There are a number of churches that currently find themselves at odds with governing authorities because they believe COVID restrictions on gathering stand in violation of their conscience and God’s command. Currently, there are churches bringing lawsuits, authorities issuing fines, and, in one case, a pastor remains under arrest for violating government guidelines.
Whatever your view of these matters as a citizen of Canada and/or a person of faith is, the issue certainly has its complications and nuances. It is not my purpose here to dive into the conversation about religious freedom and government authority. One thing, however, is clear. Even when we disagree with governing authorities, we are always commanded to pray for them. Paul writes these words:
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.1 Timothy 2:1-4
Let’s face it, this is not an easy time to be in government. So while it’s common these days even for Christians not only to criticize but to mock political leaders, perhaps it would be wise, humble, and generous to step back and to reflect on the challenges they face and the pressures they are under.
None of this is to say that people of faith never have reason to disagree or even to engage in civil disobedience as a matter of conscience; however, let us do so in a way that shows genuine love and concern for those responsible for making incredibly difficult decisions.
Here is an appropriate prayer upon which we can draw for this purpose.
“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, send down on those who hold public office, especially those working to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, the spirit of wisdom, charity, and justice; that with steadfast purpose they may faithfully serve in their offices to promote the well being of all people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”Book of Common Prayer (2019)
Of course, the other issue at play are the Christians and churches at odds with one another. Not all hold the same convictions about how to handle our current situation. Again, I think a similar principle ought to hold. Disagreement doesn’t require we be disagreeable. There is certainly no excuse for one church or group of believers to question the sincere faith of another because they don’t see eye to eye on how to respond to COVID restrictions. Indeed, I think we can all say that this last year has been an immensely challenging one. None of us has all the answers and most of us are trying to do what we think is right and good based on how we have weighed the evidence.
Perhaps what we need is more grace and humility–what a wonderful leaven that would be in our communities! To that end, perhaps as Christians and churches we ought to persist in prayer for one another more consistently, keeping in mind that doing so is one of the ways God the Father by his Spirit molds our hearts into the likeness of our Lord Jesus. To that end, again, here is a prayer that perhaps you can use as a model:
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace to take to heart the grave dangers we are in through our many divisions. Deliver your church from all emnity and prejudice, and everything that hinders us from godly union. As there is one Body, and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so make us to be of one heart and of one mind, united in the one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and love, that with one voice we may give you praise; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God in everlasting glory. Amen.Book of Common Prayer (2019)
What an answer to prayer it would be if the tone of the rhetoric offered by Christian leaders and organizations did not simply mimic the tone of the rhetoric of our surrounding culture but instead offered an alternative narrative and vision more fully in keeping with the character of the Lord we say we confess and serve.
With that in mind, let us pray.