Houston, We Have a Problem

Houston, We Have a Problem


From my happy home safely north of the forty-ninth parallel, I regularly receive news from my American brothers and sisters down south, and most of it convinces me that I have no real understanding of Americans. I do know, however, that love of liberty and the freedom to believe, speak, and live according to one’s conscience apart from the tyranny of government is a very precious part of the American vision and approach to life. This love of liberty is enshrined in the concept of constitutional rights, and this makes for endless debate when people feel their rights are being infringed and threatened by other people seeking what they believe are their rights. One such debate seems to be going on presently in Houston, Texas.

The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors submit any sermons or pastoral messages to their flocks concerning homosexuality, gender identity, or their mayor, Ms. Annise Parker, who is that city’s first openly-lesbian mayor. One such pastor is Steve Riggle, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Houston, who was ordered to hand over all speeches and sermons relating to the mayor and the ongoing gender debate, as well as “all communications” with the members of his congregation. Failure to obey these subpoenas is no light matter, and could result in the pastors being held in contempt of court. The move is the latest development in the city’s ongoing struggle to enforce its non-discrimination law passed in June—a law which would allow, for example, men to use women’s washrooms and women to use the men’s. One imagines that this law was drawn up to protect those of the LGBT community who feared that their rights were being threatened by discrimination. Battle lines are being drawn. Petitions are being filed (and thrown out), and a very public debate continues.

As the good crew of Apollo XIII once said, “Houston, we have a problem”, and here the problem is not confined to Houston. Knowing how much Americans value freedom, this latest move to limit liberty even to the point of censoring the sermons and pastoral communication between clergy and their flocks is very revealing. And what is reveals is that the war against traditional Christian faith is heating up. Telling clergy what they can and cannot preach is unprecedented—at least in the United States. Some decades back it was the usual practice of the government of the U.S.S.R., who were at least up front about their hostility to religious faith and their determination to stamp it out. That Soviet government also demanded that clergy toe the government line in their public utterances. Sermons were okay as long as they were acceptable to the state and did not rock the secular boat. That is, the clergy were effectively gagged, and were only permitted to operate if they doubled not just as religious functionaries, but also as organs of the state. The cultural war against traditional Christian values in the west has now reached the stage where our adversaries feel confident enough to attempt a similar imposition on the freedom of the clergy—at least in Houston.

I wish my Texan brothers and sisters well in their attempts to resist such an imposition. But regardless of whether they win or lose this fight, the handwriting is on the wall. And the handwriting, though not necessarily unwelcome, is one that we North American Christians sometimes forget. And its message is this: we belong not to this age (which lies in the power of the Evil One), but to the Kingdom of God. Our true citizenship is heavenly, not earthly (Phil. 3:20), for the form of this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31), whether it is the world of Houston, or the rest of America, or anywhere else. In this age, at the end of the day the World is still the World (just as Flesh and the Devil is still the Flesh and the Devil), and whether or not that World wraps itself in the Stars and Stripes or the Canadian Maple Leaf or any other flag cannot change this fundamental fact. Our earthly patriotisms are thus not wrong, but they can never claim our final loyalty. We must struggle to preserve freedom and resist unrighteousness, but this should not make us imagine that such earthly battles are ultimate. And we must also not think that we will always win these battles, for we have been warned that Antichrist is coming, with all the deception of wickedness for those who do not receive the love of the truth (2 Thess. 2:10), and that is at least one cultural battle that we will lose. Until then, Houston may have a problem. But like all problems, it will eventually be solved by the coming of the Kingdom of God. As we speak the truth in this age, let us keep our eyes fixed on that Kingdom.


Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

About author

Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence was formerly an Anglican priest, graduating from Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada in 1979 before serving Anglican parishes in central Canada. He converted to Orthodoxy in 1985 and spent two years at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. After ordination he traveled to Surrey, B.C. to begin a new mission under the O.C.A., St. Herman of Alaska Church.

The Church has grown from its original twelve members, and now owns a building in Langley, B.C., where they worship each Sunday. The community has planted a number of ‘daughter churches’, including parishes in Victoria, Comox and Vancouver.

Fr. Lawrence has written a number of books, published by Conciliar Press, including the Bible Study Companion Series, with verse-by-verse commentaries on the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, the Early Epistles, the Prison Epistles, the Pastoral Epistles, the Catholic Epistles, and the Book of Revelation, as well as a volume about how to read the Old Testament , entitled The Christian Old Testament. He has also written a commentary on the Divine Liturgy, entitled, Let Us Attend: A Journey through the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. SVS Press has published his book on Feminism and Tradition, examining such topics as the ordination of women and deaconesses. He has also written a synaxarion (lives of Saints), published by Light and Life, entitled A Daily Calendar of Saints, recently updated and revised and available through his blog. He has also written a series of Akathists, published by Alexander Press, including Akathist to Jesus, Light to Those in Darkness, Akathist to the Most-Holy Theotokos, Daughter of Zion, A New Akathist to St. Herman of Alaska, Akathist: Glory to the God who Works Wonders (a rehearsal of the works of God from Genesis to Revelation). His articles have appeared in the Canadian Orthodox Messenger (the official diocesan publication of the Archdiocese of Canada), as well as in the Orthodox Church (the official publication of the O.C.A.), in The Handmaiden and AGAIN magazine (from Conciliar Press).

Fr. Lawrence has a podcast each weekday on Ancient Faith Radio, the Coffee Cup Commentaries. He has given a number of parish retreats in the U.S. and Canada, as well as being a guest-lecturer yearly at the local Regent College, Vancouver. He can also be found on his personal blog, Straight from the Heart.

Fr. Lawrence lives in Surrey with his wife, Donna. They have two daughters, and three grandchildren.