16 October 2014

Houston Subpoenas Continued....

Today I specifically listened to anything related to the Houston Pastors Subpoena story and I found the Christian media to be guilty of all the sensationalism and shallow sound-byte reporting they accuse the mainstream media of. That's nothing new.
No one will give the full story.
The city of Houston passed the ordinance regarding discrimination against cross-dressers etc...
I'm not disputing the fact that this is a terrible law. That's really not the issue here.
The city has a provision that allows for a challenge initiative. You have to put together a petition and if you get enough signatures you can challenge the law and overturn it.
There was a movement to do this, but the city rejected the petition. For whatever reason, I don't know the specifics, they rejected the petition and said the challengers didn't get enough signatures.
This is a common dispute. Third party candidates and states that allow grass-roots Propositions deal with this all the time. There's certain criteria surrounding the signatures and consequently you end up with people signing who weren't allowed to sign. Signatures end up getting tossed out. The people weren't registered, lived in the wrong district etc...
When the city rejected the petition, this pastor's group filed a lawsuit against the city.
They put the city on the defensive. The city has to prove why they rejected the petitions. These court battles get ugly and it's not always clear who is right. Nebulous laws can make trouble. They can be interpreted differently by different people and in this case by different judges and juries. We deal with this in the Constitution and certainly with homeschool laws!
If the city can prove that there were other irregularities and improper activities surrounding these petitions and the collection of signatures, it helps their case.
The lawsuit is over the petitions. This means it's about signatures, who signed and how the petitions were put together.
Thus, the city is interested in finding out if the churches improperly used tax-exempt (non-political) facilities to promote the petitions etc...
They wouldn't be doing this if they weren't being sued. The pastors have brought this on themselves.
It's not persecution. When you file a lawsuit against someone and they try and defend themselves, you can't cry persecution.
Thus, the city wants all pertinent information. If a pastor stood up in the pulpit and promoted the petition and then all the church members signed it, that might be a problem on several levels.
Churches can politicize all they want... but not remain tax exempt. If they're political lobbying organizations they're not allowed to raise money tax free.
No one is forcing them to incorporate as a non-profit 501c.
If you want to Caesar's benefits then you have to play by Caesar's rules. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
This doesn't mean the city is right in pursuing the sermons and note, but I can at least understand where they are coming from.
Lutheran Public Radio's Issues Etc... spent the most time on it and the programme started out well. I appreciated the sobriety and the general tone. The guest (another Houston area pastor) explained the situation but didn't put it together and then they strayed off topic and spent the majority of the time discussing God's law in general and how it applies to society. They failed to provide the larger context.
The Family Life Network completely misreported and misrepresented the story. This is more or less the norm with them. Their news department is completely incompetent. I don't think they are deliberately deceptive, just complete unqualified and unfamiliar with basic issues. Anyone listening today would be under the impression that the city just wantonly went after these pastors simply because they didn't like them and wants to persecute them.
Albert Mohler probably did the best job in covering the story in terms of just the objective facts. However, he also failed to connect the subpoenas to the issue of the petitions and thus in the end also misrepresented the true nature of the dispute. And as usual his commentary was completely flawed and missed the point. His Christo-American perspective does not represent Biblical teaching.
No one of course ever questioned the propriety of pastors suing the city government. From my perspective that's the more important Christian issue here. Then we can discuss this perverse law and how we might respond to it. I don't really care about the legalities other than the fact that it's an interesting example in the absolute failure of the Christian media.
I will continue to watch. I'm sure Kevin Swanson, Janet Mefferd and others will also chime in... and I'm pretty sure they'll completely misrepresent the situation.
The city of Houston is way out of line, only exceeded by the pastors who sued the city.
But they all pale in comparison to the egregious state of Christian media and their harmful and misleading reporting and commentary. They almost always get the facts wrong, mislead their audience and then provide commentary built on bad foundations. The coverage both misinterprets the events and then combines the flawed interpretations with bad theological assumptions.

They are just as bad, if not worse than the mainstream media. They of all people should know better.


  1. It was the topic on BreakPoint today. They did a fairly good job explaining the events leading up to this but then jumped from the filing of the lawsuit by the pastors to...the subpoenas.

    But you have to explain why. Why would they subpoena? BP (Metaxas I think) mentioned irregularities but didn't relate it to the issue of the subpoenas.

    He didn't help his audience to understand, it's the city that's being threatened.

    The city is having to prove why they are questioning the signatures.

    Again, I'm not saying Houston is right in any of it, but I'm riding this because this mildly and sometimes major misreporting is typical of Christian media.

    Not that anyone cares. Not that nuance will whip people up. It's much more effective to cry persecution and stir the pot and maybe some in the audience will get upset enough to get their checkbooks out.

    There are mild forms of persecution in this country but they totally miss it. If we're faithful we suffer (a bit) from the Establishment. These people are part of the Establishment and battling for control of it, so it's no great surprise that they miss it.

  2. Over the past few weeks I've listened to and read countless interpretations of these events. Some coverage is better than others but most miss the point.
    Breakpoint seemed to deviate into some kind of weird patriotic call to action. I don't think they realize that they're saying our religious freedom, our freedom as Christians is somehow established by violence. They were invoking the American Revolution. I'm sorry but my Christian faith and practice did not depend on a bunch of colonial rebels who established an Enlightenment state.
    Mollie Hemingway completely missed the point. Like many others she strayed into talk of persecution. People filing political lawsuits while collecting money tax-free are hardly being persecuted. Then she went off on a tangent about the War on Advent. The War on Christmas is bad enough, but even worse...the War on Advent.
    I think I'll just stick with the Scripture. The Scripture/Reason/Tradition model doesn't work. Fallen reason ends up trumping them all.
    Kevin Swanson managed to spend thirty minutes on the topic without ever actually discussing it. He just used it as a springboard to launch into his normal diatribe about Nazis taking over etc...
    I'm sorry to admit it but Mefferd's show actually had the best coverage. It wasn't because of her. She was struggling with the issue, but the ADF representative she had the show did a pretty good job breaking down all the info about the petition etc... I don't think all of his info was correct though.
    In the end, it must be admitted the mayor of Houston and the city government are a bad lot. That said, I cannot find a single Evangelical who understands what a lawsuit is and how filing one is an attack, a means of intimidation. When the other side fights back, they shouldn't be surprised.