Responding to Covid

I am writing this to explain, and give some scriptural support for, our decision to comply with the state’s latest mandates regarding the COVID 19 pandemic.

This is an article it never occurred to me that I would have to write.  Most of us had never thought of a global pandemic prior to spring of 2020.  And without exception I know of no pastor who had ever thought of mask compliance and Zoom staff meetings until this year.

Last week the governor of our state sent out new requirements.  They required few changes to what we are already doing, except for a four week pause of congregational singing.

Still, I know of several churches across our nation and region who have decided to ignore government directives.  I get asked about them.  I felt I should respond.

I am a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest.  I like our individualism.   I even consider myself a bit of a civil libertarian.  My neck stiffens whenever I hear of government regulations, particularly when church and state are involved.  But our church is complying with our state’s regulations.

Here is why:

Complying is Biblical

Romans 13:1 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”  (You may want to read the front end of Romans 13.  It is challenging.)

In Sunday school classes and small groups over the years I have asked, “Is there any exception to this rule?”  The most common answer I hear: “When the laws of the state conflict with the laws of God.”

I have asked myself multiple times during this pandemic, does what we are being asked to do conflict with the laws of God?  As challenging as some of the regulations have been, I do not believe any have stood in conflict with God’s laws.

Consider this:
  • Except for a shutdown at the beginning of the virus, when little was known about it, we have been allowed to meet in person. We have been for months.  Our church is prepared to return to pre Covid attendance by adding services.  We can still meet in person.
  • Livestreaming has meant we can meet virtually for those at higher risk.  Our government has even encouraged these streams.
  • Worship has not been banned.   We are being asked to take a temporary break from musical worship.  But there are other ways to worship (Romans 12:1).  Maybe this time will even serve to get us out of a false view of what worship is. 

In many respects, this first point is enough for me.  Still, I believe there are some meaningful additional reasons to consider.

Complying Respects Community

I must admit, I was a little surprised with the new rules that were announced.  They were much kinder to churches than they were to the business sector.  There is likely a good constitutional argument for that.  But gyms, movies theaters, bowling alleys, and restaurants are facing severe shutdowns and a massive loss of income.

What kind of a message does it send to the community if business owners are struggling because they chose to comply while churches thumb their nose at the rules?  Instead of focusing on our own “rights” perhaps we are better served by helping those businesspeople who are struggling.

Some churches are run so much like a retail business selling a product I have wondered if they are acting out of a fear of a loss of revenue rather than genuine moral outrage.  But the church is not a business. It is family.  The bride of Christ. Called to be redemptive and healing.   Truthfully, I as a pastor have been concerned about paying the bills.  But throughout this crisis my mind has wandered back to the admonition of an old ministry partner, Ray Friberg, who used to say, “Mike, let God be responsible for the consequences of your obedience.”

There is an interesting story in the book of Jeremiah.  The Jews are in exile in Babylon.  Probably not the situation they hoped for.  For some, a bad situation.  So, they should fight the local authorities, right?

Listen to what God tells them:

"This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:4-7

Bottom line:  Be a blessing where you are placed regardless of the circumstance.  Even in exile.
I would add to this the words of Peter:

"Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."  1 Peter 2:12

For our church, we are going to say what we have said throughout the process – if you hear of someone in need, let us know.  We would like to try and find a way to help.
Finally,

Complying Cares for the Vulnerable

Covid is a new, or novel, virus.  We have learned much about it this year. More is to be learned. That is how research works.  The fact that this occurred during a hotly contested campaign season meant that the virus did become politicized.  I also believe that reasonable people can disagree on the effectiveness of lockdowns.

Since this has started, we have received multiple notices and directives from the state and local health department.  Being a natural skeptic, I have checked this information by talking to my family physician, another local doctor, a friend of mine who practices medicine, and several nurses.  They agree:
  • Mask wearing and distancing is currently our best defense
  • Singing (and exercising for that matter) may increase transmission risk because greater volumes of air are expelled from the lungs
And most importantly:
  • Certain populations (elderly, immune suppressed, those in cancer treatment, or diabetics, to name a few) are at a much higher risk of serious complications, and death, from Covid 19.  We have many people who fall into these categories that are a part of our church family.

Doing whatever we can to reduce transmission protects others.  Looking out for others is a central theme of scripture.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Philippians 2:3-4

Wisely Pick Battles

We are all tired of this.  I understand.
There are times to stand in opposition. 
There are times for civil disobedience. 
There are times to say no more.

As a pastor I pray that God gives me wisdom to know when those “times” are and then the confidence to lead my people.

But what is being asked here?

Churches are being asked to mask up and curtail singing for a period in hopes it will slow a virus.

This seems sensible to me.

You are loved,
Pastor Mike

1 Comment


Sandy - November 24th, 2020 at 11:36am

I appreciate your wisdom and the clear thought process you have used. Thank you.