Stand and Be Counted

By Jerry Pierce | July 01, 2014

Steve Bransonhad just returned from a mission trip to Costa Rica in May 2013 and was planning on a quiet summer of bike rides, adjunct seminary teaching and his regular preaching duties
as pastor of Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio.

Then God threw a curveball.

“Little did I know that my whole world was going to turn upside down—big time,” recalled Branson, who on May 22 received the 2014 Jonas Clark Award for his valor as a citizen pastor on issues affecting his city and his church members last year.

The award, presented by the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, is named for a valiant Revolutionary War-era pastor whose small militia fired the colonies’ first shots of
the war, in self-defense, against 800 British troops.

Branson, whose church draws 500-600 people on Sunday mornings, had met with several area pastors about a proposed city ordinance that would create new civil rights protections for
homosexuals and transgender people, while creating potential problems for Christian businesses and other like-minded citizens.

The only threat to Branson’s peaceful summer at that point was an Internal Revenue Service audit of the church’s pregnancy resource center, which, with an annual budget of $275,000, was flagged for allegedly reporting a $119,000 travel expense. The audit cleared the ministry quickly, but not without Branson’s sensitivities being heightened.

In preaching the next Sunday, he used the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance as an example of how the culture is increasingly hostile to the biblical worldview. The church’s services are streamed online but not largely followed, and in a turn of events still mysterious to Branson, a local television reporter caught wind of his sermon. Soon, he was on camera and on record against the ordinance.

Over several weeks, a veiled issue came into full view and the story had gone national, with Branson doing more than 200 radio and television interviews.

Throughout the summer-long battle over the ordinance, Branson and other pastors stepped up and spoke out, receiving death threats and insults. Branson was labeled “the anti-gay pastor of San Antonio,” even though he said he never spoke against homosexuals but instead focused on the issues and on biblical truth.

Battle on Another Front
By September, the San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance had passed. But opponents, led by men such as Branson and Charles Flowers, a prominent African American pastor who first alerted Branson to the issue, were able to get council members to remove an explicit allowance for transgender people to use public restrooms according to their perceived gender identity.

But a new challenge arose when Air Force Master Sgt. Phillip Monk, a Village Parkway church member, approached Branson after Sunday services and announced that he had been removed from his post at Lackland Air Force Base and reassigned two months earlier than expected because of his biblical views on same-sex marriage.

Monk’s commanding o€fficer, an open lesbian who suspected Monk’s Christian devotion, pressed him to offer his opinion on same-sex marriage. Reluctantly, Monk shared his view and was rebuked, stripped of his duties as first sergeant of the 326th Training Squadron and left to think his military career was ruined.

Branson said Monk realized he wouldn’t be able to look his two teenage sons in the eyes if he didn’t fight for the truth—consequences aside. A third son had died of juvenile diabetes, prompting Monk to tell Branson: “When you’ve lost a son, nothing else can hurt you that bad.”

The fight was on, with help from attorney Michael Berry of the Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute.

“We both saw God’s providence at work,” Branson said of his experience with Monk.

Again, Branson was inundated with media requests, speaking about the case on TV shows such as Fox & Friends and on numerous radio programs. After months of struggle, Monk was exonerated. In March, the Air Force presented the Meritorious Service Medal to Monk—the closest the military will come to apologizing for Monk’s ordeal—and a well-deserved recognition for his outstanding service, Branson said. Next January, Monk will retire with full honors.

As the military culture adapts to the larger culture’s a€ffirmation of immorality, Branson is “pastoring long distance” several other military members going through circumstances similar to Monk’s. He noted that his fight is not over in the military or in San Antonio, due to upcoming city elections.

Through a year of unfathomable events that seemingly began with a simple sermon illustration, Branson said God’s provision was timely and perfect.

“God always sent the right person at the right time to help me with what I was doing,” he said, adding that seminary doesn’t prepare pastors for media interviews or public policy debates.

But Christians are called to be salt and light, strong and courageous in the same vein as the biblical Joshua, Branson said.

When people ask him where he got the courage for his recent battles, he laughs.

“I was just doing my job. When it comes down to it, speaking up in the public square for truth is about humility, but not the self-deprecating kind. It’s the biblical kind where I
consider others more important than myself. If they are more important to you than yourself, you are going to stand for truth no matter what happens to you.”

Branson said a retired missionary and pastor in his church, Charles Tope, encouraged him in word and deed. In the civil rights era, Tope, who had returned from Africa as a missionary, stood against the prevailing racial segregation while pastoring in all-white Baptist church in the Deep South.

“It comes down to, ‘Do you trust the Lord to take care of you?’” Branson said. “How many times did Paul get beat up? No one is getting beaten up in America right now for standing on truth. We are cowering over things where there are no threats looming"

Better to please God than men, Branson exhorted.

“He’s always provided what I’ve needed for this battle. My faith is stronger than it’s ever been.” D ©2014 BGEA

JERRY PIERCE IS EDITOR OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST TEXAN, A PUBLICATION OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTISTS OF TEXAS CONVENTION