COVID-19: Should This Aylmer Pastor Be Breaking the Law?

If we are truly concerned that people in their cars with their windows rolled up are a threat to stopping the spread of COVID-19, how are we not horrified that 300m down the road many people are mingling out in the open with no barriers between them whatsoever, except the one sheet of plexiglass at the checkout? – Michael Krahn (About page)

Here is what’s happening right now in my hometown of Aylmer, Ontario. (Pictured above: Pastor Henry Hildebrandt of The Church of God)

An infectious disease is spreading through the world. It is highly contagious and there is no cure. It is so serious, in fact, that we are taking extreme measures to reduce the spread. As a result, many new restrictions are in place.

Creative Compliance
Last weekend, a local church gathered for worship in an unusual way. They drove into the parking lot just as they normally would on any other week, but this week they stayed in their cars the whole time with the windows rolled up so there was no chance of spreading the disease. While they were gathered they listened to a live sermon preached onsite via FM radio. This sounds like what we might call “creative compliance”: the goal of the restrictions is met and the church is still able to have some semblance of a gathering.

But in a demonstration of just how serious we are about stopping the spread of this disease, the police showed up to let these people know that this was a dangerous and illegal activity they should not engage in. (This is no knock on the police, who are simply doing their best to enforce the laws that have been made.)

[UPDATE/CORRECTION: In speaking to a church representative I was informed that the police did not show up at the actual service. According to this church leader, the church had been working in cooperation with the local police and had permission to meet in this way. Then on Monday they received notice that they were in violation and if they met the same way again this coming Sunday action would be taken.]

Fair enough – it seems a bit extreme, but we have all accepted that it’s just the world we live in right now.

Meanwhile…
Another world entirely, apparently, exists about 300m away from this church parking lot. The local grocery store also has a parking lot and many people park there every day. But nobody shows up to warn them not to do so.

But wait, there’s more! These people don’t even stay in their cars. They open their doors and get out of their cars. They then grab a shopping cart and enter the building. Inside the building they grab the groceries they need, together with plenty of other people who are doing the same.

But wait, everyone is wearing masks and being careful to stay six feet apart, right? On staying six feet apart, yes, people seem to be doing their best, but the last time I visited this store I didn’t see a single mask.

Is This Disease Serious or Not?
And all of this begs some questions: Is this disease serious or is it not? And should the pastor of this church, Henry Hildebrandt, break the law and encourage his congregation to meet again the same way next Sunday?

But wait – you say – the grocery store has been designated an essential service and the church has not. Ok, but does that mean there is blanket immunity available on location at these essential businesses? It’s like we’re being told not to gather in groups of more than five – unless you’re at an establishment that has been deemed an essential service. Then it’s free range! Like a city under a protective bubble.

In other words, if we are truly concerned that people in their cars with their windows rolled up are a threat to stopping the spread of COVID-19, how are we not horrified that 300m down the road many people are mingling out in the open with no barriers between them whatsoever, except the one sheet of plexiglass at the checkout?

The incongruence is a little too stark for us to ignore.

The Nature of Church
As Christians we believe that the Bible calls us to regularly meet together in person (Hebrews 10:25).  A church family is like an extended biological family. It requires the presence of others to maintain its vitality.

Because of COVID-19 we’ve been asked not to meet and an overwhelming majority of churches have complied with that order. We believe that God is pleased with our compliance as we seek to love our neighbours by taking reasonable precautions to not do them harm. And we will continue to do so unless it becomes apparent that the orders are actually being used to prevent our gatherings in a targeted way. It seems Pastor Henry Hildebrand believes that’s what’s already happening, which is why his church is defying the order.

To be clear, it is our desire as followers of Jesus to respect and submit to those in authority over us because we believe they have been placed in authority over us by God (Romans 13:1). But we also believe that this authority is delegated to them by God and it is therefore not absolute in their hands. God’s authority is absolute, and when human leaders use their delegated authority to unjustifiably discourage what God commands, Christians are obligated to speak up. 

Most Christians I know do not believe that faith communities are being intentionally targeted with these laws, but with a few more incidences like this one that is bound to change.

We must find ways to allow for this kind of creative compliance. If we don’t, we run the risk of giving the appearance that these laws and their enforcement are both targeted and arbitrary. So let’s have this conversation before we get to that point.

Feel free to get in touch…

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