On Easter weekend, a Calgary pastor in Canada threw police out of his church. He was wild, screaming at the police to get out and calling them Nazis and Gestapo. My sympathies lay with both: I felt sorry for the police officers who were merely following orders: Trying to ensure compliance with public health directives. I also felt for the pastor.
He had an eastern European accent and is of an age when he he might well remember the oppression of a communist country. Seeing police come into the church service wearing guns, billyclubs, hand-cuffs, and tasers may have triggered memories of Stasi-like police intimidation, and jack-boot justice. This would certainly explain such a severe and extreme response by the pastor. (He was wrong to go outside his church and hurl insults at the police as they walked back to their cars.)
In retrospect, we must consider how these delicate, sensitive issues are approached. Tact and diplomacy are key. Pastors and religious leaders who ignore the serious threat to human life that the pandemic presents are ignoring their responsibilities as citizens. This is an extraordinary time of public health crisis! Their refusal to adhere to temporary policies put in place for the good of public health brings discredit to their Christian presence in their communities. Congregants who were unmasked and not obeying physical distancing will leave the church and enter the community. They may have been exposed to covid then take it—or one of the highly contagious and more dangerous variants—to their neighbours, people in the local grocery store or a pharmacy.
Current public health regulations are not meant to violate people’s freedom of religion, association or peaceful assembly. In times of national emergency, we must understand there is (and must be) a hierarchy of rights, beginning with the right to life and security of the person. The right of peaceful assembly must give way in times of a lethal pandemic that spreads by air and close proximity of people. To obstinately refuse to acknowledge this is irresponsible and shows a blatant disregard for others (love of neighbour).
I haven’t attended church in months. I don’t like it and miss it terribly. Online services and worship must suffice. I have underlying health conditions that put me at increased risk of contracting covid through public exposure. But it must be that way until the pandemic is over.
I’ve spent most of my adult life espousing the value, worth and dignity of every human life, and the fundamental right to life and protection. How could I now endanger others because of my lesser right of association and assembly? Churches have ways to connect with their members, and the community, through such things as Zoom, Facebook, FaceTime, Google Group Chat, email, or telephone conference calls. Granted they are grossly inferior to coming together in churches but It’s only for a while longer.
The Calgary city police are not Nazis. They are not Gestapo. They were trying to ensure public health regulations are followed, not strip people of their rights. To call them such terribly inflammatory things was wrong. The police officers were guilty of insensitivity, that’s all. They should have left their weapons, handcuffs and tasers in their cars to avoid any appearances of intimidation or bullying—especially when dealing with someone who may well have experienced real police thuggery in a communist country. They should not have interrupted a church service. They stepped into a hornet’s nest.
I call on all pastors and churches to cooperate and obey covid health directives. Use technology and online tools at your disposal to collectively worship our Lord. Granted, they are not the same as gathering as a church family, but it’s only for a short time longer until covid is under control and we can emerge into the sunlight again and resume our lives. Don’t portray covid restrictions as persecution of Christians. That is not right and you know it. Obey public health regulations for the health and well-being of your communities, and us all.