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)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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