Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Mt 11:28

Monday, October 20, 2014

Houston, We Have An Opportunity!

"Houston, we have a problem!" That's been the response we've seen and are still seeing regarding the action taken by Houston Mayor Annise Parker in subpoenaing the sermons and correspondence of a group of local pastors who opposed her controversial ordinance to grant equal rights to gay and transgender residents of Houston popularly known as the "Bathroom Bill." The bill had also gained notoriety as HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Passed by the City Council in a 11-6 vote on May 28, it was signed into law by Mayor Parker that evening. 

Houston area churches were justifiably concerned. A number of them banded together and began a campaign to repeal HERO. They collected signatures on a petition and provided guidance to their congregations as to how they might go about getting the issue on the ballot for election in November. 

Therein lies the problem. 

The petitions were thrown out for lack of following detailed procedures in collecting signatures. As tensions mounted, those in support of repealing the ordinance filed a lawsuit against Mayor Parker and the City of Houston. This element of the story has largely been ignored. They claimed their petition was unfairly disqualified. They wanted their day in court. 

Well, they're getting it.


The city subpoenaed those pastors involved in the petition effort (not all pastors in the Houston area) to provide manuscripts of all sermons and correspondence involving 
their instructions to their congregations on how to go about the appeal process.  The original subpoena also asked for the details on any communication opposing the Mayor or anything speaking out against the whole LBGT movement. 

The Mayor's office was quick to admit the original subpoena was far too broad in its scope and was in violation of the 1st Amendment rights of the Pastors. The Mayor claimed this was the result of her legal team's (a group of pro bono lawyers) lack of understanding the complexity of the issue and was unintentional. The subpoena has been reworded. But, it should be noted, as the case rises up in the courts, the City Council does have the legal right to examine those manuscripts to see if, during the course of directing their congregations, while sermonizing or otherwise, legally mandated procedures were followed. The Pastors are legally obligated to respond. This is what is known as the discovery phase of a hearing. 

This, IMO, is where the church begins to stumble. 

The whole issue went viral. Accusations based on half-truths and outright misrepresentations began to fly. Nearly all the conservative media failed to mention the suit filed by the pastors, focusing on the rights issue. Likewise, most of the liberal media put the spotlight on the holier-than-thou church. The issue became muddled and over-sensationalized. Here are just a few of the types of things that began to appear in the media:
Most of the stories we long on accusation and short on facts. Nonetheless, those who were paying attention were outraged. There was little grace exhibited, even less willingness to demonstrate anything resembling objectivity.

Where is all this leading?

I think it would be hard to deny that there are storm clouds on
the horizon. The environment  we operate in is becoming increasingly hostile. Events are happening at a lightning speed and seem to be gaining momentum. The question, hanging out there like a beacon in the night is this, "How will the church respond?" How do we respond to this new type of hostility toward the things we believe in and the things the church stands for?  How does the church function in an atmosphere that is no longer tolerant of its message? That's an issue the modern church has been struggling with since the early 80's, when it looked like we were going to be in the driver's seat. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have driven off the road. 

We have to be honest with ourselves. The great experiment of the Moral Majority or the Religious Right failed. The idea that the church could, somehow, influence politics and legislation to lean toward Christianity and Christian values has fallen flat on its face. The concept that our beliefs and a political platform could be smoothly integrated without compromising our faith just didn't pan out. 

Houston's situation is proof of all this. The churches in Houston, for very good and godly reasons, opposed legislation that was contrary to Christian values. While their motives seemed just and their intentions appeared to be relatively pure, here's where I think they went wrong.
  • Instead of preaching they protested. Instead of using their pulpits to spread the gospel, they promoted a political cause.  We can dress this up any way we like, but the bottom line is they took the fight into the politicians' corner, used political tactics and methods hoping to get political results. They hoped to garner the support of the public, who, BTW, elected the very politicians the church was opposing. Isaiah had something to say about adopting worldly tactics (Is 31:1&3).
  • Instead of praying they preyed. They filed a lawsuit. They became the aggressors. They demanded a legal hearing and a judicial determination. The initiated and subjected themselves to the court of man's law. Then the court made a decision, and they now want to oppose it! Do they hand over the sermons? Take a quick look at Matt 5:39-42, "But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you."

How do we, the church of America, respond to all this? Well, we can respond based on our feelings. We can rise up against the injustice, demand our rights, rally the church, sign a petition, form a boycott,
start a lobby, etc, etc, etc. We can do all the things that have been so spectacularly unsuccessful in the past. In other words, we can employ worldly tactics in trying to accomplish our goals. But...that leads to another question...or at least it should. "What are our goals?" Are we here to reform the culture? Are we here to make things right, make sure people act in a holy manner, agree with us? What is the church charged with? 


Perhaps Scripture has a clue for us.

If we look closely at the examples we see in the Bible, we'll see that the issues the church faces are never about our rights but about our righteousness. Christ never approached the Romans, the Emperor or even Pilate, accusing them of being unfair or asking them to endorse/support his position on anything. He had no expectation of their support or understanding; they were lost. What they needed was the gospel. Jesus charged His church, those who believe in Him and followed Him, with sharing the gospel with the world around them, even the politicians (Mt 28:19-20). 

When Paul gets his audience with King Agrippa (Acts 26), He doesn't discuss the issues of the day; the Roman occupation of Palestine, Caesar's rule over the Jews, taxes, his unfair imprisonment...he shares the gospel.

When Jesus stands before Pilate, the Roman gets so frustrated with Christ he says, "Don't you understand I have the authority to release you?" Jesus never engages Pilate. He merely tells him, "You would have no authority over me unless it was given from above." (John 19:10-11)

The only time Jesus engaged/protested/critiqued and/or suggested they support His cause...was when He was talking to the church. And that's because the church of the 1st century was self-righteous, the main point and context of our sermon yesterday, taken from John 8:21-30. The Pharisees refuse to accept that Jesus is the Messiah, in spite of all the evidence, in spite of His words, primarily, because Jesus just didn't measure up to their standards for a Messiah. They were supremely self-righteous. 

The church of our day has to be careful not to fall into the same trap, thinking, "We're right. God is on our side. Our
justice will reign!"...all of which is true. Indeed, we are to seek justice (Is 1:17), But, when wielded in anger and self-righteousness, that quest defeats the primary goal of our calling. Much of the mainstream Christian media that is following the Houston story is designed to raise anger, to produce indignation or, even worse, fear and paranoia.

The church doesn't function well under fear or anger.  It becomes insular, segregated, defensive, all of which display a lack of trust in God, its protector and eternal destination. It stops preaching the gospel, and begins preaching its own protection and preservation. 

None of this is to infer that we become pacifists. None of this is to say we abandon the political system. Some are called to be part of it. We need to support them, prayerfully and with grateful hearts. They are a blessing to the church and a testimony to integrity to the political arena. Meanwhile, if we decide to engage at that level, we have to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves (Mt 10:16). We also have to keep in mind that our work within that system is to advance the gospel, not legislate morality, judge others or gain victory over our political enemies.  We're called, commanded, to feed our enemies, give them water, pray for them, treat them gently, treat them with respect. In other words, we're called to live out what we preach - grace, love and holiness - showing them Christ at every turn.

The minute our pursuit of holiness or justice or righteousness becomes influenced by self-righteousness, we lose our witness and we lose the chance to share the gospel. 

Houston, we have an opportunity!

As the world turns its attention to Houston, to see how all this plays out, what will it see in the church? The gospel...or something else. I maintain that, if it sees anything but the gospel, we've blown it.  

I know that most of the people who read this posting are not out there on the fringes, not radical haters. Most of us are committed, dedicated folks trying to do the right thing and doing their best to walk the walk. But let's look objectively at where we're getting our information from and what impact it has on our thoughts and hearts. If the news stories, emails, fb postings, etc have that hint of "It's us against them! Circle the wagons! We have to protect ourselves!" then we may want to question the motivations of that writer as he questions the motivations of those he disagrees with. Is his priority the gospel? Is he edifying the church? Bringing glory and honor to God? Being a peacemaker...or doing just the opposite. 

The church has precious few resources. What will we spend out talents, time and treasure upon? Will we exhaust ourselves trying to prove we're right and holy? Will our passions control the direction and focus of our ministries? Or will we heed the call of the Scriptures, the call to be vessels of mercy and grace, the vessels of living waters?

If the courts decide in favor of the Houston churches, what then? Will those who are defeated flock into the sanctuaries in and around Houston, admitting their error, eager to soak up the love of a merciful God and His humble servants? Will their hearts be changed and turned toward the one true God?

We're called to make disciples, but where will we find those who will become disciples? Will we win them over by opposing
them? Is it even possible to win them over with love without compromising our holiness? The answers to these questions are not easy to come by. We have to strike a balance between reaching out and making practical decisions about holiness, truth, sanctification and what we can accept in our church families. Much prayer is needed. A deep commitment to knowing the word of God is needed. An even deeper commitment to appropriating it into our lives is needed as well.  

Perhaps our generation will never have to face it, but the next one may. How important is the gospel? What are we wiling to sacrifice for it? What is more vitally crucial to the future of those around us than the gospel? Previous generations have been willing to die for it. Have we had it so easy, for so long, that we've lost sight of the precious honor and eternal blessing we have in being messengers of its truth and beauty? Are we willing to sacrifice the gospel for our 1st Amendment rights? 

Sometimes I fear that we forget we live in a fallen world that needs salvation. I know we all know the world is fallen. Do we know it needs salvation...more than anything else?

I was asked a significant question recently, "Is the gospel the only reason for the church?"

Yes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment