Religious freedom and COVID-19

There is much discussion about whether churches should be allowed to meet in person during the COVID-19 crisis. This is stimulating a debate between health concerns of spreading a deadly virus and the First Amendment right that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The issue is deepened by a mega church pastor in Florida and another in Louisiana being cited for unlawful assembly. While these pastors may have the right to assemble, is it the right thing to do during a health pandemic?

Pastor Tony Spell of Central, Louisiana has ignored requests from local leaders and the governor to suspend services because he sees it as “an attack on religion. This is an attack on our constitutional rights. We have a constitutional right to assemble and to gather and there are no laws I am breaking.” In Florida, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, co-founder of the River at Tampa Bay Church, is accused of presiding over Sunday services attended by hundreds of parishioners, some of them ferried there by bus transportation his church provided. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Howard-Browne told his congregation of over 4,000, “Suddenly we are demonized because we believe God heals, that the Lord sets people free, and they make us out to be some sort of kooks.”

Law enforcement and public officials have a different point of view. In both cases, they contend that churches are not being prevented from meeting, but that they should do it online—both churches have the technology to do so. The officials say that public health concerns during this emergency crisis outweigh the need to meet in person and that these directives are only temporary until the crisis subsides. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins has said, “If I thought this was an attack on religious freedom, I’d be right there with him (Spell). It’s a directive for the sake of public health not to meet.” There are many reports that churches meeting in person have actually spread COVID-19 into their respective communities.

When Satan brought Christ to the pinnacle of the temple, urging him to cast himself down, Christ responded in Luke 4:12, “It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Godly faith, even unto healing, is not foolish, nor does it tempt God. Those who question others’ faith because they subscribe to best practices of science and health in dealing with COVID-19 are both foolish and risk tempting God. Just because you have the Constitutional right to exercise your faith in public, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Many are seeking answers during this crisis but foolish and reckless acts by Christians cause those seeking to question the very credibility of God. We are God’s representatives on earth. Let’s not get in the way of what God wants to accomplish during these times. Show your faith with wisdom and love.

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Bill Wilson