Photo Credit: Dwight Burdette (CC-By-3.0)

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.

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.

2 comments
  1. As I have indicated elsewhere, whether the “intent” of politicians in the context of these orders is malicious or not is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that they have imposed the orders without the necessary authority to do so. Whether they were nice about it is meaningless. We don’t evaluate the validity of political decisions on the basis of their intent, but on the basis of their intrinsic nature and their outcome. If tyranny is the outcome, they have committed a crime against the people regardless of their alleged good intentions. In other words, they should know better. Tyrants always tell the people that they have good intentions, and that this is for our “good.” Why in the world would we ever fail to see through that kind of duplicity?

    These orders are not based on science, therefore they are not being imposed for our “protection.”

    Furthermore, even if they were based on science, public officials in the U.S. don’t have the power to suspend our rights just because they think we are in danger. The U.S. Constitutions doesn’t say, “all this goes out the window if there’s a viral epidemic.” They don’t have the authority to suspend our rights “temporarily” either. The Constitution doesn’t give them the authority to do that any more than it does to suspend our rights permanently.

    Shane’s arguments are invalid.

    At the end of the day, the people must have the courage to oppose tyranny whenever it rears its ugly head. If they don’t oppose that tyranny, it will grow like a cancer, and we would be naive if we think these violations of our rights are just temporary. Furthermore, temporary is not the issue. The issue is the pattern that has been established. Even if it is temporary, the next time a “dangerous” virus starts to spread around the country, what do you think is going to happen? If the tyranny is not held in check now, it will repeat itself based on the dangerous precedent that has not been addressed swiftly and decisively. We cannot tolerate such tyranny by convincing ourselves that it’s for our good and it’s only temporary. Totalitarian oppression, especially under the pretense of good intentions, is habit forming.

  2. Another consideration that can easily escape notice is that the totalitarian measures are supposedly designed to prevent the spread of the virus. But who said preventing the spread is the best strategy? If you want to approach this from a scientific perspective, spreading the virus among the healthy population is exactly what we should do in order to reach herd immunity and kill this thing off. As usual, the government’s response to a scientific matter it is not qualified to evaluate is both ineffectual and counterproductive. Someone may think the government is consulting a group of “experts” on the matter. But there are scientists (epidemiologies in particular) who utterly contradict the advice of the “experts” the government is listening to. When the science is debatable, the government needs to let the people decide for themselves what the best course of action should be. But tyrants with good intentions are incapable of doing that. They will take the side of the scientific debate that gives them an excuse to wield authoritarian power over the people every time. They will rarely take the side of protecting the rights of the people. You may think they are just trying to serve the best interests of the people. Don’t be gullible.

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