Although much has been reported regarding the ethics and legality behind the city of Houston's subpoena of five Houston-area pastors that had asked them to turn over all of their sermons that address homosexuality, gender identity, and the city's first openly-lesbian mayor, little attention has been given to who those five pastors actually are and the ministries they operate.
Although those five pastors, Steve Riggle, David Welch, Hernan Castaño, Khanh Huynh and Magda Hermida, were not technically parties of the lawsuit against the city's new equal rights ordinance that sparked the need for the subpoenas, they all participated in the coalition of 400 Houston area churches that stood in disapproval of the ordinance, which allows transgendered individuals to use public restrooms of the opposite gender.
Riggle is the founding pastor and currently the senior pastor of a Houston-headquartered megachurch, Grace Community Church, and is an executive member of the Houston Area Pastors Council. Riggle also runs the evangelist organization Grace International.
Riggle's Grace Community Church will host the"I Stand Sunday" event on Nov. 2 that will give opportunity to supporters from all over the country to stand with the five pastors. Grace Community Church carries a significant influence that spans beyond Texas and also provides separate services for English and Spanish speakers. With campuses in Houston and Woodlands, Texas, Grace Church also has a campus in San Diego. While Grace Church Houston's worship center can accommodate up to 10,000 people, Megachurch statistics compiled by Statistic Brain estimates that the average Sunday attendance for Grace Church Houston is about 5500 individuals.
Riggle and his wife, Becky, are the subjects of a motion picture production called "Between the Gates, which highlights how God led them to safety when they were taken hostage after a prison break during a mission trip to the Philippines.
Riggle has been one of the more outspoken of the five pastors about the subpoena from city lawyers.
"As one of the 'Houston Five' whose sermons and any comment ever made about Mayor [Annise] Parker have been subpoenaed, I call for her actions and those of the city attorney to be thoroughly investigated," Riggle told Charisma News. "Those we elect to lead our government are charged with stewarding the public trust. When elected officials abuse the power of their office by denying the people the basic right to vote, we must stand against that action whatever the cost."
Castaño has many roles. He is currently the director of Hispanic church development for the Houston Area Pastors Council. He is also the Houston director of the Rivers of Oil Bible Institute, and the founding pastor of the Iglesias Rios De Aceite located in Houston.
Castaño was born in Columbia and migrated with his parents to America when he was five months old. Castaño has translated for well-established evangelists such as Benny Hinn, R.W. Schambach, T.L. Lowery, T.L. Osborne and others. Castaño has also extended his ministry to prisoners nationwide. Through his prison ministry, he was able to reach up to 10,000 prisoners a month.
Castaño believes that governments being allowed to subpoena pastors sermons goes against what America stands for.
"For a city government to step into churches and ask pastors to turn in sermons, it's gone too far. This is not what America, the nation is about," Castaño told KTRK-TV.
Khanh is the founding pastor of the Vietnamese Baptist Church in Houston and has served as a pastor there for over two decades. Khanh allegedly gave his life to Christ while fleeing Vietnam into Indonesia. Kanh, along with other Vietnamese refugees, fled Vietnam's communist government on a boat after the fall of Saigon. Six of his boatmates died while on the raft-like boat.
Coming to America looking for the religious and spoken freedoms he could not enjoy in Vietnam, Khanh established the Vietnamese Baptist Church to engage in mission mobilization, host mission conferences and to also send medical and ministry teams to Vietnam and other countries.
"We could not express our freedom of religion and belief," he told WND. "We paid … to come to our country [the U.S.], that recognizes human rights of speech and religion."
Welch founded the Houston Area Pastors Council, an affiliate of the U.S. Pastors Council, in January of 2003 and has acted as its president since. Welch also carries other duties as he is the founder and executive director of Christian Coalition of Washington and the national field director for Christian Coalition. Welch was the executive director of Vision America, an effort to mobilize congregations and pastors, from 1999-2001.
Welch has also been outspoken about his subpoena and the role of Mayor Parker.
"This was really initiated by Mayor Annise Parker, who is obviously a noted, kind of poster child for the national gay and lesbian movement, proposing ordinance back in April that was really a massive overreach to begin with to basically add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the city's discrimination ordinance and impose those discrimination protections over the private sector in an unprecedented way," Welch told The Christian Post.
Hermida was born in Havana Cuba and is the founder of a 20-year Houston-based ministry called Magda Hermida Ministries which operates under the cover of Dr. Doug Stringer, the founder and president of Somebody Cares America and of Turning Point International ministries. Hermida's ministry is also responsible for publishing a Spanish-language magazine that circulates in Houston called "Tiempo De Cambio," which means "Time Of Change." Magda Hermida Ministries also hosts ministry conferences which are attended by thousands of people.
Hermida is also on the NHCLC Board of directors and was the host, for over 15 years, of a weekly Christian radio program called "Mujeres con Poder", which means "Women With Power." She hosted the television version of "Mujeres con Poder" for over 14 years.
Although the the city of Houston responded to the Alliance Defending Freedom's request to quash the subpoenas by narrowing down the categories they are looking for in the sermons, Riggle said the city's narrowing did nothing to solve the religious injustice.
"The city said it would narrow the subpoenas because there has been such outrage in our city, in the state and around the world," Riggle said in a Vimeo video. "According to our attorneys, when [the city] narrowed the subpoenas, they really took out nothing. They are still asking for 17 different categories of information."