After hearing the news that the city of Houston had ordered several pastors to submit their sermons for legal review, many people had the same reaction as Brian Lee: “My response? So what? Sermons are public proclamation, aren’t they?”
Sermons are indeed proclamations intended for the public, and most pastors would be eager for anyone — including public officials — to hear them. So what is the reason for the current objection?
Mollie Hemingway explains that the true “governing authorities” in America aren’t people, but laws:
It’s absolutely true that faithful Christians should prepare for persecution from government authorities and be willing to testify of their faith in Jesus. But here’s the thing — while Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities, in this country we’re “a government of laws, not of men,” as John Adams put it.
The governing authorities in this case aren’t out-of-control mayors but our Constitution and other laws that protect our God-given religious liberty.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also explains why Christians should push back against these types of demands:
When the government acts, legal precedents are set. By complying with this unjust decree, Christians would be binding future people and institutions, including those who are the most powerless to stand against such things. If the government can scrutinize the preaching of Christian churches on sexual matters in Houston, the same government could do the reverse in, say, Amarillo. It would be just as wrong for the mayor to demand to see sermons from the Episcopal Church calling for LGBT anti-discrimination laws as it is to do this. As citizens, we bear responsibility. This is analogous to the tax collectors and soldiers coming to John and to Jesus asking how they are to function as Christians in the world of Caesar. They were not to use their power to defraud people or to go beyond their delegated authority (Lk. 312-14; 19:8).
It sounds spiritual and pious to say that we are just going to “give up our rights” and “surrender our place at the table.” We should indeed do that. When we are stricken on the cheek, we turn the other one. When someone takes our tunic, we give up our cloak as well (Matt. 5:40-41). That’s quite different though from those who have been given police authority ignoring assaults; such is injustice decried by Scripture. And it’s quite different from a soldier forcibly collecting cloaks because “you ought to be giving those up anyway.”