Culture warrior to Houston clergy: Be like MLK Jr. - unite, go to jail, fight in court

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
Joni B. Hannigan and additional sources

HOUSTON (Christian Examiner)— Richard Land, a major figure in American life who spent nearly a quarter of a century on the front lines of the culture wars, in his "wildest imagination" says he never thought same-sex marriage would bring government intrusion into Houston pulpits.

"Maybe in San Francisco, or Los Angeles—but not Houston, he said. "Where did these people go to law school, the university of Bejing?"

Five pastors were issued subpoenas by the City of Houston last month directing them to submit sermons and other communication related to the collection of citizen petitions protesting a controversial new non-discrimination ordinance promoted as protecting transgender rights.

Dr. Richard Land | Christian Post

A native Houstonian, Land, who now heads Southern Evangelical Seminary, outside of Charlotte, N.C., told Christian Examiner a move to subpoena sermons or speeches of Houston pastors caught him by surprise.

"I had been predicting this would happen in the wake of the same sex marriage rulings," Land said, "but I never thought in my wildest imagination it would happen in Houston."

Land said news that attorneys issued revised subpoenas asking for pastors "speeches" instead of "sermons" is a "distinction without a difference."

"This is as egregious a trampling of the First Amendment as I've seen in my lifetime by any American government official," Land said. "I think the pastors of America need to show solidarity."

As the father of two daughters, Land said the precipitating cause of the bill is "outrageous." That is the ordinance which initially called for transgendered individuals to be allowed to use any male or female restroom facility. As a compromise that provision since has been shelved, however, the ordinance does direct those who believe they have been "discriminated against"—not allowed to use the gender specific restroom of choice— to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission for investigation.

"I find it utterly unacceptable that males can self-identify as females in order to go into a woman's bathroom," he said.

Matrimony is not the heart of the issue of same-sex marriage, Land said, but the affirmation of same-sex lifestyles.

"This has never been about fair play, it's about having lifestyles not just tolerated, but affirmed and accepted," Land said. "Anyone who disagrees with that lifestyle is marginalized as a Klansman."

Land suggested in the case of the pastors, they should heed the example of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King who sat in the Birmingham jail becuase he refused to obey an unjust law. 

"If we are all willing to go to jail, none of us will have to," Land said. "We need massive civil disobedience and aggressive court action. We need to stand together and say I will see you in court with my First Amendment attorneys."

Even as a 16-year-old Houston boy Land remembers reading MLK's words from that Birmingham jail—that the church in the first century was a thermostat not a thermometer.

"We need to be a thermostat in society, setting the thermal temperature, not merely reflecting it," he said.


A coalition of pastors and other supporters from St. Louis and San Diego to Detroit and Minneapolis met in downtown Houston Tuesday at a press conference with others from across the nation, according to

Williams Owen, representing the Coalition of African-American Pastors, said in the report the pastors will not be silenced.

"Stand up to the people that think they can silence us," Owen said, in the broadcast. "They think they have won, but they have not won."

Mayor Annise Parker, the city's first openly lesbian government official, said the city is not seeking the pastor's sermons, but information from the five subpoenaed on speeches and presentations related to the petition drive related to the Human Rights Ordinance.

The pastors and a leader subpoenaed are Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church; Dave Welch, president of the Houston Area Pastor's Council; Hernan Castano and Magda Hermida of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Khan Huynh, pastor of a Vietnamese congregation.

News reports have confirmed that over 1,000 Bibles have been sent to the mayor's office in protest.

The week of protests follows last Sunday's sermon by Houston-area pastor Randy White, who kept a vow he made in an earlier blog to preach on "pulpit freedom."

White, pastor of First Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, said in an article, "Houston's 'never'  pastor vows not a 'jot or a tittle,'—that he would "never" surrender his sermons.

"Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here," White preached. 


White told Christian Examiner he was greatly influenced to pen his blog, "Attention Mayor Parker: Never, Never, Never," and to change his regular sermon, after reading an article on the Houston issue by FOX News reporter Todd Starnes.

Starnes is speaking at First Baptist Church in Katy, Sunday, Nov. 2 at 10:45 a.m., and later will join Tony Perkins and others at "I Stand Sunday" a rally in support of the "Houston Five" at Grace Church in Houston.

"No national journalist has done a more thorough job of presenting the alarming rise of our government's animosity toward the Christian faith than Todd Starnes. Todd's work has consistently brought awareness and provoked action in both the pulpit and the pew," White said. "His informative article on the Houston subpoena was the impetus that caused me to recently change my scheduled sermon and preach a call to action and awareness about pulpit freedom issues."

White recommended Starnes' new book, God Less America. "We ignore the facts at our own peril," he said.

READ MORE about Houston pastor issue:

Houston's 'never' pastor vows 'not a jot or a tittle'"

Cruz decries 'assault against religious liberty'

Developing: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz pledges to defend religious liberty of Houston pastors

Texas AG to Houston city attorney: Don't mess with Texans' religious liberty

Revised subpoena to Houston pastors 'solves nothing' ADF says; FRC calls it a 'head-fake'

Houston-area pastor says 'never' to Mayor Annise Parker's demand for sermons & notes