Civil disobedience, COVID-19 and the church

As soon as the government started issuing “stay at home” orders in response to COVID-19, there was discussion in Christendom about how to respond to that and when we should respectfully disobey those orders in order to serve God. What steps are reasonable? How can we make this easier on ourselves?

One way to make this easier is to show cooperation with and goodwill to civil authorities when they make less onerous and more reasonable orders, so that when we must disobey we are not seen as cantankerous or scofflaws. Government officials are human beings who respond well to respectful disagreement, especially when there has been cooperation in the past.

This is why I believe it is a good idea for churches to be reasonable about mask orders. If the state or county issues a mask order, then the church should ask the congregation to wear masks. Leading worship (singing or preaching) is hindered by masks, so it may be necessary to respectfully decline to have worship leaders wear masks, but having the congregation wear masks and socially distance will help show goodwill.

Furthermore, some jurisdictions have been unreasonable regarding worship services. Churches who obeyed order to suspend in-person early in the pandemic may now find it necessary (after praying and studying Scripture and church history) to disobey orders to remain closed, especially if the government is treating churches differently than secular businesses.

Church leaders and individual Christians should assume that our government leaders are acting in good faith, until given clear evidence otherwise. This is a very difficult time and people want to save lives and slow the spread of the virus while protecting religious liberty. We may not disagree with the decisions they make, but assuming good faith is a good way to discipline our hearts against rebellion and bitterness.

Christians and their churches, of course, will disagree on where to draw the line and when to draw that line. Christians have had stark disagreements on masks, for example. But whatever stance you take on these important issues, Christians must not be divisive and schismatic against other Christians who disagree in good faith. We can disagree – even disagree strongly – and remain brothers in Christ.