An Open Letter to Our Leaders — Churches Must Not Be Handcuffed
As I said in a recent sermon, Americans need to realize that although we are in the same storm, we are in different boats. We need a lot more grace, understanding, and wisdom rather than fueling fear and anxiety. Some are unemployed, while others are doing fine financially. Some are enjoying a much-needed break, and others need to get going again (especially those with kids). Some are stressed to the max, especially those in the medical field, as they deal with the realities of the pandemic, while others feel misled by misinformation (and there is a lot of that).
The elderly and those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing conditions view this differently than young adults who feel cooped up in their homes. Large food chains remain open while churches stay closed. Although some states are taking tentative steps to open, there seems no true end in sight. It’s very evident that fear is affecting many people. I will briefly touch on three important topics below:
A Reality Check
I’m not dismissing COVID-19, but our response to it could prove to be far more deadly and destructive than the virus itself. My first point is that we all need a lot more grace, love and understanding. We need to be slow to speak and quick to listen so that when we do move forward, we respond in wisdom rather than react in frustration.
Second, we need a reality check. For example, in early April, Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said they are counting victims of the pandemic as anyone who dies while testing positive for the virus, even if something else caused their death. The CDC has confirmed this as well. This is an incredible and significant statement that raises suspicions of ulterior motives. Why “artificially” raise the death count? To instill more fear? To pressure more compliance and extend the shut-down for political purposes? To put more money in the pockets of hospitals? (Perhaps there’s a legitimate reason for the CDC’s action, but when once-trusted government agencies — like the FBI — violate our trust, suspicion is easy to come by.)
Add this to the fact that countless Americans have already been exposed and now have the antibodies (just how God designed us, by the way), and we soon realize that we have now reached the “overreaction” stage of the pandemic. We must reopen America while at the same time honoring certain protocols. A recent article noted that “Sweden has left its schools, gyms, cafes, bars and restaurants open throughout the spread of the pandemic. Instead, the government has urged citizens to act responsibly and follow social distancing guidelines.”
Our heart is for peace and compliance and having a good reputation (Proverbs 22:1). We are called to be as gentle as doves but also as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16). Many are starting to feel that these policies are actually damaging our health and the health of our children, as illustrated in the powerful video from two ER physicians in California. (A video removed by Facebook because it countered what the World Health Organization was saying, even as the WHO itself has proven unreliable and protective of China.)
Another reality check is needed in the media. I’ve tuned out many in the mainstream media. No matter what our president says, they will twist it. No matter what he does, they will condemn it. No matter how he acts, they will mock it. Can you imagine a segment of the nation that is against you no matter what you say or do? During a pandemic? It’s unbelievable. This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history. The left has an agenda the virus won’t stop. In fact, the virus will be used. Hillary Clinton championed this last week when she repeated the line about never letting a crisis go to waste. How much longer do we allow their agenda to influence us?
Keeping Churches Closed
As I’ve noted before, the Titanic has been struck. Do we lower the rafts or sit on the deck? The stimulus package is just that — a short-term stimulant. If people are not allowed to go back to work, it will only prolong the inevitable. Yes, we may need to isolate a few hot spots, but the vast majority of America needs to get back to work, and our churches need to be the voice of truth pointing people back to God. As one person said, “If gyms can be open with monitoring, then churches should also be opened with guidelines. Our spiritual and emotional well being is just as, if not more important, than our physical well being.”
How can we justify allowing hundreds of people to shop in big box stores but still keep churches closed? There are three primary reasons:
1) Churches are viewed as non-essential.
2) Fear is controlling decisions.
3) This is clearly a spiritual battle: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).
I’m all for being careful. We will take reasonable precautions, but there is a huge difference between wisdom and fear. Fear keeps us bound to worry and anxiety, whereas wisdom allows us to experience the joy of the Lord and live our lives.
Many people don’t know God and they fear death. Therefore, decisions are based on self-preservation. It’s evident that panic is controlling most of our elected officials as well as our citizens. One thing is absolutely certain: This pandemic is thoroughly revealing who and what we trust in. We must repent of our sin and turn to God. For those interested, this message speaks volumes to our national need for repentance.
Listen to the advice of godly counsel as much as to citizens, to spiritual leaders as much as to business leaders. We cannot, and should not, remain silent and passive forever. I have seen vacuum repair stores and donut shops open while churches remain closed, as if a clean house and a full belly are more essential than a human soul. This can’t continue. I know that some in our own congregation have gone back to destructive addictions and marriages are on the verge of divorce, and I don’t believe our church is the only one seeing this trend. Streaming services, video conferences, and social media are not going to solve those issues. We need to be together.
God’s house needs to be a place of wholeness and restoration. Churches must not be handcuffed for much longer.
God Has the Final Say
As a final thought, who can stop God almighty? No one! Not Washington D.C., not Democrats, not Republicans. You can close churches, shut-down the Internet, and pass laws, but you can’t silence the voice of God.
I didn’t think the Safer-at-Home policy was a First Amendment issue, at least not initially, because the order appeared to be short-term and very specific. But as time goes on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that churches are purposely on the back burner. (And not just Christian churches. Look at how New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio threatened the Jewish community.)
We should submit to authority — but at what point does submission become opposition to God’s commands to pray for the sick, come together in united worship, read His Word, and help others? Most churches have been very compliant and eager to submit to the governing authorities. But we cannot remain hand-cuffed. When the disciples had their hands tied and were commanded to refrain from doing what God called them to do, they said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29 NLT). We are not there yet, but please don’t force our hand.
Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Southern California and the creator of the WCF Radio Network. His program, Regaining Lost Ground, points us back to God and reminds us that although times change, truth does not. His books, blogs, and sermons can all be found at ShaneIdleman.com.