The Briefing: Houston won’t specifically subpoena pastors’ sermons

Meredith Flynn —  October 21, 2014

Religious liberty advocates say city still asking too much

THE BRIEFING | Subpoenas requiring pastors to turn over their sermons are a violation of their First Amendment rights, religious freedom advocates argued in the wake of action by the Houston’s mayor and city attorney.

The five subpoenaed ministers had been part of an effort to repeal Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), adopted by the city council in May. The subpoenas are for a lawsuit brought by ordinance opponents, who collected thousands of signatures on a petition to repeal HERO. But the city disqualified enough of the signatures to prevent a vote, Tom Strode and Bonnie Pritchett reported for Baptist Press.

On Friday, Oct. 17, Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman removed “sermons” from the subpoenaed materials, which also include text messages, e-mails, speeches and presentations related to the ordinance, the referendum to overturn it, Mayor Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.

The removal of the word “sermons” isn’t enough, said the attorneys representing the pastors. And Mayor Parker “acknowledged the new subpoenas do not explicitly preclude sermons from being produced,” the Houston Chronicle reported.

After the initial subpoenas, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called Christians to support the five ministers by using the Twitter hashtag #4Houston5. The Southern Baptist agency also encouraged pastors everywhere to send their sermons on marriage and sexuality to Mayor Parker.

“A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque, or any other place of worship,” blogged ERLC President Russell Moore.

“…The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever.”

Pastors participate in month-long Pulpit Freedom Sunday emphasis
Hundreds of pastors so far have participated in an annual effort to encourage free speech in church pulpits, even if that expression is about politics. Alliance Defending Freedom, who sponsors Pulpit Freedom Sunday, reported on their website Oct. 10 that 1,517 pastors had “preached sermons presenting biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates and signed a statement agreeing that the IRS should not control the content of a pastor’s sermon.” Additionally, 242 pastors signed the statement only. The campaign began Oct. 5 and extends through Election Day (Nov. 4).

Christianity Today noted that on that before this year’s emphasis began, Pew Research reported  49% of Americans say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions.

Leaders may return to Mars Hill after Driscoll’s resignation
Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Oct. 14 resignation after 18 years at Mars Hill Church could result in the return of leaders who previously had left the church and Driscoll’s leadership, The Christian Post and other media sources have reported. Former worship coordinator Kevin Potts told KING5 News: “A faith in Christ is a faith in redemption and healing, and if we’re not willing to put that foot forward and say, “I will help with that,” what right do we have to call ourselves followers of Christ?”

Driscoll had been on a leave of absence since August amid charges of anger and unbiblical leadership. Following his resignation, Mars Hill’s Board of Overseers released a statement saying Driscoll had not been asked to resign and that they were “surprised” to receive his resignation.

Bishops’ final report reflects controversy, differences of opinion
After a meeting of Catholic bishops seemed to point to a drastic shift in the Church’s teaching on same-sex lifestyles and relationships, the group’s final report showed the most controversial topics are still unresolved, Catholic News Service reported. The Oct. 13 mid-term report from the Synod of Bishops on the family included a section titled “Welcoming homosexual persons,” and pondered whether Catholic churches could accept and value same-sex lifestyles, “without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.”

That section of the synod’s final report, released Oct. 18, was amended by the bishops, according to CNS, but still failed to receive the super majority usually needed for approval, along with two paragraphs on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. The Church will hold a world synod on the family in 2015.

Hillsong pastor addresses same-sex marriage views
Pastor Brian Houston sparked controversy when he didn’t clearly define his church’s stance on same-sex marriage at a press conference last week. Now, the pastor of Hillsong Church is clarifying his views, reported The Christian Post. “Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage,” Houston said in a statement. “I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

Meredith Flynn


Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.