On Sunday, August 28, Houston pastor Ed Young stood up in the “gates” of his city and alerted its people to the urgency for dealing positively with issues he believes are making the city increasingly a dangerous place.
Young’s sermon was also a strong rebuke of leftism and progressivism and the politicians who promote and apply such philosophies. The establishments — especially media — went crazy.
However, other pastors supported Young. Though it does not represent all ministers in the vast Houston community, the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC) is broadly representative, as shown through its motto: “Pastors of Every Color, Every Corner.” The organization released a statement through its director, David Welch, which read, in part: “The patently ignorant response reported in some of the ‘mainstream media’ about Dr. Young’s sermon … cannot and will not be ignored by the hundreds of pastors in greater Houston … Dr. Young simply exercised a role that dates back to the earliest prophets, bringing God’s truths to the leaders and issues of the day, a role and right absolutely defined in the U.S. Constitution."
The pastors declared their determination to “never yield the freedom of the pulpits to proclaim love and justice based on the Holy Scriptures even while hostile forces complain that those principles are ‘political.’” The HAPC statement went on to say that “any threat against Dr. Young’s constitutional rights to speak and preach freely constitute a threat to every pulpit."
The “gates” of ancient cities were established at crucial target points within the walls to prevent an assault from outside. The gate was a place for warriors, but also for civic leaders and those concerned about spiritual issues. Wise individuals sat at the gates and settled disputes or provided clarity and understanding. In that sense, today, civic leaders sit in a city’s “gates,” but so do the spiritual leaders. When the Elders in the Gates neglect their duty, chaos sweeps in and rips away joy and security as described in Lamentations 5:14: The elders no longer sit in the city gates; the young men no longer dance and sing.
I was a young man, a college student, and then a journalist in Birmingham during the civil rights crusade there. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” is now a classic. Though he did not use the terminology, Dr. King was summoning white pastors to take their places in the city’s “gates.” Had they done so much of the pain suffered in Birmingham would have been averted.
A few years later in the White House Oval Office, I would have a stinging memory of the worst of that pain. Chris McNair had been invited to meet the president as part of a group working on race relations, appointed by President Nixon. As I looked in Chris’s face and watched him shake hands with the president of the United States, I remembered that he was the father of one of four little girls killed in the bombing of an African American Birmingham church while she was in Sunday School.
If only the elders had taken their places in Birmingham’s gates in that era! Now, chaos is assaulting the gates of cities everywhere because “the elders have left the gates.” Pastors are needed in the “gates” more than ever because most of the burning issues of our times deal with the concerns they seek to address: definition of good and evil, morality, sin and righteousness, justice, sexuality, marriage and family, free speech, the content of education and the role of parents in their children’s schooling, to name a few.
All of these are within the purview of the pulpit. And that includes Ed Young’s.
Wallace B. Henley is a former pastor, daily newspaper editor, White House and Congressional aide. He served 18 years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Henley is author or co-author of more than 25 books, including God and Churchill, co-authored with Sir Winston Churchill's great grandson, Jonathan Sandys. Henley's latest book is Who will rule the coming 'gods'? The looming spiritual crisis of artificial intelligence.