In a sermon entitled “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable,” preached and published in the late 18th century, American colonists John Leland contended:
Leland wrote these words as a champion for the religious liberty of Baptist pastors in Virginia and other colonies. He supported the formulation and adoption of the First Amendment of the Constitution. His words ring poignantly true considering the recent efforts by the mayor of Houston to curtail the First Amendment rights of several pastors in that city.
The First Amendment protects Americans from the establishment of a state religion. It also protects the freedom of speech, including the freedom of religious expression. Particularly in Leland’s time, the First Amendment protected Baptist pastors in Virginia from persecution by Anglicans for preaching doctrines contrary to that of the state church. State officials incarcerated these Baptist pastors for preaching without a license in an effort to protect the doctrinal purity of the state church form the “errant” preaching of these dissenters.
The mayor of Houston’s actions look very similar to the actions taken by these 18th century Virginian officials. Some people might argue that Mayor Parker is not seeking to espouse any particular doctrine; however, such a conclusion is misguided and incorrect. By asking for these pastors’ sermons to enforce the omission of particular content that counters an agenda promoting homosexuality, the mayor actually seeks to produce a uniformity in the doctrine of “tolerance.”
This doctrine contends that Americans should tolerate beliefs and behaviors of their fellow countrymen because of their right to “live and let live.” She apparently considers anyone who would oppose such a belief of toleration as intolerant at best and criminal at worst; however, is the mayor not being intolerant in preaching her message of tolerance? Does the same freedom of expression of speech and action that she champions for the homosexual community not also apply to these Houston pastors? They have just as much right to preach their faith of biblical beliefs as she does to preach her faith of “tolerance.”
In his sermon, Leland asks:
Mayor Parker promotes a dangerous proposition and view regarding the relationship between government and freedom of religion and conscience. If she has her way, we will return to a time when the government promotes a state religion, perhaps secularism or tolerance, in the name of uniformity. In so doing, she is advocating an attack on freedom of conscience no different than the attacks on religion that occurred under Soviet communism or now exist in communist China.
We would do well as Christians and Americans to review the history behind the First Amendment and the great price that Baptist pastors in Virginia and other states paid to promote religious liberty in our nation. Are you prepared as Christians and pastors to champion those rights today? Like the Baptist pastors of 18th century America, are you prepared to go to jail for preaching biblical messages? Remember the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Last week there was a flurry of interest in sermons preached in Houston, Texas.
As you likely read in various news reports, the mayor and city attorney were unhappy with public opposition to Houston’s recent “bathroom bill” which allows people to enter any public bathroom associated with their self-identified gender. So if a man feels he is a woman, he can saunter into any ladies room in the city. Wow, who could possibly think anything could go wrong with that?
Since pastors were among the most vociferous opponents of the bill, the mayor apparently decided to put them on the spot. So five pastors who were vocal opponents of the bill received subpoenas demanding copies of their speeches and sermons which addressed the bathroom bill, homosexuality, and the mayor.
By the end of the week – facing withering denunciation from across the political spectrum – the mayor was reconsidering the subpoenas. But anyone who thinks this is the last time an American political official tries to pressure preachers in regards to their sermons hasn’t been watching the growing trend toward restrictions on religious liberty in order to appease political correctness.
At first thought I was considering some possible responses pastors could send to the mayor, including:
- Notes? I don’t use no stinking notes!
- Sorry, but I think the dog ate my sermon.
- I already sent my sermon file to Lois Lerner. I’m sure she saved it.
But now I’m reconsidering, and I think it would be best to send the sermons to the mayor. In fact, I think I’d send all my sermons to the mayor – as many as I have available. I suspect digging through a few hundred sermon manuscripts would convince any public official that a subpoena might be a bit counterproductive.
And it would do this mayor a lot of good to read some strong gospel sermons.