Dear Mayor Parker,
Clearly I cannot speak for the five pastors within your jurisdiction whose sermons were recently subpoenaed. Despite the fact that I am not among your constituents I am concerned and I find such legal strategy a bit puzzling. If I understand correctly all this stems from a hotly debated ordinance proposed for your city, Houston, Texas. The goal of said ordinance is to ban anti-gay discrimination among other things including, ironically, religious discrimination. Those who would overturn this particular ordinance presented a petition with the goal of putting it up for a vote on this November’s ballot in Houston. Much to their dismay the city attorney somehow deemed more than 32,731 of the 50,000 signatures invalid. Consequently the attorney ignored the petition. Predictably a group of Christians who oppose the ordinance filed suit against the city. That is when attorneys representing Houston saw fit to subpoena the sermons of five pastors, none of whom are parties in the lawsuit.
As a result you find yourself in the middle of highly publicized and politically charged national debate. It seems you could have saved yourself some trouble. Most churches have adopted the practice of posting previous weeks’ sermons online. I assume you believe these five pastors to be largely responsible for the garnering of tens of thousands of signatures. If they are indeed as influential as you think then chances are their churches post recordings of their sermons to a website on a regular basis. My hunch is that Google could have achieved much of what your lawyers had hoped for with their subpoenas, and done so without drawing so much negative attention to yourself.
Better yet, you could have just asked. I may be a minister but I’m just as susceptible to vanity as the next guy. Had you asked for a copy of one or several of my sermons I would have gladly surrendered them to you. Given the fact that you are openly lesbian yourself and traveled to California in order to be married earlier this year, it seems clear that you and I have fundamental disagreements in regard to some important life issues. That said I would have received your request for my sermons as a tremendous opportunity to politely reveal the roots of my perspective. You might be disappointed however when you find I rarely if ever refer specifically to homosexuality, gay marriage, or similar matters in any of my sermons. Nor do I refer to public officials by name unless I am praying for them. (Quite frankly you’d probably also be disappointed to know I don’t hold that much influence. But I digress.)
When I craft a sermon I strive to keep it focused upon one thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes I do better than others, but that is the goal. Thus whether you asked, subpoenaed, or simply listened online I hope that what would become clear in any one of my sermons is that I believe there is hope in Jesus Christ and in him alone. Legislation is all well and good, but it does not change hearts. I certainly respect your office. My faith and the Scriptures instruct me to do so. But with all due respect, no government official is able to affect the type of change that the forgiveness and grace of the Almighty brings to the contrite soul.
With that said I notice that the ordinance which started all this expressly states that it does not prohibit “Giving preference to persons of the same religion, unless membership in the religion is restricted because of a protected characteristic.”* Membership at my church and thousands of others like it is not restricted because of the “protected characteristics” of being homosexual, bisexual, or transgender. However, membership restrictions do apply to those who are unable or unwilling to concede their inability to meet the demands of a holy God apart from faith in the aforementioned gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore being homosexual, bisexual, or transgender is no more or less of an issue for aspiring church members than being heterosexual. What is at issue is the acknowledgment that any sort of sexual behavior (or any sort of behavior) that deviates from that prescribed by the Scriptures’ teaching in regard to marriage (or anything else) requires humble repentance, not acceptance and certainly not brazen defiance.
On this last point I am sure given your recent marriage that we disagree. But the disagreement at least for my part is a respectful one. I understand that not everyone views everything from the perspective that I do and yet we are tasked with maintaining polite company. One of the great things about America is that living together politely typically means that when disagreements like this arise we settle them with a simple vote. Then, even if some choose to continue the discussion while others bow out, we agree to live with the outcome. It does not seem too much to ask.
If you are ever in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area feel free to stop in and visit on a Sunday morning. Bring your wife and kids if you like. You will be warmly welcomed and although I do not drink the stuff I am told we have decent coffee. Of course membership, for now at least, probably is not an option. You understand of course; we would not ask you to accede to something so personal as the above without believing in it yourself. Besides, 1,300 miles is a rather long weekly commute. But should you desire further explanation or want to know more of what I think please save the subpoenas. All you need to do is ask. Better yet, go ahead and subscribe to my blog.
Timothy A. Habecker
*City of Houston, Texas, Ordinance No. 2014-513. Sec. 17-122(a)(2). Accessed October 16, 2014 at http://www.houstontx.gov/equal_rights_ordinance.pdf.