Loving your neighbor is a clear call from Jesus. But what if your neighbor doesn’t want to be loved in the way you believe a neighbor should be loved? (updated to April 3rd)

Gathering

A church local to Edmonton held gatherings for months with attendance in excess of COVID gathering restrictions. They believe they are loving their neighbor.  In early December 2020, attendance was just over 100 in a space with capacity for over 700. Few wore a mask. As time passed, gatherings became larger. RCMP charged the pastor for failing to comply. In February he surrendered to authorities and placed in remand. The church continued to meet with ever increasing numbers.

The judge overseeing the hearing reprimanded the pastor for putting his congregation and community at risk, fined him, and deemed the fine paid by time served. The pastor returned to the church on Sunday March 28th, where a standing room crowd had gathered. People stood shoulder to shoulder in the foyer overflow area, watching a livestream of the service on a monitor.

Beyond Obedience

Underlying the church’s course of action is the conviction that the declared pandemic is a government power grab. They state on their website, “We are gravely concerned that COVID-19 is being used to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties. By the time the so-called ‘pandemic’ is over, if it is ever permitted to be over, Albertans will be utterly reliant on government, instead of free, prosperous, and independent.”

The pastor says he is not a political revolutionary. He says he is simply being obedient. He submits to Jesus. Clearly, the issue goes far beyond obedience.

Love

What is happening to the pastor is not persecution. The Charter protects the religious rights of Canadians. The church has a finger pointed at the government but is oblivious to the three fingers pointing back at them.

If a spiritual community presumes to know what is good for others, based solely on preference, their behavior is self-righteous at best and dangerous at worst. A community may use words like grace, love, life, truth, or obedience, but their actions endanger neighbors.

This pastor and the church leadership could act for the good of the greater community. Hold multiple services on additional days. Meet outdoors at a drive-in service.

My efforts to reach the pastor and the church have not met with a response, yet.

Leadership

Calls to action are swelling, like those from the editorial staff of the Edmonton Journal, “To allow a church to continue to flout public health orders is a complete abdication of responsibility.” If there is no change, authorities must act on behalf of the greater community.

On Good Friday the church was once again packed to capacity in defiance of health guidelines. As a result, Christian, Islamic, and Jewish leaders appealed to the Christian congregation to do likewise. “…consider, contemplate and reflect upon what God would want them to do in terms of caring for others, especially vulnerable Albertans.”

Please join the conversation by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page.

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Bob Jones

Bob Jones

Happily married to Jocelyn for 41 years. We have two adult sons, Cory and his wife Lynsey and their son Vinnie and daughter Jayda; Jean Marc and his wife Angie and their three daughters, Quinn, Lena and Annora. I love inspiring people through communicating, blogging, and coaching. I enjoy writing, running, and reading. I'm a fan of the Double E, Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and Pats. Follow me on Twitter @bobjones49ers

18 Comments

  • Bob Jones says:

    The last order of the Commander was preach the gospel, make disciples, baptize believers, everywhere.
    During the pandemic in Alberta…
    The church is open.
    The gospel is preached.
    People decided to follow Jesus.
    Believers are baptized.
    Communion is shared.
    The poor are cared for.
    Kindness is given to the least of these.
    Believers gather in person and online.
    Love is the theme.
    Civil liberties threatened?
    Not on our watch.

  • Bob Jones says:

    As of March 28th – An executive officer’s order has been issued requiring the closure of GraceLife Church until compliance with restrictions is achieved. The order includes a requirement that GraceLife’s capacity by capped at 92 people, every person wear a face mask at all times while in an indoor space, and that every person maintain a minimum distance of two metres from every person not part of their own cohort or household group. https://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/gracelife-church-hosts-another-packed-service-pastor-returns-after-jail-time-for-not-following-covid-19-health-orders-1.5365844

  • Dan says:

    It’s shameful when any person or group especially the church leadership and attendees violate pandemic health restrictions. Not only should the Pastor have been charged but also others in leadership & those attending that did not follow required restrictions. In my opinion it took far too long to take legal action. Will the church be closed for next Sunday, well, we will wait and see.

  • Bob Jones says:

    I give some grace to Premier Kenney in not wanting to shut down a church. Clearly, the church is pushing an agenda of defiance in an issue that everyone has tried to do their best. Of all issues, this is not the one to push civil liberties.

  • Lillian says:

    Thank you for writing about this, it’s encouraging to hear someone whose opinion I value responds to this church that has been thrust into the limelight. It is disheartening to see so many feeling “validated” by this pastor’s release, but then he and his church go right and ahead and continue to behave in a manner that contravenes current health protocols. My question to him would be : out of the thousands of churches in Alberta, did God truly speak to him and give him a conviction that all the others haven’t been given ? It makes me sad to hear from Christians that the other churches are all afraid to take a stand . How can we be a light when there is divisiveness .

  • Jordan Majeau says:

    My gut instinct would be to shut the church down, but I think this would only be a short-term gain. I would not want to give this church’s actions more attention. In this case, I wouldn’t trust my gut. To address the immediate issue, I think the government and all the associate agencies are using all the tools they have to mitigate further damage to the community. If I’m thinking in the long term, I think it’s a question of creating better alternatives. As your post indicated, I think this is the time for the church, in general, to show leadership, work in partnership with the community and find creative solutions to get through this pandemic. Where I do trust my gut is that this church’s stance perhaps reflects a symptom of a greater problem. One of those “If there’s smoke, there is a fire” things. There are potentially deep foundational issues where this community may collapse on its own in a few years. I’d like to be wrong. A community-built to fight only works on non-renewable energy; a community built to serve will draw on an everlasting energy source.

  • Bob Jones says:

    Crisis reveals character. When accusations of weakness are made they are usually made against what is strong; a temptation to provoke the strong to behaviour unbecoming. Your congregation in Bonnyville is well led and strong. Pandemics pass. Character endures.

  • Bob Jones says:

    As always, you have good insight Jordan. Some people lead out of creating crisis. They builds a foundation of sand. Numbers may increase but are unsustainable.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks Bob for your article. This group of people showing up at Grace Life Church have been given too many chances and it is time to play hard. I It is time to fine each person that attends, contravening the health rules. These people are putting the whole community at risk, costing the people of our province $millions trying to keep the infection rate down, and simply being defiant of health measures providing us guidance .

    If all ~600 people are fined $1200, that is $720,000 to help finance contact tracers, vaccinators etc. Perhaps then they would (maybe) start worshiping online like the rest of us are. It works well.

    Just imagine when the virus enters that crowd!!! Can Pastor James Coates heal the sick like Jesus? Will he pay the hospital bills for all that become infected through his church? It should not be up to the rest of us through our taxes.

  • Bob Jones says:

    He already made his point. Compliance with restrictions would have been gracious on his part. Refusing to meet with AHS is not an admirable choice. Defying restrictions intended to protect the community on Good Friday was in contrast to the sacrifice of Jesus who laid aside his rights and power. Pastors who lead by creating a crisis fall by crisis.

  • Jill+Burns says:

    I guess it’s up to me to be the lone voice of dissension. I am absolutely not ok with a church being forcibly closed and am gob smacked than anyone in our country thinks its not only ok but even something to be encouraged. We aren’t guaranteed health or safety in our constitution (God doesn’t guarantee it either) but religious freedom IS guaranteed and it’s being violated by the very institution put in place to protect those rights. Why are you ok with that? Please listen to Pastor Coates February 14 message and read Grace Life’s public statement on their website. Gain understanding. You’re trading freedom for a false sense of safety from a disease few of us need to be protected from. Are you sure that’s a wise trade to make?

  • Bob Jones says:

    Chocolate and shutdowns. I have to write more about those for engagement with you because I appreciate connecting. We are living in testing and testy times. Seeing the fence go up today was a surprise to me. AHS had a few options to use to address the defiant behavior. That was not an option on my list. Pastor Coates has been clear. I follow his messages since December out of concern. He states the issue is about civil liberties, the media and a pandemic he believes is NOT a pandemic. He says, “people should begin to exercise their civil liberties again. Otherwise we may not get them back.” I hold to a different opinion. Churches are open. Data shows that Alberta had the least restrictions on worship gatherings in all of Canada for most, if not all of the last 13 months. In Alberta, the gospel is preached onsite and online. People are making decisions to follow Jesus and be baptized. Congregations are serving the marginalized, seniors, shut-ins, caring for frontline workers, first responders, offering mental health support. Leaders have adapted. Gathering is human and Christian. I don’t see a clear horizon with no-limits gathering, especially in contexts where people are known to offer “holy kisses” or at the least, hugs, for another 8 months or more. But gatherings will return. I have reached out pastor to pastor with pastor Coates with no response. I pray for GraceLife as I do our government leaders.

  • Jill+Burns says:

    First, and to be clear, PB, my comments weren’t directed to you alone but to other commenters who may not have listened to Pastor Coates. That said, if you’ve listened to and read what he has to say there’s nothing I’m going to say that will influence your thinking and we will have to agree to disagree. To me the bottom line is that if covid 19 is really a pandemic, we wouldn’t need public health measures to limit our freedoms or governments and media telling us how scared we should be, our own experience would tell us to be afraid. If we all thought it was actually that bad, we would stay out of public places, social distance and wear masks of our own volition, no intervention required. But that’s not really the experience for most of us, is it? There is mass non-compliance because we don’t believe the fear mongering. The data and science do not add up to pandemic. Speaking of non-compliance, AHS has a lot more work to do shuttering churches, businesses and fining individuals if they’re going to be consistent in dealing with those who believe as Pastor Coates and his congregants. Including me 🙂 I await your next post about chocolate.

  • Bob Jones says:

    Thanks, friend so much for keeping the conversation going. I can hear your voice and see your face in your words. Interesting to me is how people I respect in the same professions hold to different opinions about COVID and the pandemic. Nurses, doctors and EMS workers that I know personally, hold a different opinion than others in the same professions. I am trying to parse that. I know families in Alberta who have and are suffering with severe effects of COVID. Some are facing the effects of COVID long. Those who have suffered or lost a loved one, and I have done a few funerals from COVID, are upset with those who say COVID is no big deal. Those who have lost their business and livelihood are upset because they have paid too a large price for the restrictions. Students, parents, shut-ins, those needing surgery, or facing drug addiction are upset because of the price they have paid. Everyone is upset. I believe those in authority have taken measures that would create the best outcomes to minimize deaths and limit the contagion, at the same time as honoring the liberties of citizens. I don’t expect any government to be perfect. Leading in Alberta can be like herding cats. I do think that politics has negatively factored into the decision-making process, both by the UCP and the JCCF. Whatever people think about the decisions made, this pandemic has demanded adaptive leadership and that kind of leadership has a language of “learn as we go, let go, keep going.” I also know, as do you, that those entrusted with leadership are called to steward information with discretion and confidentiality that can lead to misunderstanding and make leaders look bad. And now for something light on the subject of dark chocolate.

  • Jill+Burns says:

    I hear you, PB. And maybe my experience is too limited to have a more broad perspective. This topic is so polarizing but I suspect we can all agree we’re all tired of all of it and want normal life back. Unfortunately the path to normal is neither clear nor smooth. Who knew we would be living a future history lesson? Be well and be blessed…

  • Bob Jones says:

    Totally agree. Cool heads. Calm minds. True hearts. Coffee, dark chocolate in the near future, eh?

  • Faye Dombrowski says:

    Thank you, Jill, for speaking up. Wolfgang & I are in agreement with you. This is not a pandemic. The rallying cry in the spring was, “Flatten the curve.” The governments wanted time to prepare their hospitals for the expected onslaught of patients. Our gov’t had until Dec to prepare, but did they? No nurses were called out of retirement. Extra staff were not hired. There was a lot of fuss about getting ventilators made, but most of them are sitting in warehouses. The government has devastated the economy with their lockdowns. Businesses have closed permanently. Grace Life has made a decision to remain open. It was a prayerful decision, made after talking to medical professionals. They were not asking other churches to join them. They just wanted to continue worshipping as a family because that is what church is. It was not a political move on their part. The gov’t chose to make it political by singling them out. There are mosques whose parking lots are full on Fridays, there are big box stores whose parking lots are full EVERY day but they are all being left alone. Grace Life has had NO positive cases in 37 weeks of meeting. We were at Grace Life site on Sunday & it was not the Christians that tore down a part of the fence. It was less than a dozen people. The Christians actually stopped them, helped rebuild the fence & formed a human chain in front of the fence to protect it. We had a wonderful time of singing hymns, reading scripture & hearing testimonies before this happened. I want people to know that b/c the MSM is not going to tell the whole story. The government is supposed to protect the people but do no harm. These lockdowns have done more harm than the virus has done. Pastor Bob, I would encourage you to listen to the Western Standard Online interview of Erin Coates & John Carpay with Danielle Smith. Erin did many interviews while Pastor Coates was in prison & Pastor James has been interviewed since he got out. This church has gone underground now. I think they want to be left alone until the trial.

  • Bob Jones says:

    Hello Faye and Wolfgang. Thank you for leaning in. You are people of action. I did follow with some of the behaviors at GLC on Sunday and noted the efforts of some organizers to be peaceful, not confront the officers entrusted with keeping the peace, and assisting them to restore the fence. They seem to be well-intentioned people. I believe that to be the case with the Coateses. I have listened to their interviews and followed content on Erin’s Instagram account. Their stance has attracted people who are taking advantage of the situation to further their own ends. I hold a different opinion to deeming restrictions to be a purposeful way of removing civil liberties. There are many examples of inequity over the past 13 months. That in itself is frustrating. The pandemic will come to an end. What will continue is the love of Jesus, relationships, sharing the gospel and being a light. People need the Lord. Truths and principles that unite believers are far more significant than opinions. God bless.

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