usurped by the government.

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