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Safety, Religious Liberty, and the Coronavirus


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When medical professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first began encouraging us to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, I had two thoughts as a pastor: obedience to Christ and the safety of our members. 

Early in this situation, before our governor issued a stay at home order, I wrote a blog post about managing the tension between gospel ministry and social distancing. In it, I pointed out that practicing social distancing is wise at a time like this. 

Although it is uncomfortable and certainly not anyone’s first choice, we can gladly participate in social distancing for a period of time for the sake of the safety of our members and our community. 

As a pastor who has served in the same church and community for thirty-four years, I am aware of so many in our church family who are more vulnerable to the virus due to underlying conditions and special needs. I pray for them, and I want them—as well as all of our members—to stay safe and healthy. Additionally, I’m praying daily for the medical professionals, law enforcement officials, and essential workers on the front lines risking contact with the virus on a daily basis. 

For these reasons, I appreciate the efforts of elected leaders to make the best decisions they can regarding the safety of those whom they have been elected to serve. As someone leading a church, college, and school through this crisis, I understand something of the challenges of trying to make fast decisions in an unprecedented time with new information coming constantly. So I pray for our elected officials to have wisdom, and I appreciate the work they are doing.

Additionally, I believe in the instructions of Romans 13 which tells us that earthly authorities are appointed by God, and we should obey them. 

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.—Romans 13:1–5

As Christians, of course, our highest allegiance is to God. If there is ever a time when we must choose between obeying earthly authorities or God (as there often is for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world), we are required as disciples of Christ to obey God (Acts 5:29). 

Additionally, as Christians living in a country with religious liberty that was obtained through great sacrifice, I believe it is our responsibility to participate in preserving that liberty. 

In recent days, I have been concerned with how quickly the government can assume a level of influence, perhaps even control, over citizens just because all of life is attached in some way to the coronavirus. 

For instance, Apple and Google announced that they are working together to build coronavirus tracking technology for iOS and Google phones. In a public joint statement, the companies said they are participating in “close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments, and public health providers.” I’m glad for the good uses of technology. The reality of how quickly the government will be able to track the personal lives of those who use these features is startling. 

Even more concerning to me was when the governor of Kentucky issued an order that would put people into quarantine if they attend religious gatherings. The mayor of Louisville took this a step further forbidding even drive-up services, where members would stay in their cars with their windows up and listen to the service over their FM radios. Those same people could drive down the road to Walmart and actually get out of their cars…and would have been allowed to do so. Or they could go to the drive-thru of a restaurant and would not have been stopped. Thankfully a federal judge ruled against the mayor’s order. Nevertheless, the inconsistency of such orders is concerning, and there are probably some religious liberty and constitutional questions starting to come up. (Former Governor Mike Huckabee recently raised constitutional concerns as well.) 

However you interpret the interrelated messages and endeavors of government leaders during these days, there can be no doubt that we are experiencing a period of “conditioning” by the current expansion of big government. I believe this is a small foretaste of the exercise of power still to come on a national and international stage. We see our world in general being conditioned for a one-world power.

As Bible-believing Christians, we know how the story ends, and (spoiler alert) it’s good! (I wrote about biblical prophecy and the end times in the book Understanding the Times.) 

We know that at some point in the future, there will be a one-world government over which the antichrist will preside (Revelation 13:2–8). 

But at the Second Coming of Christ, the antichrist will be defeated. After the millennial reign, Satan himself will be vanquished forever; and we will be forever in the presence of God and experiencing eternal joy, free from the curse of sin.

And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.—Revelation 22:3–5

In the meantime and through this coronavirus, we will gladly love our neighbors by participating in social distancing for a time, and we will pray for our leaders as they make decisions. 

But we will ultimately look to the Lord. As pastors, we will re-enter corporate worship as it seems safe and the Lord leads.

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