By Marty Troyer
Source: Houston Chronicle
Restricting equal rights continues to be the media story embraced as definitive of Houston’s Christian community. Systemically disenfranchised communities such as people of color, women, immigrants, the physically disabled, and people who have been ostracized based on sexuality are all protected by #HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance passed this summer. And yet the some Christians feverishly protest its implementation.
On Tuesday October 14 the Houston city council announced that 5 of my Houston pastoral colleagues have had their speech subpoena’d when it is A). Public and B). about homosexuality, gender identity, our mayor, or #HERO. Read more about this developing story from the Religion News Service.
Fascinating cycle of back and forth actions on both sides. Many conservative pastors in Houston overstepped the separation of church and state when they tried to impose their religious beliefs on the majority population regarding human sexuality. I chose to speak for the inclusion of all people regardless of race, gender, age, sexual or gender identity, etc… These pastors were not speaking for me (and, for the record, I don’t know specifically who they are).
Now, has the city stooped to the behavior of these churches by also overstepping the separation of church and state in asking for the public correspondence of these pastors? No, it appears not. Houston city council is not interested in who these pastors think are going to hell. They are looking for specific information regarding the lawsuit filed by these 5 pastors against the city. In short, they want to know how these pastors used their public platforms to push a political agenda.
But what grieves me far more than either of these breaches is the story about the church that this promotes in Houston: we are against equal rights for all, and emotionally fixated on one issue to the detriment of the breadth and beauty of God’s holistic Gospel.
The church has and continues to engage in the exact kinds of discrimination, otherizing, and patriarchy that we are called to dismantle. In order for the church to love well, we’ll need to move beyond pursuit of our interests and cultivate the courage to dismantle any and all oppressive structures which inhibit relationships. Patriarchy, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, imperialism, and capitalism all function to alienate rather than connect people in community.
Cultural critic bell hooks names these as part of the domination system which sets the few above the many. Her work on the intersections of these oppressive structures (which so often coalesce in religious communities) is instrumental for churches to embrace the truth that Jesus came to “murder hostility (Eph 2:16)” everywhere it’s found, thus “creating a new humanity.”
Tearing down such structures is in no way negative; rather, it points to the life-giving abundance of God redeeming all things. It speaks loud and clear that every person is valued as a worthy member of our community: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, conservative, liberal, Christian, Muslim, child, senior citizen…. everybody. So with that in mind, may #HERO live a long and fruitful life in this amazing city, the nations most diverse!
Friends, please know that the gospel of Jesus reveals the justice of God (Romans 1;16-17). Not hate, not punishment, not symbolic or literal violence, not scapegoating, not misleading people with the red herring about “bathrooms,” not the bully pulpit of making some feel hated so you look good, not hating the sin but loving the sinner.
No, God’s heart for those the church has bruised, battered and beaten is revealed in the infinite love of God on the cross, where instead of retribution God chose peace. I stand with HERO and my fellow citizens because when I bothered to look, that’s exactly where I found God standing.
I stand on the side of the people. I stand with the God of liberation and hope.
And no, I don’t want the Houston city council to read these sermons. But not because of any legal issue (I do take issue with that). Rather, because I fear the false gospel they will encounter within them, that may forever turn them off from the good news that God is restoring all things.
May the story in the church and about the church be forever changed as we continue to “repent and believe the good news that the kingdom of God is among us”!
Marty Troyer is pastor of the Houston Mennonite Church and blogs as The Peace Pastor on the Houston Chronicle website. The views expressed in this post are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.