The Challenge: The Threatened Church

Rebecca Hagelin

Editor's note: this piece was coauthored by Hagelin's daughter, Kristin Carey.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

Those famous words from our favorite modern president, Ronald Reagan, never rang more true than when the freedoms of religion and of speech were recently threatened for pastors in Houston, Texas.

The story is now infamous: Mayor Annise Parker issued subpoenas to five Houston pastors as part of an oppressive effort to advance her own agenda. The subpoenas demanded that the pastors turn over sermons, notes, emails, text messages and all forms of private church communication, or be held in contempt of court. The mayor’s actions were in clear violation of the First Amendment - but it took an outcry from across the nation to convince Mayor Parker to rescind the subpoenas.

The fact that a mayor would issue the subpoenas at all is evidence of a major shift taking place in our government’s attitude toward the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. The subpoenas were an intimidation technique, intended to silence pastors who spoke out against the ordinance (one major objection to the ordinance is that it makes it illegal for public establishments to have "men only" and "women only" restrooms.)

Thankfully, those fearless five pastors in Houston did not allow oppressive measures to force them into silence. Instead, they banded together with the support of many other churches around the nation and used their time in the public eye to fight for freedom and to share the message of the Gospel.

Magda Hermida, founder of Magda Hermida Ministries and Khanh Huynh, senior pastor of the Vietnamese Baptist Church, who both immigrated to the United States years ago in search of freedom, shared their stories when Christians gathered in Houston on November 2 for a simulcast called,"I StandSunday" in response to Mayor Parker’s attack.

We have included some of their statements below, edited for clarity.

Magda Hermida shared:

“My husband and I left Castro Communist Cuba to seek freedom in the United States. Thank God we found it here. And we have been blessed by it for almost 50 years. We used to live in Cuba through a police state in which our possessions, our speech, our faith were monitored closely by the government with the fear of punishment if we said something or did something those in power didn’t like. We never thought we would see what is happening now in this country, here, in Houston and in our beloved America. But it is here. It is now…. Hear me today, people. We cannot allow this now or ever.”

And Pastor Khanh Huynh said:

“I’m alive in the fierce nation of the Earth because of God’s immeasurable grace. Over 2 million Vietnamese boat people risked our lives to escape from the oppression and violence of the communists of Vietnam. 10,000 died and those of us who made it to the United States are grateful. We have paid with our lives, braved 20 foot waves, watched people die, to find our freedom here in the United States of America. The freedom of speech and freedom of religion were among the first to be lost in Vietnam. And now, I am facing the same marching boot of tyranny right here where I live….. My vow to God was, 'God would you let me live? After I go through this ordeal, I will spend the rest of my life telling people about your love and your grace.' And I enjoyed that in the first 31 years here in the United States. But right now, that freedom has been threatened. This cannot happen. Mayor Parker, is so committed to her own agenda, she’s willing to trample on our right to vote, speak and practice our faith freely.”

The Hope: Revival in the Church

The lineup of speakers at "I Stand Sunday" also included Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In his speech, he focused on what the reaction of the American church should be in difficult and discouraging times. He said:

“It is time for the church of America to look at our own sin, to repent of our own apathy. If we are going to be heard by a world that needs Jesus Christ desperately, then they need to see people of God that are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, committed to the vibrancy of the local church. And that we must leave our lukewarm status, repent of our status, and come by faith and trust to Christ and him alone.

“It is time for us to wake up from our slumber. It is time for us to understand that our greatest problem is not in the White House, nor is it in the state house, but it is in the church house of Jesus Christ… The greatest need in America is for the church to be revived. And the greatest need in America is for us to see the next Great Spiritual Awakening in this land. That is our greatest need.

“And while we might wish that certain things would be different politically or legally, and we need to give our all to doing what we can about it, we need to understand that regardless of the laws or the ordinances that may be made that appear to stop us, I notify Houston and every city in this country and around the world: the Kingdom of God is unstoppable.

“…this might be a time when we would say in the church, ‘Wow, we better be careful. This is coming to our town, this is coming to our city.’ It may. But the question is, what will we do?”

He then led the auditorium full of people down on their knees in a fervent, powerful prayer. May it become the prayer of all Christians so that we can continue to reach hurting people for Christ through a powerful faith, freely lived and words of truth, freely spoken:

“We turn from our lukewarm status, we turn from being asleep. We turn from appearing apathetic and at times very apathetic. We turn from being a people that pronounce hopelessness. Because, Lord, none of that is right, it is all sin… And we ask, Lord that we will run to you, that we will return to you with all of our heart. And that we will do everything that we can to walk with Jesus, to be empowered with the Spirit of Jesus, to have churches that are alive in Christ, filled with the power of God and the glory of God. And Lord, that our heartbeat would not be simply to see our culture changed but to see millions and millions of lives changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because that is our hope.

“We want to be a people full of hope. While we must tell the truth, may we tell it with love and may we tell it with a great overflowing confidence and hope that Jesus is Lord and the Kingdom of God is unstoppable.”

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