Responding to Criticisms about Our Legal Action
Are Taking Legal Action and Loving Your Neighbor Mutually Exclusive?
Before getting to the heart of this blog, we first want to thank the hundreds of people and pastors who have expressed support during the lawsuit, and most recently, during the ordeal of having our youngest break her jaw in a bike accident last Wednesday. We can’t say thank you enough for your prayers and encouragement during this time.
Although we have received an overwhelming amount of support during this lawsuit, we also felt it was important to respond to various criticisms of taking legal action that have been circulating.
First, by joining the recent lawsuit, we are most definitely not suggesting when or how churches should re-open. We simply want to help protect the right for churches to make that decision. We feel churches have a Constitutionally-protected right (both at the state and Federal level) to decide how and when to open responsibly. Churches have the best interest of their congregations and communities as a top priority. Some churches will choose to carefully open for corporate worship. Some will choose not to reopen yet. Biblical arguments can be made that both paths aim to “love our neighbor.” Either way, we feel churches have the freedom to make that decision. Because this freedom was taken away by Gov. Brown, we felt led to take action within our God-given judicial system. However, we are certainly not telling churches what they should and should not do with that right, should it be restored.
Second, Prepare the Way Ministries is “for” Bend (and Oregon and the United Sates for that matter), not “against” Bend. Again, we express our sorrow for those who have suffered during this time in so many different ways. There is a false narrative out there that those who have taken legal action to protect the rights of churches and businesses are somehow “against” Oregon. In other words, we are “not loving our neighbor.” However, we consider standing for balanced powers within our government both loving and responsible, and ultimately benefiting all of our neighbors. Some of the worst atrocities throughout history have been by leaders with too much power. We are not implying that Gov. Kate Brown will suddenly morph into Stalin. However, our Founders did recognize the dangers of rulers with too much power and put in place our Constitution and Bill of Rights for that very reason. And at the top of the Bill of Rights? The First Amendment, which protects the free exercise of religion. Our form of government is not a democracy, but a Constitutional Republic that by declaration and intent is supposed to be submitted under God. All state constitutions follow the lead of the First Amendment and recognize the free exercise of religion as integral to the well-being of our society. We desire that a precedent will be set that will more clearly state an appropriate balance of powers within our state that will have current and future benefits for all Oregonians.
With a heart to “love our neighbors,” we are also concerned about protecting the health of our community. We certainly know that an important goal of most churches is “to love our neighbors” and protect the safety of their congregations. We know pastors and church leadership teams will be wrestling with the decision of how and when to re-open larger gatherings. In addition, we have heard many pastors discuss how to prioritize protecting those who are most vulnerable. Again, churches have the right to come up with a reopening plan they feel is best for their congregations and we encourage them to do the research to see how best to move forward. It is unnecessarily divisive within the body of Christ to paint pastors and churches who want to safely re-open as uncaring or reckless.
We cannot equate “loving our neighbors” with a “zero risk” policy. That is unrealistic. Life is not without risk. Governor Brown’s goal to abstain from larger gatherings until “deemed safe” is a very vague goal. What policy makers at the moment are really dealing with is “acceptable risk.” There is risk in driving an automobile, but they are not banned. We take as many precautions as we can, but we continue to drive. We live every year with the risk of influenza (around 15-80,000 Americans have sadly died each and every year from influenza in the past couple of decades, not to mention 100,000 deaths in 1968; and 120,000 in 1957), but we have not canceled life during the flu season. Honestly, going to church during influenza season will never really be deemed “safe.” So what is the acceptable risk? These are incredibly complex and difficult policy decisions, but if a church disagrees with Governor Brown, this should not suddenly earn them the “not loving your neighbor” label. Even scientists have arrived at vastly different conclusions on this topic.
Third, there is a narrative that by taking legal action, we are idolizing “our rights.” We have heard so many Christians say, “one of the greatest lies we can believe is that we even have rights.” To address this, we need to make an important distinction between rights before God and rights in relation to other humans. For an in-depth look at the topic of rights, you can check out our recent blog post, A Biblical and Historical Perspective on the Concept of Rights. We certainly agree that “politics can’t save us, only God can,” but that statement does not mean that somehow Christians should not take political action. Theological and evangelical Biblical scholar Wayne Grudem says in Politics According to the Bible, “Christians should seek to influence civil government according to God’s moral standards and God’s purposes for government, as revealed in the Bible (when rightly understood). But while Christians exercise this influence they must simultaneously insist on protecting freedom of religion for all citizens.”
Fourth, some have said that by taking legal action, we are a poor witness for the Gospel. We aim to reflect God well to the best of our ability. However, sometimes the stances we feel called to take as Christians may not be popular in our culture. People may even get angry. Does that mean we should not take those stances? Should we abstain from taking a stance against injustices such as abortion because a pro-life stance is often unpopular? Do we abstain from fighting for rights of campus ministries because those groups are sometimes unpopular? And most importantly, do we abstain from sharing the Gospel because it might be offensive? The popularity of the stand you take is not a valid measure of the stand itself. We have to face the fact that the Gospel itself is often hated. Our view is that protecting the freedoms of churches is a justice issue that is intertwined with the freedom to share and live out the Gospel. In addition, we must trust God that ultimately He is more than able to work in people’s hearts, even someone who is irritated with the stand we are taking. Both Stephen and Sarah lived at least half of their lives as atheists/agnostics, annoyed with (and sometimes ridiculing) Christians. Yet God was able to work in our hearts. We will always try to speak the truth in love, knowing the stances we take may be unpopular.
Taking legal action and loving our neighbors are not mutually exclusive. We are not telling pastors when or how they should open, but simply trying to protect their right to make that decision. We as Christians must be careful to preserve unity. Painting those who desire to reopen their churches, or those who want to protect that right, in a negative light does not promote unity within the body of Christ. We are “for Bend” and “for Oregon” and hope that the outcome of this lawsuit will raise awareness of the balance of powers and the First Amendment.