Pastor Tom Brown of the Word Of Life Church in El Paso Texas, tried to use his ministry to keep same-sex spouses of city employees from receiving health care benefits. Now, he faces criminal sanctions and more than a quarter of a million dollars out-of-pocket. Justice has come for Pastor Tom Brown.
Even if you don’t know who Pastor Tom Brown is, you know what he is. In fact Matthew, (of the world-famous Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) clued us in with Matthew 7:16 – “By his fruits you will recognize him”. Pastor Brown’s “fruits” are a money-making “born again” church he claims God told him to build, an online TV show he hosts with his city council candidate wife, (There’s an episode called “The Bondage Breaker” which truth be told makes me a little hot.) and a book “Breaking Curses, Experiencing Healing” that includes a couple of chapters on how to cure the mentally ill gays.
Yes, he’s that Pastor Brown. There seems to be one under every rock. The names may change but the odor of bigotry is as unmistakable as an onion in a rose garden.
Last summer, John Cook, the Mayor of El Paso, brought down the wrath of Pastor Brown when, ignoring a voter initiative against it, he decided to extend health care benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. Pastor Brown was outraged. He sprang into action, sending a bombastic email from “Tom Brown Ministries” to all of his members and posting an open letter to the city council on his church’s website asking them to circulate recall petitions from the inside. Using his church as a base of operations, Brown organized and executed a successful campaign, collecting enough signatures to put the recall of Mayor Cook and two city council members on the ballot.
What Pastor Brown overlooked is that it is illegal in Texas for corporations, including non-profit groups, to intervene in elections. So Mayor Cook went to court to stop the recall. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Right Wing legal group paid for by televangelist, jumped in to defend Brown, who screamed, “Religious persecution!” and “The right of the people to vote!” Tensions ran high, and tempers on the Right ran hot. In the face of this local firestorm, County Court Judge Javier Alvarez made a strange finding in the case. He ruled that Pastor Brown and his church had indeed broken the law, but he declined to issue an injunction to stop the recall election, saying it would thwart the will of the people. So Mayor Cooke appealed.
This week, in a unanimous decision, a three judge panel of the Texas 8th Court of Appeals reversed Judge Alvarez, and halted the recall election, declaring: “We find the trial court’s order denying injunctive relief is so arbitrary as to exceed the bounds of reasonable discretion.” Adding: “It is essential to the independence of the judiciary and public confidence in the judicial process that a judge be faithful to the law and not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism. It is significant, we think, that the trial court lost sight of the fact that a proper application of the law to the facts in this case does not act to bar voters from properly exercising their right to seek a recall of elected office holders, provided that such right is exercised in accordance with the provisions of the Election Code.”
Pastor Brown, as you would expect, is livid, promising to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. Attorney Mark Walker, who represented Mayor Cook, thinks there is little chance the Texas High Court will agree to hear the case. The court traditionally hears only cases in which the ruling is a split decision or there are issues unresolved. Neither of those conditions is present here.
So now we come to the happily ever after part of our story. Two same-sex couples applied for benefits. Two. But because he so feared allowing spousal benefits to go those two couples, Pastor Brown is now on the hook for Mayor Cook’s legal fees, topping $250,000. After all three appeals judges ruled Pastor Brown illegally used his church to collect signatures, El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza has announced he is looking into criminal charges, which could result in additional punitive money damages, or even jail time for Pastor Brown. And there’s this cherry on top: Americans United, a multi-faith group dedicated to preserving the separation of church and state, has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Tom Brown Ministries’ political activities, and to revoke their tax exempt status.
It couldn’t happen to a nice guy.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”, said Martin Luther King. This week, it bent like a rainbow, just enough for Pastor Brown to get a taste. And allow me to close with an atheist’s “prayer”. (More like a toast but without the booze) May such justice find its way to all the Pastor Tom Browns of the world. Amen.