We definitely live in a different age than the one in which I grew up. I won’t say that things are worse, because attaching that sort of interpretation might infer to some that our God has lost control of things and is somehow not as sovereign as He once was (a ridiculous notion). Of course, I won’t say that things are better either… but times of difficulty and even suffering have a way, by virtue of their fiery trials, of bringing out the pure metal of spiritual gold and silver: courage, the pursuit of holiness, love, and faith are all qualities that shine most brightly when brought to surface by hard times.
Some things in those “hard times” are of unimaginable proportions. For example, the horrors of ISIS seem to spread, unabated in the Middle East, as the West continues to fail in stopping their advance. Threats of pandemic Ebola rattle our confidence in Medicine and governmental policies to restrain or contain virulent epidemics. Terror attacks strike north of our country’s borders reminding us that even a semblance of peace is not much more than a veneer that is easily stripped away.
In our own country, American cities and towns serve as battlefields of another sort, threatening our tendency to complacency. In Houston, Mayor Annise Parker’s administration subpoenaed, according to Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times, “communications with church members and others that pertain to not only the signature-gathering effort (supporting the overturning of pro-LGBT legislation imposed upon all public entities in the city including churches) but (also) such topics as the mayor, homosexuality and gender identity” (10/22/2014). Originally, the subpoenas included sermons, but the term was retracted after a firestorm of controversy erupted.
An attack on religious liberty in the United States, although not as obvious a form perhaps as the atrocities orchestrated by ISIS, is nonetheless a form of persecution that requires a response from those who profess the name of Jesus Christ. There are those who claim that the Church is not supposed to take part in political discussions, citing a misguided interpretation of “separation of Church and state” (which was intended to protect faith, not attack it).
I saw an example of this shortly after the well-known Christian speaker John Piper posted on October 14th via social media a viewpoint contrary to Mayor Parker’s perspective on sexuality. Comments began to follow and one woman posted what some others haphazardly say, “The Church has no business dealing with political topics; only religious ones.”
This sentiment is echoed in Mayor Parker’s statements as relayed in Mike Morris’ story from The Houston Chronicle (10/17/2014). Mayor Parker says, “We don’t need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston, and it was never the intention of the city of Houston to intrude on any matters of faith or to get between a pastor and their parishioners. We don’t want their sermons, we want the instructions on the petition process. That’s always what we wanted and, again, they knew that’s what we wanted because that’s the subject of the lawsuit.”
That may be the official reason for the city’s demands (especially as Parker seems to be hurriedly backpedaling from a negative backlash), but the facts don’t support the claim. Remember, the topics of the sermons and other communications in question weren’t merely the petition, but also “the mayor, homosexuality, and gender identity”.
But here we are. Is the woman who indignantly claimed that the church ought not to be discussing such “political topics” as homosexuality and gender identity correct? Well, no. The glaring problem with her statement is that everything is political given the right context. And sooner or later everything you hold dear becomes political no matter what religious affiliation you have or personal conviction motivates you.
Racism is a moral topic. Great opponents of racism cite religious convictions against it, but it is also a political matter requiring legislation to combat it. Immigration has a religious dialogue encircling it. It is, of course, a political matter as well. Nazi Germany historically told the church to mind its own business and stay out of politics. While some did not listen, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis, many abdicated their roles as conscience of their society, and stood by while the Nazis killed millions of Jews, dissidents, people of “inferior race”, and those who were disabled in some way.
What determines whether or not an issue is political? Apparently, all it takes is some lawmaker somewhere writing legislation about it. And that, ironically enough, is so broad that religion itself is a political topic. Christianity is not about some mystical mumbo-jumbo that has nothing to do with real life, but about the spiritual realm interfacing the material one. If your Christianity is kept separate from your daily life, your business affairs, the way you conduct yourself at home, how you report your taxes, and so on and so on, then “you’re doing it wrong.”
The Church not only has a right to speak about real life things, but must. We are compelled by both the preaching and the role-modeling of Jesus to make tangible differences in the world around us ranging from God’s design for sexuality and marriage to feeding the hungry and helping the poor. We must deal with standing up for the rights of others when speaking about racism, unborn babies, and victims of persecution in Syria, Iraq, or Nigeria. Those who push back on the Church’s speaking out are simply looking for a way to silence the opposition.
But we must speak out, not because it’s our political duty or because such issues are political topics, but because they are spiritual ones and our allegiance to Jesus commands it. When we pray to God, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), we are confessing that God’s commentary on social issues overrides our personal preferences and we are therefore agents of carrying out His plan. In other words, how can we not speak out on social issues of the day no matter how political they are? In some ways, everything is political. But then again, nothing is.
An American city’s mayor has taken aim. Whether the city’s vendetta to silence the voice of the Church in the matter of sexuality will succeed or not remains to be seen. But no matter what, God’s people must be a faithful voice, not only about “issues”, but more importantly for the Savior Who came to die for sinners. Ultimately, it’s the Church’s testimony about Jesus Christ that is the most important call of all.
“But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 ESV).
Copyright © Thom Mollohan