By Nate Labadorf
I wrote this article COVID19, BJU v. US, and Christian Rights over a month ago, but I think it deserves some follow through. The article was intended to push back against the caustic way Christians are insisting on “their rights” during the COVID19 epidemic. In the article, I work through the BJU v. US case in which BJU thought it was fighting for the religious liberty to ban interracial dating and marriage (As a very important side, BJU has since renounced this position and has asked for forgiveness).
I brought up this issue because it parallels in many ways the response that people have the COVID19 crisis. Many Christians are insisting on their rights to meet regardless of government warnings and commands. The previous article pushed back against this and concluded that Christians should not fight for their rights lest they shame the cause of Christ. A month later, I still feel very much the same way. But I have a few nuances I would like to add.
First, the Apostle Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to avoid punishment and to spread the Gospel in Rome. Using one’s rights, therefore, is not wrong. And I don’t think I concluded that in my article. In America, we have rights granted to use by the constitution for freedom of religion. And we have used these rights throughout our history. I have no problem with that.
The difference between Paul’s use of his rights and American Evangelical insistence on their rights is that of purpose. Paul used his rights 1. to save himself from bodily harm and 2. to spread the Gospel. American Evangelicals? I can’t even say that they are insisting on their rights to avoid bodily harm. The purpose, at least in my interactions with them, seems to be they want their rights so that they can be in control.
Note: there are some cases where religious freedom may be trampled. But most of the time, this is not the case. Just to prove my point, there has been no obstruction of internet services, radio broadcasts, or an other form of communications. If the government were really intent on crushing religious freedom, they failed miserably. I’ve actually heard of a growth in churches because of this forced separation.
My conclusion is that if Evangelicals want to use their rights, they need better purpose. (for those paying attention, yes, I just changed my position *slightly*). The conversations that I have had focus on the Christian rights in a very self-centered way. There is no consideration to the spread of the Gospel. And there is little to no consideration of the health of individuals. I think this is because those who are arguing the most strongly for “their rights” do not believe that COVID19 is a threat (despite all the evidence to the contrary). Again, the focus is on “my rights” because their “my rights.” This isn’t biblical at all.
Second, there is a difference between acute and chronic suspension of rights. In chronic situations, lawsuits and such calculated arguing may be legitimate. This assumes that laws are passed for religious freedom, but are being neglected or ignored over a long period (years) of time. Acute suspension of rights is another matter. Acute suspension of rights is a temporary measure which removes rights for a short period of time but grants them back. This assumes that there is a external reason which necessitates the suspension of rights in the first place.
COVID19 fits squarely into the acute suspension of rights. The government has restricted the right to religious assembly to slow the spread of COVID19. The life span of the epidemic is not an eternal threat. We’re talking less than a year before the threat completely goes away? And now since we are “over the hump,” we are seeing the restoration of these rights.
Since COVID19 falls into this acute suspension of rights, there is a better course of action for American Evangelicals. We don’t need to insist on “our rights” because its “our right granted to us in the constitution.” This reasoning looks petty and selfish like child crying for candy. It really is shameful for the cause of Christ. The better course of action is patience. Yep. Just wait. Two and a half months of suspended in-person services is not that big a deal. Yes, you are not in control of this situation. But you don’t have to be. God knows, and he cares. And he will work things out.
In the end, I realize that this post my be over simplified. I don’t know the situation everywhere and I don’t know everyone’s heart. So, there are probably many more things to discuss on this matter. Take it for what its worth.