Even though the First Amendment already protects free speech and also prevents the government from establishing a religion, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, stepped into dangerous territory today over both constitutional guarantees. Abbott signed SB24 which “protects” sermons from being subpoenaed. . . and he did so in Grace Community Church in The Woodlands, Texas. How does this move not show disregard for the seperation of church and the secular state?
SB24 stems from 2014 when several Houston area pastors stirred up a bigoted effort that successfully overturned a city ordinance meant to protect various groups of marginalized citizens, including transgender people. Former Houston Mayor, Annise Parker sought to subpoena sermons from those pastors, an effort that she later dropped. While Parker’s attempt was a slipper slope, it begs the question of the content of those sermons.
Supporters of SB24 will argue that it was necessary to protect the free speech of clergy. But, again, we already have the First Amendment. A bill like this will likely be challenged in the courts in due time, but what does this mean for sermons that incite violence, inspire congregants to commit hate crimes, or those that give tacit approval to discriminatory practices in the name of “sincerely held religious beliefs”? One only need to look at the damage evangelical Scott Lively has done, in places like Uganda, to know just how powerful rhetoric, especially the hateful variety, can be when it comes from the pulpit. It’s the “Christian” version of radicalization.
So, what does this new law now mean for anti-gay speech from bully pulpits? What about speech demonizing social justice advocates? Immigrants? Women?
Dan Patrick, the Texas legislature, and Greg Abbott have essentially shielded Christianist pastors from all responsibility for the words they proclaim from the pulpit. I believe in protecting the free speech of even those with whom I disagree. I also believe a vile remark form a pastor will not automatically mean someone listening in the pews will carry out a violent crime. However, there’s a fine line between a preacher speaking his or her mind and using religious speech that could provoke actions that lead to discriminatory or even violent practices.
As as an ordained minister, I believe I am called to deliver a message that is filled with love and compassion for all people. One of the main underpinnings of the Gospel is that it accepts all and loves all. It does not seek to marginalize people. Unfortunately, there are too many congregations where, on any given Sunday, the people will hear a message that denigrates and dehumanizes whole groups in the general population. In fact, Greg Abbott recently called on some these very congregations to assist in promoting one of the mosts xenophobic agendas in the US.
The people of Texas deserve better. And the Christian community deserves better representation than those who would take part in an agenda that offers hate instead of love.
Yesterday I wrote a about Christianism and it’s heavy hand in US politics. Some of my clergy colleagues may not agree with applying this term to fellow Christians. I recognize that there are many Christianities. We come in a variety of flavors, so to speak. But there is a distinct difference when political leaders move to legislate restrictive and discriminatory policy in the name of any religion.
Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, recently acted in a way that bears all the markings of Christianism. Dallas CBS affiliate reported that Robert Morris, Pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, was asked to urge his massive, multi-campus congregation to influence their state representatives to vote for the controversial “bathroom bill.” The Texas Senate has already passed the measure, but Texas House Speaker, Joe Straus, has been opposed to such move, saying it will harm the state’s economy. Religious leaders speak on public matters all the time. So, what is the problem here?
Abbott has been known to post scripture and Christian based content to his Facebook page. But there are numerous Christians, including myself, that do not support legislation that sets apart or reduces any group for any reason, including the LGBTQ community. I am particularly concerned when a politician maneuvers to legislate such discrimination, hide behind religious beliefs and then call on mega church, or any church, pastors to do the dirty work of stirring the emotions of their congregations over a problem that doesn’t exist. This is Christianism, which is just another form of fundamentalism.
I know that many of my fellow clergy are taking note of this and are having meaningful dialogue with their congregations regarding difficult issues, especially when the issues directly involve ostracized people. But we need more. I believe the conversation must expand through relationship building, education, and calling what the likes of Gregg Abbott and Robert Morris are doing for what it is; attempting to define public policy according a narrow “religious” viewpoint. There is nothing to say people of faith cannot act on their faith in the voting booth. But there is a boundary between the secular state and religious ideology for a reason. Keeping that separation in place prevents us from becoming a theocratic state.
*The image below was recently posted on Gregg Abbott’s Facebook page along with the biblical citation for Isaiah 14:27, which is about God’s prophetic promise to defeat Israel’s oppressors. I find this ironic given the recent bill he signed banning “sanctuary cities.”
“Oh good, another writing assignment to limit my creativity”
Honest words from a student today as I handed out an essay assignment to prepare my class for state testing. She speaks the truth.
If you’re from Texas you’ll appreciate this. If you’ve never seen the film, Bernie, with Jack Black and Matthew Mcconaughey then put it on your “must see” list.
A new report from the Dallas Morning News highlights how testing punishes special education students (in many instances guaranteeing failure), while schools are held accountable for circumstances beyond their control. Unconscionable!