By: Pastor Nathan Lino
Lead Pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church
I was stunned to wake up one 2014 day in Houston, Texas, to discover that our mayor had subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors. These pastors were leading voices in a formidable legal effort to block her so-called Houston “Equal Rights” Ordinance that would allow transgender people access to any locker room, shower facility, restroom, or similar space of their choosing. An ensuing decision by the Supreme Court of Texas set the stage for a citywide vote on the ordinance.
It was a high profile issue in our city and every pastor had a decision to make: Was this a time to speak or a time to be silent?
I believe Christ's church is His voice to all of society, not just those inside our churches. Therefore, as a pastor, I am called by God not only to shepherd my church, but also my city. As Christ's shepherds, silence at the wrong time on our part can leave our city void of God’s voice and send the message to city residents that God has nothing to say on the matter of what a society should value and prioritize.
I believe that as a minister of the Gospel, I should certainly speak up about issues that are clearly Gospel matters. For example, the issues of life and marriage are clearly Gospel matters, as life is God's purpose for the Gospel, and marriage is God's picture of the Gospel. Likewise, religious liberty is clearly a Gospel issue; it is the freedom for the Gospel to be proclaimed and lived openly in the public square.
There was no doubt the situation in Houston was a religious freedom issue. First, private business owners would be denied the right to operate according to their personal conscience. A Christian business owner would be forced by the government to allow transgender people to determine which of the business owner's locker rooms or restrooms the transgender person would use. This forced citizens to violate their consciences by allowing men to use the same locker rooms and restrooms as our women and girls. Even beyond that, the mayor was persecuting pastors and violating their right to free speech in an effort to get this ordinance passed.
Christ instructed us to render to Caesar what is Caesar's, but to God what is God's; and certainly our consciences fall into the latter category. I felt compelled to speak out on the matter.
So, I began to publicly address the issue from the platforms that God has provided. Not only did I address this issue from the pulpit, carving out a short segment in our Sunday morning services to help my people see how this was a Gospel matter and urging them to join a citywide effort to “vote no on Prop 1,” but I also blogged about the situation and posted the link to our church's social media accounts for our members to share with others. On top of that, I attended a large press conference of Houston pastors, in which a few trusted pastors of our city were pre-selected to explain why believers and our city should oppose the ordinance.
By Christ's grace, the ordinance was soundly defeated.
If God has called us, as pastors, to bring the truth of the Gospel to our surrounding communities, how can we then stay silent on Gospel issues happening in our cities, states, and our country?
The answer that I and many other pastors who took a stand in Houston would give is: We can’t.
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