On Thursday of last week, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff directed Grace Community Church to require congregation members to wear masks and practice physical distancing if the house of worship decides to hold "outdoor" services. His 22-page decision directed the church to refrain from holding "indoor" services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Sunday, Grace Community Church in Sun Valley was packed, and Pastor John MacArthur opened the service by listing the health measures the restriction involved. He said if the church complied with all the requirements, it would "shut the church down." MacArthur and the church have been under attack by Los Angeles County because they are holding indoor services, defying the county's ban on large gatherings.
First, Los Angeles County's ban on large gatherings is unconstitutional. America is a free, open society and the Constitution grants individual citizens rights. It is not government's job to protect citizens from themselves. While not attending large gatherings might not be prudent if you are in an at-risk category, the decision is up to the individual. Until the Constitution is amended to grant government that authority, any mandate against large gatherings is a power grab. Interestingly, LA County allows large gatherings of protesters to assemble. Grace Community has vowed to appeal the judge's ruling and will likely win if the judiciary follows the Constitution.
Second, God's mandate overrides government mandates. God commanded the church to assembly for worship in his Word. Will assembling facilitate the spread of COVID-19 in LA? Only God knows, but obeying God's mandate to assemble is fundamental to believers. Believers do many things that seem foolhardy and reckless to dissenters - tithing, praying, assembling - but they do it because they are focused on the eternal, not temporal. They don't fear death. God's Word says the gospel is foolishness to those who don't believe, so it's no surprise authorities think churches are being obstinate by not complying with their edict.
Third, the message of redemption preached from pulpits is desperately needed in these challenging times. Silencing the preaching of the Gospel - even temporarily - will have more long-term negative impact on America than COVID-19. The Gospel is more important than any protest. It is more important than any directive from government.
It is inconsistent for Los Angeles County to continue to allow large gathering of protesters to assembly, but not allow a church to assemble. It reveals a bias toward the motive and message of those assembling. Both have the constitutional right to peaceably assemble. If this order is allowed to stand, it threatens not just the freedom to worship in America. This situation is much bigger than COVID-19. It is an attack on America's rule of law. It is an attack on our founding document. Whether you agree with Grace Community's decision to hold indoor worship services, every American, no matter political position, should fight for their right to do it. The right to be wrong is a fundamental tenet of America. This isn't about just the freedom to worship - it is an attack on our way of life.
Steve Fair is the District 4 Oklahoma Republican Party chair.