A group of seven ministers from Florida decided to stand up for religious liberty and went to Houston to see what can be done to protect their brethren. Pastor David Anderson, from the Faith Baptist Church in Sarasota, FL, was on of those who flew to Houston to meet with Democrat Mayor Annise Parker. This issue was personal for Pastor Anderson as he faced a similar attack on his religious freedom when a judge ruled that he could not speak out against abortion from the pulpit. After a two year court battle, he won.
This group of Florida pastors may have been the catalyst for the Mayor of Houston, who is an openly lesbian activist, to withdraw the subpoenas asking for private information from five Houston pastors. The following is a letter Pastor Anderson sent to his congregants about his mission to Houston titled “What Happened in Houston?”:
What Happened in Houston?
The Mayor of Houston, an open LGBT activist, has successfully advanced an aggressive gay rights agenda for five years, all the while being fervently opposed by evangelical pastors in the area. From all indication, there is palpable ill will between her and the pastors opposing her initiatives. After these pastors succeeded in compiling 50,000 signatures on a petition to overturn the new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (which forbids public and private buildings from restricting the use of restrooms on the basis of gender when it comes to transsexuals) the city council disqualified the petition for irregularities.
In response to that disqualification, a group of pastors filed a lawsuit against the city for violating the voting rights of Houston citizens. The mayor responded to the lawsuit with the power of subpoena – demanding that the five pastors prominent in the petition drive surrender personal information relating to their activities during the petition drive, including; sermons, speeches, notes, emails, texts, tweets, and diaries.
It was this use of subpoena that generated my response. I joined a delegation of six other ministers on a mission to Houston. Our hope was to hold a press conference at City Hall, conduct a prayer service on site, and then have a meeting with the Mayor. We left for Houston by faith, with none of those plans confirmed.
Our goal was not to comment on gay rights or the Mayor’s ongoing struggle with these pastors, but to openly and aggressively oppose her use of the power of subpoena to control, interfere, restrict, and intimidate, a pastor’s right to freely exercise his/her faith with the threat of fine and imprisonment. The Texas Constitution actually guarantees freedom of religious communication in stronger and more specific language than does the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
By God’s grace, we had a successful press conference and a beautiful prayer service on the entry plaza of City Hall. Each of us spoke for 2-3 minutes and each of also prayed. All of it was recorded by the CBS Houston affiliate KHOU, Telemundo and NPR. The reporters asked thoughtful follow-up questions. The Mayor’s staff was in the audience, right in front of us. After prayer, we went up stairs to the Mayor’s office to inquire about having a meeting. We were met by the Mayor’s Chief of Staff and invited into the waiting area while he spoke with her. He came out to tell us she had agreed to meet with us if we could come back a few hours later. This was an unprecedented development because her interactions with the ministerial groups and Christian activists groups had turned so unpleasant she had not met with any in a very long time.
We left her office rejoicing that God had answered our prayers. We had no idea to what extent until we came back later for the meeting. She invited us into her personal chambers where we all set around a conference table. It began tense and terse. She was defensive and her staff was ready to protect her should they deem she was being overwhelmed. We took turns sharing our concerns with her. Within a few minutes the tension melted and we had a truly open-hearted and open-minded discussion. It was a respectful dialogue and exchange of ideas. The content of which must remain confidential.
In that hour each of us implored her to withdraw the subpoenas and we each gave a rationale for doing so. She gave us the very strong impression that she would seriously consider our words and get back to us. We thanked her for listening and departed. As we were walking out, most of the team went to the cameras and reporters, but the Chief of Staff called me aside to continue the discussion with his staff. This discussion, too, was informative, open, honest and enlightening – but again confidential. We thanked each other and said our goodbyes.
As we drove off, we marveled together that the mayor of the fourth largest city in America gave us more than an hour of her time, listened intently, seriously pondered our words – even though we represented her “enemy.” She is a powerful and highly placed homosexual activist, but she let down her guard to us and hinted that she may do the politically inconceivable act of admitting she was wrong and reversing her decision. We prayed and thanked God for using us for reasons we do not know, and for purposes we could not foresee.
About 30 minutes later, we got a call from the Chief of Staff telling us that if we would be willing to stand with her at the press conference as she would withdraw the subpoenas. We were flabbergasted. What an answer to prayer! Half of us agreed to do so after a quick discussion and the other half chose not to. I thought it was the best tact for me, and the most reflective of Spirit of Christ, since I was there in a pastoral role, trying to show her His love. I believed my church family would support this decision to set aside my concerns about the homosexual agenda since she would be doing what I (and the others) had asked her to do. It was going to cost her dearly with her LGBT supporters. I had assured her that I was there for one reason only, to stand up for the freedom of speech and free exercise of religion in a godly and Christ-like manner. I first and foremost saw her as a woman in need of Christ – as did our whole delegation.
However, after we met with some local pastors, we concluded it would be best for her to make her announcement on her own. We explained that assessment to her Chief of Staff and he graciously received it, but made no promise that the Mayor would still withdraw the subpoenas without our presence. We prayed for the Lord to move her to do what she knew was right (at least on this issue) and remove this threat to the free exercise of religion.
We were grateful to watch live on TV, early the next day, the Mayor holding a press conference to announce her decision to withdraw the subpoenas. She said that after numerous meetings, but particularly the one she had with seven pastors from out of town, she had come to accept that the subpoenas were inappropriate and that she was withdrawing them! A reporter asked her who the seven pastors were and she read off our names. I immediately sent her and her staff an email thanking her for courageously doing the right thing.
I know it sounds odd for an evangelical Baptist pastor to work with, encourage and thank a LGBT activist, but what she did prevented a terrible and dangerous precedent from being set. We went there to accomplish one immediate purpose (the withdrawal of the subpoenas) and one long-term purpose (be a testimony of Christian character and love). I am not saying that the believers in Houston had not done so previously, but it appeared that their relationship with her had so deteriorated that love was no longer being perceived.
It is hard to put the magnitude of what happened into words. I think it is unprecedented in recent times and certainly as it relates to powerful LGBT activist politicians. I am humbled to have played a small part in this exchange and my prayer is that it is represents only a small part of something much bigger that God is doing in Houston. Those pastors have taken a strong stand, and we hope our contribution proves to be a blessing in their lives and ministries and makes their love more apparent to those they oppose culturally or politically.
I also want to thank each of you who invested money and/or prayers in this endeavor. I want to thank my church family for allowing me the freedom to participate even though there are BIG issues here at Faith requiring my attention. My prayer is that God will bless FBC for its willingness to let me take part in ministry opportunities that have no immediate numerical or financial profit for our local church. I thank God our church family sees a bigger picture than just the here and now, and that its concerns are not restricted to our ministry’s welfare only.
I am also thankful that I knew my church family would want me to follow the dictates of my heart and prompting of the Spirit. I felt no hesitation to be kind and helpful to a woman diametrically opposed to our theological beliefs, my personal political bent, and our church’s position on homosexuality. I knew FBC would want me to. I returned home exhausted, exhilarated, humbled, thankful and inspired.
May God bless you all, and may God work in and through His church in Houston,
See you Sunday
RELATED VIDEO: SNN: Sarasota Pastor reasons with Houston Mayor on Sermon Subpoenas – Herald Tribune