On Tuesday evening, a church in Louisiana held a service with hundreds of people despite the state’s restrictions on such gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19. Pastor Tony Spell announced to “the religious world” to “Keep going to church!” Are Pastor Spell’s actions correct? Do we have an obligation to disobey our government leaders’ instructions not to gather together until the pandemic is under control?
I have always believed and taught that Christians are commanded to submit to government unless we are commanded to do something that causes us to violate our conscience before God (Romans 13:1-7). If government commands us not to obey God’s law, then “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Disobedience to government is, therefore, the exception rather than the rule.
The current COVID-19 pandemic and its concurrent, bipartisan calls from both federal and state governments to suspend public gatherings, including worship, have raised these issues from the hypothetical to the practical. In this crisis, it is important to remember that government is not forbidding worship in principle or permanently. We are being asked, and in some cases ordered, not to exceed groups of certain sizes in order to get through a potential crisis that could cripple our healthcare capacity and cost untold multitudes of lives, especially of the elderly.
For those who believe in the sanctity of human life, this is a wonderful opportunity to affirm government fulfilling its duty to protect and preserve life. It is also an opportunity for pastors to demonstrate to their flocks and parents to their children how to submit to authority, even if you don’t agree or understand why.
I believe calls for civil disobedience in this case are not appropriate. This is no distant, despotic George III oppressing and taxing without representation. This is civil government seeking to protect and preserve human life and thereby fulfilling the principal purpose for which it was ordained by God. When this crisis is over, there will be opportunity to assess whether the current restrictions were unwarranted overreaches or not. If so, there is the perennial American privilege of revolt at the ballot box.
Steve Weaver is senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort and the Kentucky and Capitol Commission State Minister at the Kentucky State Capitol