Should Pathway Support Illinois' Covid-19 Re-opening Plan?
Last Friday President Trump declared that churches are essential. This exacerbated the growing frustrations with Governor Pritzker’s COVID-19 re-opening plan as it relates to the church. Here are the two biggest frustrations I hear:
- Governor Pritzker does not view the church as an “essential service” and as a result we are not able to meet again in person as a whole church until phase 5. Since the Bill of Rights says we have a right to free assembly, he is violating our rights to gather in person for worship.
- The Governor said we are required to wear masks in indoor public places and practice social distancing. But he is misinformed because masks are not effective and may even cause more harm.
As Christians, the question seems to come down to this:
Will Pathway support Governor Pritzker’s COVID-19 re-opening plan,
or will we engage in civil disobedience as a church?
Biblical principles must shape our response in order to strive for unity in the church:
- God is sovereign over all. (2 Chronicles 20:6, Isaiah 43:13 Psalm 47:2, Psalm 115:3, Daniel 4:35)
- God puts kings, presidents, and governors in positions of authority, and we are called to submit to them for our own good (Romans 13:1-7). Whether we agree with the governor or not, and whether or not we believe he is motivated purely out of political gain, we are called to obey Scripture’s commands in this area and even pray for him.
(I do want you to know that this week I signed the attached letter from Illinois pastors. It petitions the governor to meet with church leaders to allow churches to meet together as a whole before Phase 5. It was written by Ed Stetzer, Rev. Meeks and a few other area pastors.)
- The only time we are not to submit to the authorities God has put in place is when those in authority forbid us to do what God commands or when they command us to do what God forbids. (Acts 4:19-20)
This seems to be the sticking point. Yes, the Bill of Rights says we have the right to free assembly as a church. This is a great blessing! However, in my view, the reopening plan does not single out churches exclusively and discriminate against them. Yes, not meeting in-person for an extended time is extremely difficult because as Christians we were created to live and grow in community. But, thankfully, we are still able to continue worshipping together via live stream and meeting in groups of 10 or fewer.
- From what I see in Scripture, we are called by God to submit to the governor’s plan and in so doing, glorify God and live in true freedom (1 Peter 2:11-17). Right now, there is a lot of speculation, judging of motives, and anger from those inside the church. We must not fuel this but rather silence it by calling on the church to submit to the Lord and to the authorities he has placed over us.
- Looking at the Scriptures, the antidote to fear is not faith, but love. (1 John 4:18 and 1 Corinthians 13:2) It is wrong to tell people who are afraid of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 they need more faith, or they can just stay home. This is not biblical. God says love is what is most important. Perfect love casts out all fear. For those who are afraid, we need to remind them of God’s perfect love for them (Psalm 23, John 14:27), and we must love those who are afraid in the same way God loves us.
- Biblical love means we sacrifice our rights and desires for the sake of others (1 Corinthians 9). Are we willing to consider that this means wearing a mask* in public out of love for our brother or sister - or enemy? Are we willing to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and ask: What is the loving thing to do for them? How far are we willing to go in giving up our rights? Having the same attitude as Jesus, will you do nothing out of selfish ambition but in humility consider others better than yourself (Philippians 2:1-13)?
*As it relates to the effectiveness of cloth masks, I found this article helpful. In the absence of conclusive evidence, as Christians we must err on the side of love.
In summary, the unity of the church is at risk right now. But we have an opportunity to love God, to love others, and to walk by faith in obedience to His commands - even when obedience is hard.
Would you be willing to meditate on these Scriptures with me over the next week and ask the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts, minds and wills into conformity with Christ and unity with one another?
I Peter 2:11-17
1 John 4:1 - 5:5
Dear Governor Pritzker,
On behalf of clergy and religious congregations across the State of Illinois, we the
undersigned wish to express our deep gratitude for your thoughtful and energetic
leadership during the crisis in which our State is currently immersed. The need for
your strong leadership is unusually apparent to us, as our congregations have been
greatly impacted by this crisis. Some of us have been personally present at the burial of victims of the novel coronavirus and all of us minister daily to vast numbers of people affected by the social and economic dislocations of this era.
Because we are at the helm of churches that shape the opinions and behaviors of
hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans, we are very eager to be an asset to you and the
health of our State in this significant time. We feel this acutely now in light of the rising
unrest increasingly surfacing among our constituencies. We want to work with you to
counter this so that our communities do not become further conflicted and law
enforcement is not required to deal with circumstances harmful to everyone.
The growing resistance we are meeting emerges from a sense that the concerns of
religious communities are not being taken into account with the seriousness with which
the state is approaching other segments of the society. As pastors, we can assure you
that the safety of our congregants and our surrounding communities are of the utmost
concern to us. The current guidelines create an untenable position for us as churches,
especially as we are eager to serve the spiritual and material needs of our communities.
You have carefully consulted with medical health experts, business leaders, and civic
authorities to craft a coordinated response to present dangers. We respectfully
request that you devise a similar mechanism for consulting with religious leaders
who can provide further intelligence and support in the next phases of your efforts to
Restore Illinois. We believe we can work with you and your staff to create a plan that
follows the science, protects the people we love, and give churches a greater hope
through participation in the planning.
If any of us can assist with that, we stand at the ready to serve.
With gratitude and hope,
James Meeks, Salem Baptist Church (Chicago)
Wilfredo de Jesus, New Life Church (Chicago)
Dan Meyer, Christ Church Oak Brook (Oak Park)
Stewart Ruch, III Anglican Cathedral Church of the Resurrection (Wheaton)
Kelly Brady, Glen Ellyn Bible Church (Glen Ellyn)
Beth Cossin, Heritage Church (Moline)
Ed Stetzer, Wheaton College Billy Graham Center (Wheaton)
Illinois state / regional denominational leaders:
Chris Conrad, Regional Superintendent, Great Lakes Region, The Wesleyan Church
Phillip Schneider, Superintendent, Illinois Assemblies of God
Nate Adams. Executive Director, Illinois Baptist State Association
Rick Whitter, State Administrative Bishop, Illinois Church of God
…more to be added as letter is shared
Charlie Dates, pastor, Progressive Baptist Church (Chicago)
Horace E. Smith, M.D., bishop, Apostolic Faith Church (Chicago)
Marty Sloan, pastor, Calvary Church (Naperville)
Colin Smith, pastor, The Orchard Church (Arlington Heights)
Ron Zappia, pastor, Highpoint Church (Naperville)
Dennis Laughlin, pastor, Bethalto Church of God (Bethalto)
Jacob Skelton, pastor, Kincaid Church of God (Kincaid)
Daniel Maples, pastor, Park Avenue Church of God (Herrin)
Shawn Cossin, pastor, Heritage Church (Moline)
Mark Jobe, pastor, New Life Church (Chicago)
Josh Moody, pastor, College Church (Wheaton)
…more to be added as letter is shared
Organizations and churches listed are for identification purposes only.
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