Support for legalizing same-sex marriage dropped from 54 percent to 49 percent since February, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Analysts said they had no idea why or if it was just a random blip. I joked on Twitter that my April article “Rise of the Same-Sex Marriage Dissidents” probably was the cause.
But in all seriousness, perhaps seeing the totalitarianism of extremist wings of the gay rights movement has soured some people on efforts to change marriage law — or at least given people pause about the tradeoffs involved with redefining marriage or enacting broad legislation around sexual or gender identity. We’ve all seen the stories about lawsuits against small business owners. The boycotts against companies for harboring employees who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon and therefore believe marriage is essentially built around sexual complementarity. The public outrage of enthused mobs believing themselves to be on the right side of history.
And the latest story out of Houston will likewise do little to quell concerns that religious liberty and free speech are under serious attack. Earlier this year, the City Council passed a law regarding rights related to sexual and gender identity. Mayor Annise Parker has made support for this law — the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance — a major part of her administration. A petition drive to repeal the ordinance — with more than 50,000 signatures, and only 17,259 required — was disallowed by Parker and the city attorney. Some of the Houston citizens sued over the matter and the city responded by subpoenaing emails and sermons from five pastors who are not party to the lawsuit but were involved in the petition drive.
We need advocates along with martyrs
Yesterday, Brian Lee wrote here at The Federalist that pastors should be happy to send the sermons to city officials and refuse to be intimidated by government bullying. Further, he said, Christians should embrace persecution for the sake of Jesus. He also wrote:
And in that same epistle to the Romans, Paul wrote in chapter 13, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” The government’s request for sermon manuscript—even a mandate to that effect—seems to be one a Christian can in good conscience submit to, and even celebrate as an opportunity for bearing witness to Christ.
It’s absolutely true that faithful Christians should prepare for persecution from government authorities and be willing to testify of their faith in Jesus. But here’s the thing — while Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities, in this country we’re “a government of laws, not of men,” as John Adams put it.
The governing authorities in this case aren’t out-of-control mayors but our Constitution and other laws that protect our God-given religious liberty.
Much of Christian history is the story of martyrs, people who accepted punishments up to and including death rather than renounce the Gospel of Jesus. This country at times seems poised to add to that story. But Christians at the same time must worry about the consequences of Houston’s attack on religion.
Government intimidation of pastors is unjust
In this country, the right-side-of-history crowd uses intimidation to enforce conformity of thought. The tactics first used against supporters of California’s Proposition 8 have been repeated — sometimes it’s the IRS illegally leaking donor lists and sometimes it’s a local gay group posting the names and addresses of people who sign petitions. The purpose is intimidation, and it works really well. Until it doesn’t (see, again, my piece on the power of dissidents refusing to be intimidated).
But as unseemly as it is to see this tactic among activists, when it’s backed by the power of the government, that’s far worse.
Here’s Houston’s mayor defending the subpoena:
If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?-A
Annise Parker (@AnniseParker) October 15, 2014
That’s something she voluntarily tweeted, amazingly enough. It’s unclear what she means here, whether she’s suggesting that these pastors violated some tax law (IRS regulations only prohibit candidate endorsement, not political discussions, it should be noted), that such discussions would somehow invalidate the petition signatures she is being sued for throwing out, or if she’s simply hoping to intimidate her political opponent.
She’s definitely accomplishing the latter. Or as a commenter put it yesterday:
Imagine you lived in a country where there was no law saying you couldn’t criticize the President, but the authorities would just like a copy of it if you did. You think a lot of people wouldn’t just decide that it’d be easier to keep their mouths shut? The authorities might even be telling the truth if they said that they weren’t planning on pursuing any legal charges. It’d still make people avoid it, even if just to avoid the hassle of dealing with the government. That’s the whole idea of how a “chilling effect” works.
In their motion to quash the subpoenas, the Alliance Defending Freedom wrote:
Moreover, the discovery requests are overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious. They are so much so, in fact, that it appears they were designed to punish the Nonparty Pastors for being part of the coalition that invoked the City Charter’s referendum provision, and discourage them and other citizens from ever doing so again. The message is clear: oppose the decisions of city government, and drown in unwarranted, burdensome discovery requests. These requests, if allowed, will have a chilling effect on future citizens who might consider circulating referendum petitions because they are dissatisfied with ordinances passed by the City Council. Not only will the Nonparty Pastors be harmed if these discovery requests are allowed, but the People will suffer as well. The referendum process will become toxic and the People will be deprived of an important check on city government provided them by the Charter.
Houston’s behavior is scandalous
The definition of “scandal” has changed rather dramatically over time. But from the Greek, skandalon means a stumbling block or something that causes people to sin. Christians have long condemned attitudes or behavior which cause others to be tempted. Intimidation and bullying for the purpose of causing someone to be tempted against a clear confession of his or her faith is a pretty good example of this.
The Roman Catholic catechism has a section on this:
The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death… Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.” This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values. Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”
Now, something tells me that Mayor Parker and her cohorts don’t give a fig about whether they’re giving scandal, that is, leading others into corruption. But Christian pastors should care when politicians or other authorities are behaving scandalously.
Lee says, “So what?” to the subpoena. Here’s what: Christian pastors should not acquiesce in the expanding fight to destroy religious liberty and free speech. And they should stand up against laws and practices that might cause their brothers and sisters to be tempted to downplay their confession of faith or criticism of unjust governmental practices and unjust laws.
The public’s mostly negative response to the intimidation attempts seen in Houston was so pronounced that Parker now says she agrees with Alliance Defending Freedom that the subpoenas were overly broad. Heck, the whole thing’s so toxic that she’s even claiming she didn’t know about the subpoenas until shortly before she took to Twitter vigorously defending them. But don’t be surprised if these attacks on religious liberty and free speech don’t cause more people to question what we’re being forced to give up — and why — in exchange for expanding gay rights.