So, to begin, in this post I am not going into a long analysis of the different ways churches have responded to COVID restrictions. Though I think most of us are aware that churches and Christians are divided both about what to think of COVID itself and how we ought to respond to it.
For instance, there is the example of Pastor James Coates and Gracelife Church. Since earlier this year the church has consistently ignored the guidelines on social distancing and gathering restrictions. Coates himself has spent some time under arrest. Presently, he and his church cannot meet in their church building because it has been closed by authorities. If you do a quick Google search, you will find plenty to read regarding the situation.
The Gracelife Church example is precisely the sort that exacerbates an already polarizing issue. Much of what gets said in the media, mainstream and social, offers more heat than light. While sympathetic to Coates and his congregation’s concerns, I confess to finding myself somewhat uncomfortable with thinking of this as religious persecution.
But you don’t have to search long before finding plenty of articles and podcast episodes which see this as a clear case of religious persecution or at least an unwarranted violation of religious freedom.
So I went looking to see if anyone had offered another Christian perspective. I found a couple of articles written by Pastor Chris Hutchison of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Saskatchewan. I thought he engaged with Coates’ views on COVID and the relationship between the church and government in a helpful, thoughtful, biblical way. The first article is here. There is a link to a follow up at the end. I encourage you to check them out.
Whatever your view of COVID, government, and religious freedom, and the Gracelife example specifically, I think you will find Hutchinson’s articles balanced and thoughtful. At the very least, I would hope (and pray) that we who call ourselves followers of Jesus will humbly acknowledge that this current cultural moment is sufficiently complex to admit, however strongly we feel, that we could be mistaken.
For this reason, how we view fellow Christians and congregations who see the matter differently is one of my foremost concerns. I appreciate these articles also because he addresses that aspect.
As a pastor, I have reflected on the situation, been frustrated by it, and spent much time praying about it. I am grateful that to this point my church—which is a small, rural congregation—hasn’t had to deal with these restrictions to the extent others have. Thus far, our region has not had a significant outbreak of COVID. Should our circumstances change, I hope and pray that I would have the wisdom to understand how God is leading us according to Scripture. I hope and pray that I am doing that even now.