This last Wednesday, the Supreme Court reversed course and ruled that governors couldn’t close churches when the virus indicators required the action.
“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques,” Justice Gorsuch wrote.
The argument is that the restriction on large meetings is a restriction of religious freedom. These two suits were brought by the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and some Jewish synagogues. The concerns are held by many others, in my neighborhood (Southern California) by the likes of John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, and Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills as well as others.
Here is the simple question: Is the government’s requirement for church’s to restrict public meetings in the midst of a pandemic a restriction of religious freedom? The Supreme Court says it is. Here is why it isn’t.
The request to limit meetings has no connection to religious practice; it is solely a medically sound public safety concern. Claiming otherwise is specious. The correspondence made to liquor stores and bike shops is also specious, they are categorically different with relationship to numbers, proximity, and length of time together as well as the kinds of activities performed therein.
I could make this a longer argument, but it isn’t necessary. This one point is all that is needed to make the point.
But let me make a different point.
Jesus makes a big deal about Sabbath day activities. He is constantly pushing the buttons of the Pharisees when it comes to the Sabbath. After performing an act of healing on the Sabbath, he appeals to a legal argument with a twist: You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? (Luke 13:15-17)
He combines two Old Testament laws: 1) caring for animals, especially your neighbor’s animals when they are astray with 2) the Sabbath keeping laws. He merges the two into one when answering the Pharisees because the conflict demands making priority decisions between commandments when they seemingly force us into contradictory behaviors.
It is the lack of a Jesus hermeneutic that is stumping our present day church goers. Believers (Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants) are faced with a decision. Do I forego public worship and love my neighbor? Or do I obey God’s desire for my attention in corporate worship with others and abandon my neighbor?
Is it lawful to stay home from church so that my neighbor can remain safe?
Is that really a hard question?
In this instance, even my illustration is not perfectly parallel. insisting on my obligation to go to church is not pitched against a positive act, it is pitched against a negative act. The emphasis in today’s illustration is not:
“do I forego to save?”
“do I obey and kill?”
Overstatement? I think not.
None of us are losing religious freedom, unless of course you insist on going to church as an act of hating your neighbor, but that is your choice.