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Today is Sunday, a day of worship for many religious organizations. But because of the pandemic and California’s executive order against mass gatherings, churches are not allowed to open their doors for in-person services.
While the majority of religious organizations are obeying the orders, there’s a rebellious group of outlier churches – many located here in the north state – that are demonstrating their defiance by throwing their doors open and holding services, sans masks and social distancing.
I reported yesterday about some north state churches that chose Mother’s Day as the day when they’d officially re-open, including a church in Palermo in Butte County, in which one parishioner tested positive for COVID-19 the day after the church service. More than 180 people who attended that service are now being scrutinized and tested and contact-traced by Butte County Public Health officials. Some churches opened May 1st, and others are planning to open May 31, on the Day of Pentecost, with or without the governor’s approval.
One source who helped with background for today’s story provided me with the names of some churches that are now open; churches that are not even that discreet about it. They post their activity calendar and photos and videos on Facebook.
I considered listing those churches, but why? We know that here in the north state there are no consequences to civil disobedience in the middle of a pandemic. Hell, this is a county in which the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo served as a cautionary tale for the entire world, except not really, because there was virtually no fallout, not counting 2000 attendees’ exposure to COVID-19.
My overall stereotype of religious groups is that they’re the gentle peacemakers inclined to obey rules – God and man’s. My stereotype of Christians in particular is that they’re Christ-like, and that they preach love, not just for their people, but to all living humans and creatures large and small.
Inexplicably, though, the onset of COVID-19 seems to have unveiled a sinister, selfish side of some fundamentalist Christians. You can find plenty of evidence on church and believers’ Facebook pages. There, it’s not uncommon to see angry, hostile messages against those who take COVID-19 seriously, or those who wear face masks, or businesses that require customers wear face masks.
This all seems counter-intuitive. After all, if you’re a Bible-believer, you know that Jesus gave two instructions: 1. Love God. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Judging by the high level of hatred and hostility expressed by some fundamentalist Christians, I’d suggest they return to square one and familiarize themselves with No. 1 and No. 2, above.
A recent Facebook post on a “friend’s” page made me wonder what’s caused so many of God’s children to behave like such cruel, disrespectful and selfish little brats. Here’s the post in question, written by a high-level Christian leader who I won’t name here today. But trust me when I say he’s a big deal in the Christian world. His recent rant was born from a visit to a Sam’s Club (not here in the north state), where he encountered the recommendation that customers wear masks “to help support the health” of store employees and customers alike. Below, is this Christian leader’s reaction on Facebook.
“I caused a ruckus at Sam’s Club today because their sign said “we recommend wearing masks” but the employees were trying to intimidate me by saying it was required. I thought there was going to be police action (not kidding.) Finally, I showed the manager the picture of their own sign and she relented. I was getting the stink eye from one pudgy “I’m the king of video games” employee who followed us out to the car and took a picture of our license plate.”
Most of the comments that followed the Christian leader’s post were written by fellow believers, and were the antithesis of Christianity.
“You just need to get a paper mask and write on it ‘Trump 2020’ lets see how fast they allow you to take it off??”
“I wore mine through the door at Costco and it was off before I admired the first TV inside the entrance.”
“Fight the good fight brother.”
“Should have coughed right before you walked out.”
“Just wear a mask guys. It is considerate for others.”
I am happy report that there were a couple of comments that seemed more Christlike, like this one:
“I’m with the employees. They have families to go home to who may be old or like us have someone with a lung problem… it would be a better kindness and Christ like to think of those who work to pay bill and serve you and not add to their fears no matter how you believe you are safe.”
Other than that one considerate post, the rest were mean, sarcastic and nasty. I just didn’t get it. What better way to demonstrate that you love your neighbor as yourself than to wear face masks during a pandemic? My mask protects me and it protects you. I can’t fathom why that concept continues to be such a sticking point for so many people, especially fundamentalist Christians.
I believe I stumbled across one explanation after many hours on Facebook last night during my research for today’s story about the defiant churches.
First, I learned that many of these believers in God do not believe in the COVID-19 virus in the first place. They just flat don’t believe it, and think it’s a scare-tactic drummed up by the government and media to wreck the country. For the sake of discussion: Why would the government and media want to destroy the place that’s home for us all? Beats me.
Second, even those believers who do believe there’s a such thing as a pandemic, are not afraid, and with good reason. They believe they are protected by God from all kinds of calamities. They are convinced that the blood of Christ will offer some kind of a spiritual immunity against COVID-19. Their Facebook pages showed that they have scripture to back up their beliefs, like this one from Psalms 91:
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
‘Because he loves me,’ says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him,’ for he acknowledges my name.”
Did you catch that? A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
Basically, if there is a pandemic, or a plague or pestilence, the true believers are safe, whiles thousands of the rest of us will drop dead. Not their problem. Not their concern. Those who don’t belong to their religious club are screwed. More to the point, the believers don’t care. (See cough comment, above.)
Here are excerpts of what one Redding Church posted on its Facebook page regarding about COVID-19:
Do you really think this is the FIRST time Our King Has Loosed the “Coronavirus”? Exodus 12:13, 29-30: “The blood shall be a sign for you on [the doorposts of] the houses where you live; when I see the blood I shall pass over you, and no affliction shall happen to you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt…….Use [communion] wine or in a pinch; ANYTHING red showered in Prayer! READ ALL of EXODUS 12, while you DO it. Not to worry My Shulammite….I Love you!
I guess that belief system explains for me Facebook memes like this one; funny at first, but upon further reflection, is sad, because it’s so true.
Luckily, for society’s sake, this kind of extreme religious fundamentalism is rare, in or outside of a pandemic.
And just about when I felt at my lowest after reading so many hateful Christian Facebook comments, I found this post on a north state church Facebook page by Pastor John MacArthur, who addressed the idea of churches re-opening during the pandemic, and whether they should do so prematurely, despite a government ban:
Yeah, let me make very clear this question because it keeps coming up. If the government told us not to meet because Christianity was against the law, if the government told us not to meet because we would be punished, fined for our religion and our religious convictions, we would have no option but to meet anyway. And that takes you to the fifth chapter of Acts where the leaders of Israel said to the apostles, “Stop preaching.” And Peter’s response was very simple. He said, “You judge whether we obey God or men,” then he went right out and preached.
If the government tells us to stop worshiping, stop preaching, stop communicating the gospel, we don’t stop. We obey God rather than men. We don’t start a revolution about that; the apostles didn’t do that. If they put us in jail, we go to jail and we have a jail ministry. Like the apostle Paul said, “My being in jail has fallen out to the furtherance of the gospel.” So we don’t rebel, we don’t protest. You don’t ever see Christians doing that in the book of Acts. If they were persecuted, they were faithful to proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ even if it took them to jail; and that’s been the pattern of true Christianity through all the centuries.
But this is not that. Might become that in the future. Might be overtones of that with some politicians. But this is the government saying, “Please do this for the protection of this society.” This is for greater societal good, that’s their objective. This is not the persecution of Christianity. This is saying, “Behave this way so that people don’t become ill and die.”
Now you may not think that you’re going to have that impact on somebody, you’re not going to be the one that becomes a carrier and causes something to be passed on to somebody else down the road and somebody dies. You may think that’s going to be you. But you cannot defy the government. And I don’t think pastors should do this. You cannot defy the government and say, “We’re going to meet anyway because God has commanded us to meet, no matter what damage we do to people’s lives.”
I mean, what should mark Christians is mercy, compassion, love, kindness, sacrifice. How are you doing that if you flaunt the fact that you’re going to meet; and essentially you’re saying, “We disregard the public safety issue.” You don’t really want to say that. That does not help the gospel cause.
What helps the gospel cause is to say, “Of course, we don’t want to be the cause of anyone’s sadness, anyone’s sorrow, anyone’s sickness, and certainly anyone’s death. So we will gladly comply. This is consistent with what Scripture says, that we are to live quiet and peaceable lives in the society in which we live.
We don’t rebel, we don’t do protests, we don’t fight the government, we don’t harass and harangue, we don’t march, we don’t get in parades, we don’t stop traffic; we lead quiet and peaceable lives, and we pray for those in authority over us, and we submit ourselves to them.
In Romans chapter 13, Paul says, “You submit yourself to the government, the powers that be.” But Peter adds to that, “You submit yourself to the governor and the king,” whoever that personal authority is. I’ve heard people say, “Well, this isn’t constitutional.” That’s irrelevant. That is completely irrelevant. When you’re told by an authority to do something and it’s for the greater good of the society physically, that’s what you do because that’s what Christians would do. We are not rebels and we’re not defiant, and we don’t flaunt our freedom at the expense of someone else’s health.
How do we back out of that to communicate the love of Christ? Look, Jesus came and basically banished disease from Israel. He was a healer. The last thing the church of Jesus Christ would want to be is a group of people that lived in defiance and made somebody sick, caused somebody’s death. So you restrain yourself from that.
Again, the issue is so clear that even going back to Richard Baxter back in 1600s, Richard Baxter has a great section in one of his books where he says, “If the magistrate,” as he calls it, “asks you to refrain from meeting because of a pestilence, you do not meet. On the other hand, if the magistrate tries to force you not to meet because of persecution of Christianity, you meet anyway. I think that’s the dividing line. – John MacArthur
Meanwhile, it’s Sunday, a day when many religious organizations observe their beliefs. Consider this our spiritual message for the week. And just think, we did so without setting foot inside an actual church.
I’ll leave you with comments made by some Facebook friends who offered wisdom regarding being away from church during a pandemic, but still tending to spiritual needs.
“I’m a Christian. I go to St. James in Redding. We gather on the internet. I have Jesus in my heart. He’s portable. He goes everywhere with me.”
” If God is a spirit that dwells in your heart, do you need a building or a quiet place to feel him?”
“God helps those who help themselves and can hear your prayers just as well from your home. This will not last forever but will last much longer and end up more deadly if we do not all work together. This is not about one person or one congregation. It is about all of us. Be considerate. God would like that.”
“I was always taught (raised Catholic) that God is with us everywhere and all the time…he’s not confined to just one building or strike on the clock.”
“If you must have a church to continue your faith, you should re-evalutate your beliefs.”
Amen to that.