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Pastor Riggle vs. Houston’s Mayor: hypocrisy and pretentious power of the pulpit

Pastor Riggle and  Houston  Mayor Annise Parker
Pastor Riggle and Houston Mayor Annise Parker
File photos

French and Raven’s (1960) categorization of power explored all realms of organizational leadership, but eluded one concept: the power of the pulpit. The command of pulpit is a referent power in the most coercive fashion; it is tyrannical and intoxicates like cocaine; it’s simply abuse of the pulpit by preachers who dock behind the Praise-the-Living-God attitude to swindle worshippers into a destructive schema.

Just recently, Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church recently wrote an e-mail to the office of the Houston Mayor, asking for Mayor Annise Parker’s resignation “If she keeps promoting same-sex marriage.” Pastor Riggle who commands a fifteen thousand congregation in his church, registered his concerns about Mayor Parker, who is also Houston’s first openly lesbian mayor. He wrote in part, “I was deeply disturbed some months ago when a memo was circulated by an office connected to your office that titled your partner as the first lady of Houston… You should have corrected that since you know that title has been given only to the wife or husband of the mayor in the appropriate gender language.”

Mayor Parker, however, brushed off Pastor Riggle’s accusations and comments as political, and a mere distractions. She stated, “This has to do with whatever their personal animus is to me. I don’t let it distract me. I have a right to talk about the things that are important to this city.”

However, Pastor Riggle had another major issue that is politically crucial to some underlying factors that may have prompted his resentment – the issue of gay marriage, of course. In his letter, he specifically expressed, “At your swearing in, I heard you take your oath of office and swear to uphold the constitution of the State of Texas. To then, just a few weeks later, stand with other mayors and call for action regarding marriage that would violate the very constitution you were swearing to uphold is less than integral.” That is exactly the bone of contention – gay marriage and its incompatibility with some christian ideals.

It may be recalled that in January, Mayor Parker joined dozens of mayors around the country in urging lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage. The group endorsed Freedom to Marry - a national organization promoting equal marriage rights. The group also issued a major statement to nearly 100 mayors across the county who signaled their support for same-sex marriage rights. Mayor Parker serving as Co-Chair was joined by Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro in representing Texas.

Of course, most pastors would detest this push for gay marriage and may also be armed with every political apparatus to antagonize it. For instance, Dave Welch, the director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, confirmed that Riggle’s views were shared by other religious leaders in the area. According to Welch, “The voters spoke very clearly in 2005, adopting our state constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman.” Welch also echoed a similar sentiment as Pastor Riggle, saying “The mayor’s repeated stance against our constitution and the will of the people raises questions about her fitness for office.”

But there is one more issue about Pastor Riggle’s letter besides his concerns over same-sex marriage. Riggle flaunted his referent command over a fifteen thousand congregation as a threat to Mayor Parker and a tool to apparently promote his personal political agenda. Just listen to this acclaimed man of God: “We, the fifteen thousand people of Grace, have always done our best to be supportive of our elected officials and to pray for them on a regular basis. Regretfully, while we will continue to pray for you, we will not support your actions or stand passively by and allow you to redefine what has always been the definition of marriage.” By touting the largeness of his church membership, Pastor Riggle, psychologically, is trying to intimidate Houston’s mayor and indirectly suppress her fundamental rights as a citizen and as mayor of a multi-color city where everybody, including gays, deserve a representation.

There are yet other events surrounding Pastor Riggle’s sanctimonious anti-gay marriage advocacy. Whereas most Christians (including members of Grace Community Church) may disagree with same-sex marriage, it would also be interesting to know that Pastor Riggle’s campaign may not be representing their interests after all. Pastor Riggle’s ties with the Republican Party calls into question his genuineness to issues of devotion and spirituality. For instance, come April, the Harris County Republican Party will be holding its 2012 convention at the Grace Community Church on Gulf Freeway. What this means is that Riggle whose church is a tax-exempt outfit, may be hiding under the pretext of the scriptures, while he capitalizes on a reverent power of his pulpit to work the Republican Party agenda.

But what Pastor Riggle forgot to reference in his campaign against Houston’s top office is that GLBTs are equally devoted Christian; in fact, it is not surprising that Riggle’s Grace Community Church has overwhelming gay couples and families who worship and pay tithes, but are repressively silenced into making open their valued sexual orientation for fear of witchery. Similarly, it may be interesting to know that Mayor Parker who was sworn into office holding her grandmother’s Bible was raised a devoted Christian, and no Pastor has returned her tithes or any of her donations yet because of her sexual orientation.

The Houston community must realize that Pastor Riggle represents a bizarre right wing political ideology an outmoded creed of heartlessness, hypocrisy, and self-absorption. At this age in time, the community as a whole must denounce the bigoted role of Pastors who use the pulpit to preach hatred and hostility, and coax members into such complex political issues that tear them apart rather than bring them together. I am not a politician, but I must make it clear: that a current national campaign for equal marriage rights is a change that must come to Texas, and time will tell.

Again, to marginal members of the Grace Community Church, I say minority communities, including the GLBT and Black communities, have a lot in common -- the right to non-discrimination; it does not make sense that freedoms are denied to couples by not recognizing their same sex relationships. Houston’s first Black Major received overwhelming corporation from the gay and Lesbian community, so Houston’s first lesbian Major deserves similar respect and corporation. One does not have to be a gay or lesbian to heed the ancestral call of working hand-in-hand to overcome the prevalent socio-political system still submersed with antipathy over gender, ethnicity, and sexuality differences - victory therefore, demands a collective input.

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