Well, not really.
Some of you may have read about the city of Houston issuing subpoenas to a group of pastors seeking all sermons, text messages, conversations, and the like regarding the city's non-discrimiation ordinance and its mayor. Cue a firestorm of commentary.
Some have proposed "rendering to Caesar the things which are Caesar's."
Others staunchly say the city has gone too far, and we must stand for religious freedom.
I'm not exactly sure either "side" quite gets it.
The American citizen in me wants to take a "stand" for religious freedom and ask my congregation to join in on November 2nd, but I ask myself, "Is this the way of Jesus? Is this how the Church initially dealt with such matters?"
The Christian in me ponders such questions deeply, and I am not exactly sure quoting Jesus' "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and the things to God the things are God's" is the appropriate response. The reason I have for this would fill another full blog post, so I won't jump into that here. Perhaps more appropriate would be Jesus' teaching to His disciples as He prepares them for what is in store for them as they proclaim the Gospel:
‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils;
and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before
governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the
good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring
you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you
are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not
you who speak, but the Holy Spirit." (Mark 13:9-11)
Implied in Jesus' words is persecution. You will be arrested (for that's what happens before they bring you to trial). You will be jailed (that's what happens before they bring you to trial). The authorities will not agree with what you are proclaiming (that's why most were arrested). Use such things as an opportunity (not to demand religious freedom) to proclaim the Gospel. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say! Testify (bring your testimony) before them!
Paul honed this to perfection throughout the book of Acts. He was arrested numerous times, and every time he proclaimed the Gospel. To the jailers. To fellow prisoners. To the authorities. To the governors. Mind you, he had broken the laws of the Roman Empire. He practiced a religion which was not on the authorized list. Confessing Jesus as Lord was undermining Caesar's authority as lord. Paul could (and was) charged for sedition. Paul never (that I can remember) begged for Christianity to be accepted. Instead, he longed to preach the news of Jesus so that hearts may be changed.
He was martyred.
So were a whole lot of others. Which begs the question: how did they handle it?
They did not renounce their faith. They did not file lawsuits trying to change the law. They stood firm in their faith. They sang songs of praise and worship. They prayed that their captors may be forgiven. They faced death--oftentimes singing praises at those moments--because they had a sure and certain hope of what was to come. "Go ahead," their actions proclaimed, "take my freedom; take my income; take my possessions; take my life, for I know Who really is in charge."
There was no rendering to Caesar. There was complete rendering to God.
I think this same pattern was picked up during the Civil Right's Movement in our nation not too many decades ago. I mean, it was within black churches that plans were laid, boycotts were organized, sit ins were planned, marches were put together; petitions were brought forward. The ruling authorities were not happy with such measures, and they tried to put a stop to all of the movement to overthrow Jim Crow. Arrests were made. People were imprisoned. And they stood on their faith. They did not kowtow. They did not stop organizing or working for the betterment of society. They faced the authorities and proclaimed, "Thus sayeth the Lord!" They were willing to face persecution and use it as an opportunity to proclaim their faith--a faith which led them to take a particular political position.
Just as I vehemently oppose Jim Crow (after the fact), I vehemently disagree with the city's actions to subpoena sermons. But I also disagree with the fallout and commentary put forth by each side.
Indeed, it would be easy to simply hand over the sermons. It would be equally easy to make a case for religious freedom. It would be much harder to do both.
If the law of the land is unjust, break it. Do not hand over your sermons. Be prepared to face the consequences. Don't file a lawsuit using power to fight power. Become powerless. Be prepared to be brought before governors and the ruling authorities so that you may have an opportunity to testify.
Then, show where your true allegiance lies. Proclaim the Gospel. Share what God has done. Go through the sum and substance of why Jesus had to die for the world and how a Christian seeks to follow God's ways even though those ways clash with the prevailing culture. Show how God's incredible action through Jesus is based in love, and that no condemnation is being shown, but that one is seeking the good of the city because following God's will would be good for all.
I just don't see such things happening in Houston. And maybe, if I weren't so insulated sitting in rural Texas, things would be different. Maybe I would be jumping on either one of those two prevalent bandwagons. And if I were subpoenaed, maybe I'd be wanting people to stand for religious freedom as well.
But maybe not. Maybe I would be looking at this as an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. For that is what any Christian, I believe, should long for--to proclaim as clearly and as unashamedly as possible what God has done through Jesus.