I usually do not write rebuttals to articles I publish at Caffeinated Thoughts written by other contributors. Contrary to what some may think, conservative Christian thinkers are not monolithic, and we don’t always agree, even here.
I do want to address Phil Bair’s latest article, “Holy and Spineless,” not to provide a rebuttal per se, but to offer a different perspective.
(Update: I want to be clear that I’m not offering counter arguments to Bair’s piece. My intent is not to debate, but to express my thoughts about the subject of the church and civil disobedience in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
First, I want to state I agree that orders given during this pandemic that has infringed upon inalienable rights to freedom of religion and assembly are wrongheaded even if offered with the best intentions. I’m on the record criticizing my state’s governor. I stand by what I wrote.
Second, while one can argue the net effect of these pandemic orders is tyranny, not all governors and mayors have acted like tyrants. In most cases, I believe their intent is not malicious. Most of their orders were broad and not explicitly targeting churches. I think most would prefer not to issue such orders. I believe the weight of her decisions burdens my governor, Kim Reynolds. I don’t envy her.
Most, I’m sure, would like to lift restrictions, but they also don’t want to be the person responsible should the pandemic overwhelm their state’s health care system.
Some governors diligently respect and protect inalienable rights while responsibly slowing the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, come to mind. In Iowa, Gov. Reynolds, while going further than Noem and Abbott, has resisted calls for a shelter-in-place order.
Third, some mayors and governors have acted like tyrants in the enforcement of their orders.
- Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Ky., said he would require those who attend an Easter Sunday service in person to quarantine themselves for 14 days. He also said license plate numbers seen in church parking lots would be recorded.
- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to shut churches down permanently if they continued to meet.
- A pastor in Virginia was given a summons when he had a service for 16 people spread out in a sanctuary that seats over 290 people due to Gov. Ralph Northam’s order.
- Gov. Eric Holcomb, R-Ind., instructed churches on how they may conduct their worship services and how to administer communion.
- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., ordered residents in her state not to visit friends and family within the state. She effectively banned any gathering, of any size, in any public or private setting.
I’m sure there are many examples, but these are just from the last two days. There should be an electoral reckoning, perhaps even impeachment, for governors who are heavy-handed in the enforcement of orders that are, at best, constitutionally questionable.
Fourth, many churches were taking public health advice and adapted in light of this crisis before in-person church services were suspended. They saw this as an opportunity to 1. love their brothers and sisters in Christ who are at-risk, and 2. love their neighbors.
Fifth, Phil says we do not see widespread civil disobedience in the church because American Christians can not recognize tyranny. I believe we do not see widespread civil disobedience because many churches believe suspending in-person worship services is the right action to take temporarily. Since they headed this direction before the order, they’re not going to exercise civil disobedience.
Had this been for something other than a pandemic, and reasonable people can disagree about the seriousness of it, I think you would see a higher level of civil disobedience within the church.
Sixth, let’s exercise charity and recognize we all must follow our conscience. For now, many of us see suspending in-person corporate worship as the right thing to do (voluntarily, not under compulsion). There may come a time when we will need to push back if these orders are extended indefinitely or happen frequently, but I don’t believe now is that time.
We also need to recognize that not every church can live stream, and not every church member has access to the internet. Some churches hold theological convictions that, for them, not meeting is not an option.
Let their conscience be their guide, and I pray they are responsible if they do. That should not be the expectation for everyone, however.
Civil disobedience is not something that should be taken lightly and is a matter of conscience for every Christian, pastor, and church.