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by Phil JohnsonThis guy, angry that Grace Community Church yielded to the 9th Cicuit Court's ruling banning church meetings in California this weekend, Tweets at me: "An unjust law need not be followed."I'm appalled at how many people who profess to believe Scripture echo that sentiment. Nero was emperor when Paul wrote Romans 13:1-7: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. . . ." First Peter 2:13 was written to people suffering unjustly. ("Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him...")Peter goes on to say: "Be subject . . . also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly" (vv. 18-19). Indeed, "to this [unjust suffering] you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." (v. 21). When someone in authority over us treats us unjustly, the example we are to follow was set for us by Christ, who simply "continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (v. 23).The only exception to this principle is when the one in authority instructs us to sin. Then "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).So does a government-mandated quarantine ask us to violate Hebrews 10:25 ("not neglecting to meet together"), or is the quarantine in keeping with the principle of Leviticus 13-14, where quarantines are expressly mandated?The answer to that question may vary according to where we live. Quarantining people in the midst of a pandemic is a legitimate prerogative of government. How long the quarantine should last and who should be exempted are questions that don't have clear, fixed answers. The severity and duration of the pandemic determines what's reasonable or not. We may or may not agree with how the quarantine is being implemented (I certainly do not), but we have a clear duty to submit unless we are being asked to sin.How long until the government-ordered quarantine is undeniably excessive, or we conclude that it's targeted persecution against our worship and therefore an illegal attempt to make us disobey Hebrews 10:25? That time may come, and when it does, we may have to implement the principle of Acts 5:29. The question of whether we have already passed that point is another subjective issue, but it's clear that among believers—in the church itself—there is not yet consensus on whether the quarantine has gone too far.Nevertheless, if you hang out on Twitter or Facebook, you may have noticed that there are countless people in the evangelical community who refuse to regard any of the above questions as matters of conscience. They believe the answers are perfectly obvious. They are eager to tell you what you and your church ought to be doing. They are locked and loaded with vituperation for anyone who sees matters differently. Two camps of them have squared off against each other—hordes of angry Karens at opposite extremes, all of whom disagree with the position I've outlined above. Some of them are scolding us for thinking Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 actually apply in today's circumstances. The others are berating us for wanting to resume public worship ASAP.Sorry, but in the words of Martin Luther, here I stand. I can do no other. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help us.Phil's signature
We don't want to rush ahead of the governor, but there is a significant and growing angst among many church attenders and many church leaders.In a press conference today President Trump called churches, synagogues, and mosques all "essential services" and called on governors to reopen them "right now." Where I live, Illinois Governor Pritzker has already said that churches are essential, and I agree with them both.That’s not really the question.The question people are asking is how and when can churches (and other religions congregations) gather together in groups larger than 10 or larger than 50?And, with President Trump’s comments, I imagine the pressure will grow to ignore the directives of stricter states like CA and IL.Actually, the Justice Department recently sent a letter to Governor Newsom of California regarding his policies on houses of worship gatherings. Here in Illinois, as I recently wrote for RNS, my concern is that Pritzker has not been communicating with church leaders by doing so while putting off gatherings of more than 50 to his final phase where there's a vaccine, much lower level of community spread, or higher level of treatment.This approach moves churches meeting together to some far distanct, uncertain time to be determined. It is creating tension among church leaders and congregants. In a press conference today, Gov. Pritzker said he has been collaborating with church leaders, but we cannot discern who those leaders might be.Along with James Meeks, pastor of an African American congregation in the South, and Wilfredo de Jesus, a Hispanic pastor, both of whose communities have been hit particularly hard, we have asked the governor to open a conversation with faith leaders and the health department so we can follow the science and open at a later date in a safe way in cooperation with one another.We do ...Continue reading...
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is about to finalize a rule it proposed last year to ensure that religious freedom and conscience are protected, the medical profession is not politicized, and patient care is prioritized. We urge this rule’s swift finalization.This rule is great news for patients and the health care community alike. In 2016, under the Obama administration, HHS issued regulations on Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act defining “sex” in the context of “sex discrimination” to incorporate “gender identity” and “the termination of pregnancy”. Health care institutions sued, contending that the heavy hand of government was forcing them to violate their conscience and threatening their ability to operate. Understanding that HHS had exceeded its authority, a federal judge issued an injunction to prevent the Obama administration rule from taking effect.Now, President Trump plans to clean up this mess, and protect religious freedom, for our caregiving institutions nationwide. This policy change will enable the medical community to fulfill the Hippocratic oath, while protecting the convictions of those in that community who want to hold to their religious beliefs and consciences about the biological understanding of sex.President Trump’s proposed rule is also pro-life, and will ensure that the pro-life convictions of medical professionals will be honored. The inclusion of “termination of pregnancy” in the Obama administration rule could be read to require the provision of, and coverage or referral for, abortion. This could then lead to federal financial assistance being conditioned on the promotion and performance of acts that devalue the sanctity of human life. Thus, removing this language is important to ensuring that federal laws protecting the right of healthcare workers not to provide or refer for abortion will be upheld. We applaud HHS for standing with science and religious liberty to ensure that the medical community is free of political chains and can simply focus on providing the best possible care to their patients according to the best medical science.The finalization of this rule is a high priority for religious freedom, and very important to protecting the faith of many throughout our country.It should be finalized promptly, so that those with long-running conscience and religious freedom concerns in this area can finally put them to rest.
Newlyweds Justin and Hailey Bieber launched a new web series on Facebook Watch titled, “The Biebers” where fans can follow their lives as they quarantine together from their home. In the latest episode, the couple share how their faith in Jesus and having virtual church community is keeping them anchored.
Our churches are essential, but whether it is critical to gather is another question.Categorizing the church as a non-essential institution is another blow to the Latino church. Many know firsthand what it means to be marginalized in society. Forced church closures add to this experience of rejection. It tells the Latino church that its ministry role in the neighborhood is not needed during this pandemic. The federal government does not identify churches as being so essential that their closure “would have a debilitating effect on security, economic security, public health or safety.” This categorization itself has bothered not only Latino ministers, but many other Christians, as seen by recent lawsuits in California, Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Kansas, to name a few.Like many others, Latino Pentecostal ministers in southern California are facing the challenging choice between the freedom to gather or the freedom to put others first by staying at home.Since the First Amendment includes the freedom to worship and the ability to assemble, churches are fighting for their constitutional freedom to congregate—including some Latino pastors in California who are planning to reassert this right on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, with or without state approval. They may not have the resources to join a lawsuit, so civil disobedience is another means to voice their displeasure.But this desire to reopen will involve more than an expression of our constitutional right to gather. It will reveal how we understand our freedoms in Christ; whether we champion the right to gather above the health and safety needs of the other. This decision is not that simple. It also intersects with ministerial, cultural, and technological challenges in being the church for the Latino community.John Brito, the senior pastor ...Continue reading...
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