Entertainment trumps worship
The COVOD-19 rules in New South Wales, Australia, favor public entertainment above public worship.
From Monday 28 September 2020, entertainment facilities including theatres, cinemas and concert halls across NSW were able to increase capacity up to 50%, to a maximum of 1000. Alternatively, entertainment facilities may allow one person per 4 square meters on the premises, with no maximum capacity.
If a place of public worship has multiple buildings at a single location, each building can have as many people as allowed under the 4 square meter rule, up to a maximum of 100 people or 150 people for a wedding.
So an entertainment facility can have up to ten times as many people: 1000, compared to 100! And a church building can have 50% more people for a wedding! Up to 40,000 spectators can scream and yell at an outdoor football stadium, but churches are restricted to 100 people and singing is prohibited! This shows bias against churches.
This pattern of discrimination against churches has been evident elsewhere. For example, in regional Victoria a group of people can gather in a restaurant or bar, but they can’t put on a mask and go to a church!
And in July 2020, Nevada had a 50-person cap on religious services whereas businesses like bars, restaurants, gyms, arcades, bowling alleys, and casinos, were permitted to operate at 50% of capacity.
A church in Washington, DC wants to socially distance, wear masks and meet outdoors. But the local government has allowed outdoor mass protests, but not outdoor religious worship!
And in parts of the USA drive-in church services were banned, while drive-in restaurants could operate.
Meanwhile, in April 2020, the United States Justice Department stated that the “government may not impose social restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity”. But this has not always been implemented.
Together with health care centers, workplaces, the state legislature and mass transit; in March 2020 churches in Michigan were granted exemption from a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. This was also the case in about 18 other states. The House Speaker commented, “People have a God-given right to assemble and worship …. I believe that as Christians we also have a duty to love our fellow man and play our role within society. My recommendation is to find ways that you can abide within the order to the best of your ability”.
Is church an essential service?
As the coronavirus pandemic has spread, increased unemployment and social isolation have led to increased rates of anxiety, depression and harmful alcohol use. And it’s likely to result in an increase in the occurrence of suicide.
During the coronavirus shutdown, governments kept essential services operating. But what is an essential service? The provision of food is an essential service. But when Jesus was tempted to use His supernatural powers to produce food, He said “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4NLT). He said that spiritual nourishment from the Bible is more important than physical food. Even when we are hungry! Just as physical food goes into our body and converts into energy, so taking in the Word of God converts into spiritual energy and power. This means that we should give God and His written Word [the Bible] top priority.
Does your church give God and His written Word [the Bible] top priority? Does your church attendance encourage you to give God and His written Word [the Bible] top priority?
One of the commands given to Christians in the Bible is “let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His [Christ’s] return is drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). So, church is an essential service for believers. Have you gone back to church after the shutdown? Are you participating online? Let’s get back to church as soon as possible.
In May 2020 president Trump declared that churches were “essential” businesses so they could immediately reopen. And a representative of the Minnesota churches said, “Religion is an essential service for the well-being of society that cannot be subordinated to the economic interests of the states”.
Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching…
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
This recognises that limits may be “prescribed by law”, where this is “necessary” to protect, among other things, “health”. At present churches have restrictions on their gatherings. Are these consistent with their rights of religious freedom? Yes, if they are applied in a non-discriminatory way, and for no longer than is reasonably needed to meet the important public health goals. But as shown above, unfortunately churches have often been discriminated against in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Churches are an essential part of life for many of us and the current restrictions seriously hinder our ability to carry out our faith and to serve our communities. But suffering is a part of the normal Christian life (1 Pt. 4:12-19). So it’s not surprising that churches have suffered discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic.
Written, October 2020
Also see: Crazy times!