Thank God for the San Antonio Torch! This online magazine is not only the right format but has also arrived at precisely the right moment for the San Antonio faith community. Two years ago, we were sitting in the same pews, often in the very same churches where many of us had worshipped for most of our lives. While we dutifully read Christ’s prayer for unity on the eve of His crucifixion, it seemed as if Catholics and Protestants didn’t really have very much in common. Of course, we recognized that we were all on the same side, applauding politely whenever someone mentioned the importance of Christians being ecumenical. But that was about it.
Until two years ago. Ever since then, Bible believers have regularly felt compelled to leave the pews and get into the trenches, joining together in a series of political fights where the underlying issue was an intrusive and ultimately corrupt civic culture.
Take the most recent controversies over abortion, for example, touched off in 2013 when State Senator Wendy Davis became a national figure for her one-woman filibuster. While women’s right groups all across the country applauded her pro-choice beliefs, I can still remember vividly who showed up in Austin: Catholic parishes proudly displaying our Lady of Guadalupe banners, urging legislators to remember what the Church has always taught about the sanctity of life. Whether you were Catholic or Protestant was far less important than whether you were wearing a blue or red t-shirt!
For many of us, those rallies confirmed other recent lessons. In the summer and fall of 2013, Mayor Julian Castro, fresh from being re-elected Mayor (though by only 7% of the electorate who had even bothered to vote), announced his support for what became known as the Non-Discrimination Ordinance – or NDO. Hailed by as a path-breaking advancement in human rights by such objective institutions as the San Antonio Express-News, it seemed for a time that no right-thinking person could stand in the way of a Castro machine that was already eying a spot on the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016.
Except that churches which took Biblical teachings seriously were appalled to discover that the NDO was a classic case of legislative over-reach in support of a remarkably sectarian agenda. While the NDO outlawed discrimination against gay, lesbian, or transgender people, its advocates never seemed able to relate the evil of discrimination to the laid-back, multi-ethnic community San Antonio is famous for. With one of the largest homosexual communities in the nation, how was discrimination in San Antonio a problem at all – much less one requiring such an unwieldy and poorly-written statute? If we somehow solve a non-existent problem, would ministers still be free to preach from the pulpit what the Bible taught about sex outside of marriage, gay or straight?
But when the churches finally awoke to this issue, they made an appalling discovery. They had become so used to thinking as separate denominations – fighting their own battles to protect their own turf – that there was no way for them to join together as a faith community whenever vital, cultural issues were on the line. My favorite example was a small, very traditional Protestant church which sent a two-person team to observe City Council deliberations on the NDO: but said nothing whatever until church leaders arrived to request that the Council grant a variance for a new church parking lot! While mega-churches and the Archdiocese took no public position on the NDO, new partnerships sprang up between black and Hispanic churches that strongly opposed it. One of the most significant achievements of this new coalition was that a previously unknown member of the City Council was one of only three to oppose the NDO: Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, now San Antonio’s Mayor!
So what has the faith community learned from this experience?
- Our identification with – and service to – Jesus Christ comes first, trumping every lesser distinction. Catholics and Protestants are Christians, first, last and always.
- We have a duty as Christians in a democratic society to speak out against a corrupt culture that demonizes any who disagree with its perverted orthodoxy. Just as night follows day, the silence of the San Antonio mega-churches on the NDO helped to guarantee that Houston’s gay mayor would seek aggressive action against local ministers. Fortunately, she was opposed by Christian activists who took their temporal and secular responsibilities more seriously!
- Our fight is only part of a larger struggle. Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros of the Copts have been outspoken in calling the world’s attention to the Christian Holocaust now flaring in the Middle East. Every time someone tells me, “Well at least God is still in control,” I remind them that the battle indeed belongs to God: But we must be His courageous warriors here on earth.
God bless you and Happy Easter!