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Before World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was re-elected without opposition this week at the World Health Assembly, House Freedom Caucus members took the Biden administration to task for not proposing an alternative candidate. What’s worse, as they wrote in their letter, the Biden team is “now attempting to hand him more control.” Tedros first attained the office after heavy lobbying by the Chinese Communist Party, and his ties to China remained strong through the COVID pandemic. The Biden administration has proposed amendments to the World Health Assembly’s international health regulations which would strengthen the Director General’s unilateral authority. So, House Freedom Caucus members demanded the Biden administration “provide the American people with total transparency and respect for our nation’s sovereignty. Under no circumstances should you cede our government’s operational control in a public health emergency to an international body.”The Biden administration’s problems with transparency stretch beyond their proposed amendments to the World Health Assembly to hamstring American sovereignty on public health affairs; they also can’t seem to tell the whole truth on how the COVID pandemic got started to begin with. Once again, China proves a major player.Two professors at Columbia University—hardly voices of the fringe right—wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal, “no independent and transparent scientific scrutiny to date of the full scope of the U.S.-based evidence” has been performed on the origin of COVID-19. Professors Neil Harrison and Jeffrey Sachs explained, “the relevant U.S.-based evidence would include the following information: laboratory notebooks, virus databases, electronic media (emails, other communications), biological samples, viral sequences … and interviews … together with a full record of U.S. agency involvement in funding the research on SARS-like viruses.” They insist the U.S. intelligence community either has not made their investigation into these materials transparent or has simply “fallen far short of conducting a comprehensive investigation.” Basically, they expect the rest of us to take their word for it, something Americans object to strongly.Harrison and Sachs lay out the mounds of evidence suggesting someone in the U.S. should have a notion about what happened in Wuhan. The “active and highly collaborative U.S.-China scientific research program” was “funded by the U.S. government,” they wrote, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Did no American officials consider the government could have been bankrolling the research of a Chinese bioweapons program? Other U.S. agents participating include EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), the Universities of North Carolina and of California at Davis, the NIH, and the USAID. These and “other research partners have failed to disclose their activities,” they complained. “The precise nature of the experiments that were conducted … remains unknown.”“Blanket denials from the NIH are no longer good enough,” Harrison and Sachs continued. “A steady trickle of disquieting information has cast a darkening cloud over the agency.” The NIH “resisted the release of important evidence” and “continued to redact materials released under FOIA [the Freedom of Information Act], including a remarkable 290-page redaction in a recent FOIA release.” Yet FOIA requests and leaked documents have slowly but steadily revealed an unflattering picture, which prompts people to ask, what else are they trying to hide?Among the most suspicious facts uncovered so far, research proposals “make clear that the EHA-WIV [Wuhan Institute of Virology]-UNC collaboration was involved in the collection of a large number of so-far undocumented SARS-like viruses [of the same type as COVID] and was engaged in their manipulation.” The insertion of a gene sequence found in COVID, but not other known viruses of the same type, “was a specific goal of work proposed by the EHA-WIV-UNC partnership within a 2018 grant proposal.” That proposal was not funded by the agency from whom it was requested, “but we do not know whether some of the proposed work was subsequently carried out in 2018 or 2019, perhaps using another source of funding.” Harrison and Sachs said there was a “very low possibility” of such a gene sequence occurring naturally. Less scientifically, we know that high-level employees like Dr. Anthony Fauci seemed suspiciously eager to direct public scrutiny away from their publicly funded projects in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.“There’s no doubt that greater transparency on the part of Chinese authorities would be enormously helpful,” the paper argued, but that doesn’t get the U.S. government completely off the hook. “We call on U.S. government scientific agencies, most notably the NIH, to support a full, independent, and transparent investigation of the origins of SARS-CoV-2.” From NIH to WHO, the Biden administration could use more transparency all around. If they would start tackling real problems instead of always aiming at the public relations problem, perhaps they could win back the trust of the American people.
The Biden administration’s attempt to usurp Congress’s public health authority by rewriting international law may have just encountered an untimely grave. The Biden administration submitted a number of amendments for consideration at the World Health Assembly which would bolster the World Health Organization (WHO) Director General’s pandemic authority without the consent of member states. The World Health Assembly is the WHO’s decision-making body and is meeting in Geneva this week, but “the most interesting thing that happened did not happen at the assembly itself,” said Michael Alexander, co-chair of the Law and Activism Committee of the World Council for Health.“A first-year law student in the U.K.” objected to the amendments, Alexander explained on “Washington Watch.” He “asked the courts to review these amendments, and the court rejected him summarily. So he appealed. And then he got a letter from the government that said 12 of 13 international health regulation amendments have been taken off the table and will not be addressed at this Assembly, at least at this time.”It’s unclear how or why the amendments were tabled. It seems they were considered by a working group comprised of member states, but the group is “not transparent,” Alexander said. “We don’t know who’s on it and who’s saying what,” or even how many nations are members—although there are rumors that Brazil and Russia opposed the amendments.It’s also unclear whether their tabling was permanent. We also “don’t know how the approval process works. … The 12 amendments are off the table right now,” Alexander continued, but “maybe … they’ll come back on in a day or two, and they’ll be approved in some way that is not transparent to us. So we have good news for the moment, [but] we have to keep an eye on what’s happening there.”What is clear is that the Biden administration is unable to advance its public health agenda without these amendments. “The United States clearly didn’t play a role” in tabling the amendments, Alexander said.But what is the Biden administration’s agenda at the World Health Assembly? They would add duties to states like, “The State Party shall accept or reject such an offer of assistance within 48 hours and, in the case of rejection of such an offer, shall provide to WHO its rationale for the rejection, which WHO shall share with other States Parties.”They propose changing “State Party within whose territory the public health emergency of international concern has occurred” to “relevant State Parties,” which is undefined. They propose to delete language such as “taking into account the views of the State Party concerned” and “WHO shall consult with and attempt to obtain verification from the State Party in whose territory” the public health emergency occurred.The changes largely tend either to decrease the sovereignty of a state, increase the rights of other states to meddle in its affairs, and increase the power of WHO officials. In a letter to President Biden, Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) complained the amendments would “grant unilateral authority to declare public health emergencies of international or regional concern to the WHO’s Director General and Regional Directors, respectively. This would be an alarming transfer of U.S. sovereignty to an unelected U.N. bureaucrat.” Leftist outfits like Snopes and The Washington Post have taken great pains to dispel “conspiracy theories” about this year’s World Health Assembly, which “is usually considered a dry, technocratic event,” but they achieve nothing more than missing the main point. The very trouble they take to defend the Biden administration’s amendments demonstrate something more is going on.The concluding notes of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t satisfy the Biden administration. Their efforts to chase down increasingly unrealistic objectives with increasingly onerous mandates ended with the virus mostly burning itself out, even while the administration was still arrayed on the losing side of multiple legal battles. Pharmaceutical companies, public health agencies, and administration officials all suffered precipitous drops in credibility. It seems that the administration has finally admitted to itself what most of the country already knew—the executive branch lacks the power to unilaterally impose its desired draconian response to a public health emergency under current U.S. law.But instead of concluding that extreme public health responses were out of bounds, the administration has tried to steal a run on the American people. The Biden administration’s proposed amendments to the World Health Assembly’s international health regulations seem calculated to force a nation’s hand on public health matters, if a global cadre can agree on the measures they should take. If the amendments were ratified, an administration could defend extreme measures during the next pandemic by protesting that they simply had to take certain actions because of international consensus.As problematic as such surrender of sovereignty would be under any circumstances, it is even more concerning given the WHO’s pathetic response to COVID-19. “This is the same organization that parroted the narrative from the Chinese Communist Party throughout the COVID pandemic,” said FRC President Tony Perkins. First they said, “it’s not human-to-human transmission. And then they sat on [data] for so long. And they failed really at every turn, even so much that the previous administration withdrew the United States from the World Health Organization.” Alexander agreed that the WHO was “a captured organization,” dependent on giant pharmaceutical companies and rich donors. “This is not an independent, neutral bureaucratic organization, … not an organization that is looking to the common good of its members.”In his opening address on Sunday, WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asserted that the pandemic is “most certainly not over.” Alexander warned Ghebreyesus is “China’s man,” a former Marxist warlord in Ethiopia who obtained his position “with the lobbying of the Chinese.” Is that really who we want running public health here in America?
Israel is expected to vote in support of the United Nations General Assembly resolution that condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said this week.
California Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks has introduced a bill that would allow faith groups to build affordable housing on unused church property.
by Phil Johnson Note (31 Aug 2021):I wrote this post last year to answer some evangelical critics who insisted that our church could easily follow all government-mandated shutdown protocols without sacrificing our freedoms or compromising our worship. Almost as soon as I posted it, the attorneys handling the church's court case asked us to refrain from discussing the case online—to make sure the legal argument they were making did not get clouded by a social-media debate. So I removed the post. Now that the legal case has been settled, here is that information. Internal links will take you to documentation that proves what an impossible burden the government-mandated restrictions imposed on the church. (This is kind of long. Pack a lunch.) For the past eight weeks or longer, Sunday morning worship services at Grace Community Church have been open to anyone who wants to attend. John MacArthur and the elders made that fact as public as possible in a statement they issued on July 24, saying they would continue to have normal worship services despite a July 13 edict from the California Governor ordering churches to close again after a brief respite from the original quarantine.     The most common question sent to me about the elders' position is, "Why not just avoid conflict with the government by downsizing your congregation, meeting outdoors, and following the simple masks-and-social-distancing guidelines?" For those who have ears to hear, the elders' statement itself gives a carefully reasoned answer to that question.     I've explained how and why my own thinking changed on the relative weight of Romans 13:2 vs. Acts 5:29 as those texts apply to the church's current circumstances. I've also answered a number of honest questions about the elders' statement here on the blog. But there is a small group of ill-tempered cyberhecklers who endlessly Tweet and retweet variations of the same protestation: "Why not just comply with the government's guidelines? You could easily do that if you were willing to have your worship services outdoors with masks and social distancing." For readers who still aren't sure of our answers to that question, this blogpost is a compendium of my replies. A  few splenetic people (the kind who put the "Twit" in Twitter) have been relentlessly posting shrill criticisms of Grace Church's decision to stay open for congregational worship in spite of the California Governor's edicts ordering church doors closed. All the criticisms we get echo the same basic claims—namely, that the shutdown hasn't resulted in any actual "persecution" of churches, just inconvenience; that the Governor's orders don't really "target" churches, because they apply to sporting events and concerts as well; and that Grace Church would be perfectly free to meet and worship as a congregation if the elders would simply enforce the experts' guidelines for social distancing and keep everyone outdoors. Some typical examples: Here's a guy, for example, who Tweets, "The Church is free 2 meet in California. Not restricted. Truth matters." That Tweet was accompanied by more than 75 additional Tweets from the same Twitter account in 48 hours' time, all sharply critical of Grace Church's elders' decision. Another person likewise insists that "churches are free to meet in California, provided they comply with social distancing rules re: masking and not singing. . . Those are facts." There is also a persistent stream of people who want to dispute whether there's any element of persecution in the constraints California officials have placed on worship. More noisome foes of the elders' position have gone even further, challenging the fundamental integrity of John MacArthur and the elders, or imputing evil motives to them for wanting the church to meet. Some of our critics have seized the opportunity to vent accusations of greed, racism, pride—or whatever nasty bitterness they might have stored up in their hearts. I'm not surprised that we would get criticism. But I am somewhat surprised that the most angry, ill-tempered, accusatory—even imprecatory— remarks have come from within the evangelical community. Some preliminary comments So before I deal with the central question, let me clarify some facts the critics tend to misconstrue. First, the elders' statement gave a clear and simple reason why the church is continuing to meet—namely, that the State has no legitimate authority to determine what churches teach or how they worship. The document's key sentence is italicized for emphasis on page 1: "God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church." Christ is the Lord of the church, and he mediates his rule in the church through duly qualified elders. Open-ended executive orders from State officials dictating how, when, or whether the church can meet for worship overstep the bounds of Caesar's authority. That is the whole argument we are making. It doesn't hinge on the question of whether the government's restrictions qualify as "persecution" or not. Our protest is not because we think there's something sacrosanct about the church building. We have not refused to hold services outdoors. We erected the largest tent available in the church parking lot, and it has been filled with worshipers every Sunday morning. Our refusal to limit attendance is not driven by any of the crass motives some pathologically cynical critics have ascribed to Grace's elders. Second, the elders of Grace Church would not flippantly or injudiciously defy a legitimate government-imposed quarantine if it were clear that a deadly pestilence posed a real and present threat to life and well-being in our community. By "legitimate," I mean a quarantine with 1) a well-defined, quantifiable objective; 2) trustworthy monitoring and honest reporting from qualified health officials; and 3) well-considered restrictions that are impartially enforced in every public gathering. In other words, every event that draws a crowd, including political protests, would have to be treated even-handedly. Not one of those conditions is being met in the current shutdown.The stated goal when the quarantine was announced in March was "15 days to flatten the curve." It quickly morphed into a months-long stay-at-home order. Here in California, that phase, in turn, became an "indefinite" lockdown that now threatens to keep schools, businesses, and churches closed through the Fall season and beyond. Given the early cancellation of the Rose Parade on New Year's Day, there's little doubt our political overlords have every intention of not allowing life to return to normal for the remainder of the calendar year—if ever.The "science" behind the predictions that started the pandemic panic turned out to be false and absurdly fluid. The model that originally motivated so many world leaders to shut down their economies and put their people under quarantine was grossly wrong in virtually every prediction it made. Most experts admit that the data being reported on the spread of the virus even now is untrustworthy. The majority of them signed a letter in support of the "Black Lives Matter" mass protests, saying "we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission." The nation's top infectious disease expert has admitted to lying to the American public about the effectiveness of masks. California's top public health official quit this week because the computer system used to gather statistics was hopelessly faulty. There is no rational reason to trust the fear-mongering spin that politicians and the media continue to put on coronavirus statistics.When large crowds of angry protestors are permitted free reign to gather in the streets and spawn riotous behavior (often with support and encouragement from the same government officials who say they intend to keep lockdown restrictions in place indefinitely), that's not a legitimate quarantine.Third, for context, remember that the State of California and others have consistently categorized churches as non-essential while keeping liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, casinos, and abortion clinics open for business as usual. Perhaps no institution is more vital during a time of fear and uncertainty than a church where the gospel is preached. We wouldn't necessarily expect an increasingly secular government to recognize or celebrate that fact, but we do expect American officials to safeguard our unalienable, God-given rights to freedom of worship and assembly. They are sworn to uphold the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The fact that they have not done so is perhaps the most telling sign that religious liberty in the United States is indeed being threatened. Fourth, I might also mention the fact that hardened felons are being released from prison lest they risk being infected with COVID-19. Recidivism in the wake of that experiment has already exacted a costly toll. It is also well known that political demonstrations have been held in various places around Southern California every day since June, and no legal pressure has been put on participants to abide by social-distancing guidelines. In fact, some of the same experts and officials who insist severe restrictions are absolutely necessary for the rest of us have winked at or encouraged the protests. Meanwhile, pastors holding regular worship services are routinely hectored by public officials and threatened with legal action. Back to the original question: Here's my reply to those who wonder why we don't simply accept the restrictions and alter our worship services accordingly in order to comply as much as possible with the quarantine restrictions. The list that follows is taken from official guidelines that have been issued for places of worship in California. You'll find those documents linked below. (If you can't find where a specific bullet point can be documented, email me or comment below, and I'll give you specifics. I didn't want to clutter this list with references.) So here is a short list of just some of the things that our Governor's edict and the State of California's current guidelines would require of us: All "indoor operations" must close and remain closed indefinitely.Congregants must pre-register in order to come on campus. They are not permitted on campus at all except during scheduled events.Attendees must be screened for symptoms and have their temperature taken as they come onto campus.Everyone at all times must remain at least 6 feet away from anyone else who is not a household member. (That applies to the tent, the parking lot, restrooms, and the open areas of our campus.)Maximum occupancy of the tent is therefore determined by how many people can stand or sit inside the tent with a six-foot radius around each family group, with extra space allocated for aisles. We have the largest available tent that will fit in our parking lot. (The tent is 20,000 sq. ft.) At most, it can hold 350-400 people with social distancing. That's not even a tenth of our congregation.Attendees must therefore be counted as they come onto campus, and once the maximum occupancy of the tent is reached (400 people), anyone else who comes must be turned away.Every other parking space must be closed in order to maintain social distancing even in the parking lots.There must be marked, designated pathways from the parking lots to the tent. Staff members must be positioned along those pathways to remind people to maintain social distancing and stay masked at all times.Everyone who attends must wear a mask at all times, and anyone who comes within six feet of a maskless non-household member should self-quarantine for two weeks.Children are required to stay with their parents at all times and not intrude on the six-foot radius of non-household members. "Children should remain in the care of those in their household unit and not interact with children of other parties at any time while visiting facilities. [The church must] close play areas and discontinue activities and services for children where physical distancing of at least six feet cannot be maintained."Restrooms must be guarded by a monitor—a staff member tasked with making sure the six-foot rule isn't violated and that everyone who enters stays masked. (If those standards are strictly followed, most of our restrooms will accommodate only one person at a time.)Tape must be laid out on the ground outside the restroom to indicate where people in the queue should stand in order to maintain social distancing.Congregants should be encouraged to use the restroom during the service to minimize the rush before and after the service.Hand sanitizer must be provided at places around the campus. (We do that already.) In addition, all surfaces in high traffic areas must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected throughout the day. That includes "lobbies, halls, chapels, meeting rooms, offices, libraries, and study areas and areas of ingress and egress including stairways, stairwells, handrails, and elevator controls. . . . [also] doorknobs, toilets, handwashing facilities, pulpits and podiums, donation boxes or plates, altars, and pews and seating areas."Hymnbooks, seat cushions, offering plates, communion trays, and any other shared items are not to be used at all.If there is more than one service, disposable seat covers must be provided and changed between services.Signs must be posted at all entrances reminding people to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and go home if they are sick. Additional signs must be posted around the campus forbidding hugs and handshakes. And still more signs must be placed in the restrooms reminding people to wash their hands frequently and with soap—for at least 20 seconds each time.A list of all rules governing behavior for attendees must be posted on social media so that people can be informed of these restrictions before they come for worship.Church services must be "shortened to limit time spent at the site." (The guidelines aren't specific about the amount of time that must be shaved from our services.)The entire campus must be closed to the public when the service ends.If three people from the church test positive for COVID-19, church staff must report that to the Department of Health. The State will then send a representative to come and give us additional instructions on how to respond. To that guy who Tweeted that churches in California are "free 2 meet . . . Not Restricted"—and then had the chutzpah to add, "Truth matters," my answer is that I don't believe truth really matters very much at all to someone who is as militantly determined as he is to perpetuate that false narrative. To that guy who Tweeted that churches in California are "free 2 meet . . . Not Restricted"—and then had the chutzpah to add, "Truth matters," my answer is that I don't believe truth really matters very much at all to someone who is as militantly determined as he is to perpetuate that false narrative. To those who have had questions of conscience regarding the position our church has taken, I hope this information is helpful. Professing Christians who bow to tyranny under these circumstances are setting a bad precedent. It will be very hard for them to justify the position the Apostles took in Acts 5:29 when they finally realize that is what they need to do. And finally, for anyone seeking my sources, here are some of the documents issued by various government agencies listing restrictions for places of worship in California: From the California Department of Public Health, Health and Human Services Agency: "Statewide Public Health Officer Order," July 13, 2020. This was Governor Newsom's edict renewing and tightening the restrictions of his stay-at-home order after Californians had enjoyed a few days' respite from the original quarantine."COVID-19 INDUSTRY GUIDANCE: Places of Worship and Providers of Religious Services and Cultural Ceremonies"—from the California Department of Public Health.COVID-19 FAQ—from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health."Protocol for Places of Worship: Appendix F"—from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. No end to these draconian restrictions is anywhere in sight. The Governor says, "These closures shall remain in effect until I determine it is appropriate to modify the order." We answer: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge" (Acts 4:19). God's Word says, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25). "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Phil's signature
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