Crosswalk: Does it Violate Religious Liberty to Close Churches over Coronavirus?

Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, answers the question Does it Violate Religious Liberty to Close Churches over Coronavirus?

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/rarrarorro

As the entire world faces the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, states and municipalities are working to contain the virus, as best as possible, by discouraging (and otherwise doing everything to stop) gatherings of people.

President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force guidance recommended no more than ten people getting together for at least the next eight weeks.

In the days to come, it is possible that the government will act even more drastically. As most churches are now not gathering on Sundays for the time being, some are asking if these sorts of health mandates are a violation of religious liberty.

The Short Answer is No

Before I explain why, let me note that the question is a reasonable one. After all, we maintain that no government is lord of the church–our only Head is Jesus Christ. And there would be many circumstances in which a government illegitimately could use powers to keep churches from gathering. That said, nothing that is happening right now related to this crisis is, in my view, a violation of religious liberty or the separation of the church from the state.

Our commitment to religious liberty is grounded in what Jesus taught us—that the spheres of the church and the state are different, and the one should not have authority over the other. The state has the “power of the sword,” for instance, to punish criminals and to maintain civic order (Rom. 13:1-7), while the church does not (1 Cor. 5:9-12). The church has the authority to proclaim the gospel and to define the boundaries of the fellowship within that gospel, the state does not.

Legitimate God-Given Authority to Protect in Crisis

The current situation facing us is not a case of the state overstepping its bounds, but rather seeking to carry out its legitimate God-given authority. Nowhere, at this point, have we seen churches targeted because of their beliefs or mission.

At issue is a clear public objective—stopping the transmission of a dangerous virus by gatherings. This applies to the local plate jugglers association just as much to churches. Because the state must respect the consciences and souls of the people, consciences and souls over which it has no ultimate authority, any action involving religious bodies should have, in the words of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, a “compelling state interest” and must pursue the “least restrictive means” of achieving it.

In my view, both of these tests have been met, in every case I have seen.

This is an area—the protection of public health—where the state has not just a legal authority but an authority granted by God himself. The state could not, for instance, decline to prosecute a murder because the shooting happened during a church service. And the church could not claim that religious liberty is violated because the state would not allow them to shelter from accountability the shooter.

Legitimate Public Interest So Far

Someone could not claim a religious liberty to embezzle just because the embezzling is happening during the church offertory. The same principle is at work here. Governments are seeking to limit gatherings of people. That is a legitimate public interest, and the government is seeking to do so in the least intrusive way possible.

So far. Everything here refers to actions taken so far.

The situation will almost inevitably lead to even stronger and less voluntary government actions. Could these encroach on religious liberty? That is certainly possible, but not necessarily. To prevent that, we will need more secular leaders to think carefully about why religion is important and more religious leaders to be thinking through the complexities of public health…(continues)

Click here to continue reading at Crosswalk.

Front Sight Info on Church Shootings

The information below was going to be presented at tonight’s general assembly (which has been cancelled) as part of the presentation on church shootings and security.

From Front Sight:

The first video below is Front Sight’s professional review and sensitive critique of the actions of those involved in the gunfight, as captured on video, at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas. Watch this SPECIAL Reality Check and ask yourself, “What can YOU do in 1.5 seconds?”

The second video, the Special Supplement to the first video, shows you how the entire situation could have been avoided entirely, or at the least, forced the armed confrontation to occur OUTSIDE the church rather than inside, where innocent people were placed in danger…

Front Sight Video

Special Supplement video…

Front Sight Video

 

 

Doom and Bloom: Safety Plans for Places of Worship

Safety Plans for Places of Worship comes from the Altons at Doom and Bloom Medical. In our area, Jon Ladines of Force Dynamics is well known for training security teams for places of worship.

News outlets are reporting another attack on a place of worship, this time at a church in White Settlement, Texas, near Fort Worth. In this instance, two congregants were killed before the threat was abolished by armed volunteer members of the church’s security team.

As time goes on, more heinous acts of violence are occurring in what should be sanctuaries for the faithful. There is no place where crowds gather that is immune to the bad intentions of a disgruntled, deranged, or politically-motivated individual.

In the case of the shooting at White Settlement, Texas, a security detail of volunteers was able to end the incident quickly. This was because the folks in the Texas town of 17,000 realized the importance of instilling a culture of situational awareness in our citizenry.

(Aside: Originally put forth by a fighter pilot as a strategy in aerial dogfights, situational awareness has real practical significance in staying safe in uncertain times)

Situational awareness is a state of calm, relaxed observation of factors that might indicate a threat or a need to act. These are called “anomalies”; learning to recognize them can identify suspicious individuals and save lives. It certainly did in the recent incident.

(Learn more about situational awareness in this article)

Unlike the church in Texas, not all congregations prioritize church safety at the level needed in this toxic climate. The premise that a ministry is based on peace fails to take into account that there are those who consider places of worship to be “soft”targets. In this era of active shooters and anti-Christian feeling (or anti-religious feeling in general), pastors must make sure their flock is safe, just like any shepherd. In the New Normal, it’s has become part of the job description.

In my role as medical preparedness writer, it’s my mission to help the average citizen promote the well-being of loved ones in disasters. I’ve written about hurricanes and earthquakes, but shooter events like the one in White Settlement are also instances where mass casualties can occur. As in the recent shooting, these casualties could be minimized with a plan of action.

Small churches should establish a "safety ministry"
Small churches should establish a “safety ministry”

Large churches may choose to hire security professionals and install video surveillance technology. Smaller and less affluent churches, however, might benefit by establishing what I call a “safety ministry“. This group should be comprised of parishioners who have some security experience, such as active and former law enforcement, military veterans, and carefully selected others. Members should evaluate the layout of the church and grounds for weak spots and organize a plan of action for calling 911 and other measures when needed…

Click here to continue reading at Doom and Bloom Medical.

China: 100 Christians Snatched in Raids on Underground Church

From South China Morning Post, 100 Christians snatched in overnight raids on underground Chinese church. China has begun harshly cracking down on churches this year, with an estimated 100,000 Christians arrested in 2018 compared to 3.700 in 2017. Churches are required to mount facial recognition cameras on the pulpit directed toward the congregation so that they can be monitored by the government.

About 100 worshippers at an unofficial church in southwestern China were snatched from their homes or from the streets in coordinated raids which began on Sunday evening.

Chinese authorities targeted members of the Early Rain Covenant Church across various districts of Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, in what appeared to be an effort to close down one of the country’s most prominent Protestant house churches…

“The police said our church is an illegal organisation and we cannot attend any more gatherings from now on.”

The Early Rain Covenant Church is one of China’s few unofficial house churches – Christian assemblies that operate without state sanction – and this is not the first time Wang and other members of the church have been detained.

While most of China’s Protestant house churches operate underground to avoid attracting official attention and control, the Early Rain congregation openly practises its faith, posting sermons online and evangelising on the streets.

Many house churches have been closed this year in China’s harshest religious suppression in decades…

 

 

Brushbeater: Questions Concerning Church Security Details (Comms)

NC Scout of the Brushbeater blog has written a short article concerning communication protocols for a church security detail.

It’s a sad reality that I have to write this, but I am heartened by the fact that people are asking these questions. We live in an age of Christian persecution, whether some wish to admit it or not, and that persecution has led to our Churches and gatherings becoming easy targets. The paradigm shift from simple castigation and stigma to legal discrimination has slid, predictably, to violence amid a society where nothing is deemed Holy…

That said, I was presented with the following question:

I’m on my Church’s security detail and comms are pretty relaxed and there is no real protocol in place. Can you give me some pointers, etc?

This is a much deeper topic than it appears…

Click here to read the full article at Brushbeater

RELATED:

Force Dynamics: Church Training

Sheepdog Seminars – Church Safety Seminars

Principle Defense Systems: Security Team Tactics training

Carl Chinn – Church Security

Christianity Today: How Churches Can Prepare for Disasters

An article over at Christianity Today, How Churches Can Prepare for Disasters, discusses the importance of emergency preparedness for churches.

Right now, churches across much of Texas are responding to emergencies, while churches across much of Florida are preparing for them. Below are practical steps churches and families can take to prepare for and respond to emergencies, and lessons from churches in New York and New Orleans who suffered through natural and manmade disasters.

What churches have learned

Right after 9/11, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City was flooded with requests for help—and with generous gifts from all over to help meet those needs. Because their church had an organized diaconate with trained leaders, Redeemer was able to distribute assistance much more efficiently than groups arriving after the event. “We saw many other relief efforts spend a great deal of money on hiring new staff and renting office space—very high cost items,” says Tim Keller. This may be a good lesson to support existing churches and ministries when we can, rather than “build our own.”

One lesson Redeemer learned from 9/11 was to watch for burnout among their staff. “We did not recognize the danger as much as we should have,” Keller said…

Keith Collins, pastor of Lakeview Christian Center, realized how important their spiritual preparation was during and after that disaster:

“How helpful it was for the church to be ‘theologically prepared’ for suffering. Scripture presents to us a God who is sovereign over every detail of his creation, including the catastrophes, and that God is working all things for his glory and our good. One of the most encouraging things that I observed as a pastor was that in the midst of our people losing homes, businesses, and having to relocate, they weren’t walking around asking, ‘Why, God?'”

That kind of heart-preparation is vital. It will be even more important if God allows a much more serious disaster on American soil…

How churches can prepare

To begin, churches should encourage their member families to prepare, both for their own well being, and so they will be better able to help others, whether in organized church efforts or in their neighborhoods. As they prepare, churches can encourage members to store food, water, and other items to share with others, which could make an enormous difference if an emergency lasts for weeks or months…

Click here to read the entire article

Related:

Spiritual Preparedness for the Christian Prepper

Small Parish Permaculture

Southern Baptist Convention Church Preparedness document (pdf)

The Forgotten Founding Father

From American Founding Principles comes an article on John Calvin, The Forgotten Founding Father.

In a nation that appears to be doing everything possible to expunge the remnants of its Christian foundation and heritage, it is no wonder that John Calvin has been forgotten as the virtual founder of our nation. John Adams, America’s second President; Leopold von Ranke, a nineteenth century leading German historian; and George Bancroft, a Harvard educated historian known as the “father of American history”, all testified to the significant influence Calvin had upon the foundation of America.

Unlike Locke or Montesquieu, however, Calvin did not write a political treatise on how to organize civil government. Instead, he wrote Biblical expositions that completely changed how people in western culture thought about their relation to God and, subsequently, how they thought about their relation to their civil government.

Although he did not write a political treatise, Calvin did popularize three Biblical principles and took one action that helped shape western culture and influenced the founding of America more than anything else he said or did. First, he explained that the civil magistrate and his work are a divinely established order. Second, he explained that although civil disobedience to the magistrate is forbidden, there is a limitation to the magistrate’s authority. Third, he explained that the lesser magistrate is a check on unlawful use of power by a higher magistrate, and fourth, his ecclesiastical organization heavily influenced the political structures of Scotland, England and, ultimately, the American colonies…

In the US Constitution, one can see a reflection of the three main Christian denominations that were prevalent in America in 1787. Over ninety-seven percent of the approximate three million people living in America, around its founding, were Protestant Christians. Of that ninety-seven percent, the three most common denominations were Anglican (Episcopal), Presbyterian, and Congregationalist. The Episcopal Church government was hierarchal, or the rule of the one; the Presbyterian Church government was representative, or rule by the few; and the Congregational Church government was democratic, or rule by the many.

The Executive Branch of the United States national government is a reflection of Episcopal Church government; rule by the one. The Senate, which prior to the Seventeenth Amendment, was a reflection of Presbyterian Church government; rule by the few. The House of Representatives, the only entity in the United States national government that was intended to be elected by the majority of the electorate, is a reflection of the Congregational Church government; rule by the many. In this, one can see the United States national government is a reflection of the different forms of church governments most prevalent in America in 1787. Two-thirds of the United States national government reflects the two-thirds of the Calvinist population living in America at that time and their form of ecclesiastical government…

Click here to read the entire article at American Founding Principles