Several pastors in multiple states made headlines recently by doing one of three things during this pandemic: dying, getting arrested or suing their respective governors. Pastors across the country have died of the illness while more have been arrested for violating the stay-at-home orders enacted by state governors. Those who do not reside in hospitals or jail cells have taken to online court meetings to sue their respective governors for infringing on their first amendment rights to religion and assembly.
Three pastors in Southern California have sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and local officials for banning religious gatherings after the stay-at-home order issued March 19, claiming that churches should be considered essential businesses because they care for the “spiritual health for the congregation.” Two Kansas pastors are suing Gov. Laura Kelly, whose spokeswoman told the press that her department is reviewing the case and that this order is “not about restricting religion; it is about keeping people safe and saving Kansans’ lives.”
These lawsuits would be justified and necessary only if freedom of religion was in danger—newsflash, it is not.
Under federal guidelines, gatherings of ten or more people have been banned due to health concerns. People should stay indoors and only venture outside for necessary trips to necessary businesses, mainly viewed as grocery stores and hospitals. In some locations, police can issue fines to anyone gathering and breaking the policy, and if ignored, you can go to jail. This has brought an onslaught of pastors and conservative commentators crying about how first amendment rights are in jeopardy. The piece of the puzzle that they do not understand, however, is that their rights are actually not under attack.
Being asked to stay home and watch services online is the exact opposite of religious oppression. In fact, this goes to show just how protected your religious beliefs are: in a time where the future is uncertain and the world seems crazy, you can have the comfort of your religious teacher in your own home without going outside and risking catching or spreading the disease. That is what it all boils down to—the people God has placed in authority over us have sworn to protect and serve, and issuing stay-at-home orders is the type of protection needed right now.
With the advanced technology our people have invented in the past few years, religious communities are more connected than ever. You can tune into Facebook or click an email link and be brought face-to-face with your pastor delivering the Word of God, a feat impossible less than a lifetime ago. This stay at home order is not an infringement of your first amendment rights. You are still free to worship and practice whatever religion you so choose. You just have to do it in your house. God will still hear your prayers—for where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is (Matthew 18:20).
Think about how many people could actually come to Christ during this time of disease. Think of all the people too nervous about going to a physical church watching sermons online and slowly falling in love with Jesus. Think about the people who have been spurned by the Church in the past deciding to give Christianity another judgement-free chance. Think of all the shut-ins and sick people who cannot physically go to church that now have a support team in the body of believers. Once churches can open back up again, think about all the people filling the pews who would not be there if not for the judgement-free experience of watching online. Think of us as fulfilling the legacy of the early Church, who also fellowshipped and worshipped in home churches.
No, Christianity is not under attack right now in America. It is not singled out or abused—Muslims cannot gather in their mosques, and Jews cannot gather in synagogues during their holiest season. People of all faiths are currently banned from meeting in their houses of worship. Pastors who violate the stay-at-home order are not being arrested for preaching. They are being arrested for putting lives in danger. It is not worth the risk to congregants, especially those in the danger bracket for coronavirus, to meet together right now. They can just as easily watch online services, or, as some churches are doing, join “drive-in” services.
The main issue that needs to be stated is that no one is stopping you from preaching. You can continue to do that from your own home. Churchgoers requiring spiritual counseling or other services can be prayed for and helped over the phone. For churches where money is an issue, it is extremely easy to give online or even send a check through the mail. For everyone crying about their right to assemble, let me remind you that it is not just religious gatherings being banned—weddings, funerals, birthday parties and conferences with more than 10 attendees are also on the no-go list. No religion is being singled out.
There is no attack on American Christianity right now. If anything, this season is giving us an opportunity to reach out and show love to others around us. Instead of whining and suing our leaders for protecting us, donate to those in need. Christ calls us to love each other and those around us, and putting others at risk of death for no reason is the exact opposite of our faith.