As California works at trying to manage the COVID-19 pandemic churches are ordered not to meet inside or sing. Four evangelical churches bring lawsuits against California Governor Gavin Newsom. Meanwhile Assembly of God Church Cornerstone in Fresno which is led by Jim Franklin’s family has vowed to resist the orders from Sacramento and continue meeting inside. While this is playing out in evangelicalism N.T. Wright and Francis Collins had an interesting discussion about evangelical behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison.”
James Cash Penny
Good comes to those who lend money generously and conduct their business fairly.
Psalm 112: 5 NLT
California appeared to have the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The state shut down and sheltered in place actually following the San Francisco’s mayor’s lead. California re-opened in April and now it is assessed that the state re-opened too soon. The COVID-19 pandemic which was not properly dealt with keeps escalating. As of July 22, 2020 there are 421, 462 COVID-19 infections in the state with most of them in Southern California but spreading in the Central Valley as well. In response Governor Newsom ordered restrictions that closed indoor dining, bars, gyms and religious services again. As such some evangelicals have to wage their culture war against Sacramento once again.
Four Evangelical Churches Sue Governor Newsom Over Indoor Church Gatherings and Singing
To understand the next part you need to realize what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released in early May 2020. The CDC released a report about a choir that met in a Presbyterian church in Washington state. This was in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. A large number of the choir became ill with COVID-19 and one or two died if I remember correctly. You can read the original report here. When Newsom required churches to close it was in part also due to singing. Keep in mind COVID-19 is a communicable disease that is also airborne. That is why bars and indoor restaurants in California are also closed again.
Three churches according to the Los Angeles Times have sued California Governor Newsom over the ability to sing indoors. They come from the California guidelines for COVID-19. The three churches involved in the lawsuit are Calvary Chapel in Fort Bragg and Ukiah as well as River of Life Church in Oroville which is Assemblies of God. In a lawsuit they said that if protesters can meet outside and gather to protest George Floyd’s death, then they have the right to sing. The lawsuit was filed on July 15, 2020. Kevin Green of Calvary Chapel Fort Bragg called singing a “Biblical mandate.” Green believes the church is being singled out and persecuted. “He wasn’t singling out the church until he got to that singing thing,” he said of the governor’s latest orders, issued July 6. “When a man is that inconsistent, I can’t believe him, and that’s why we filed the suit.” Jordan Seuklaw stated that banning singing is an abuse of power. “Banning singing in California churches is an unconstitutional abuse of power, and to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable. This ban is clearly targeted at religion.” If you would like to read more you can do so in the following Los Angeles Times article, “Three California churches sue Newsom over singing ban.” And the Sacramento Bee also has a solid article as well, “‘Where do we draw the line?’ Some California church leaders question order barring indoor worship.”
Also Che Ann who has links to People of Destiny International, the predecessor of Sovereign Grace also filed a lawsuit against Newsom on July 23, 2020. The lawsuit on behalf of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena takes aim at limiting gatherings for Bible studies. This lawsuit is handled by Liberty Council. The church took action saying they could not do church over the internet in cyber meetings. Here is what they say.
“As part of the exercise of its sincerely held religious beliefs, Harvest Rock’s Church campuses also have numerous Life Groups, which meet in the homes of members of the Church to worship together, engage in Bible study, fellowship with one another, and minister to the needs of each other,” the complaint explains.
“Harvest Rock has and exercises a sincere religious belief that Life Groups are an essential way for the church to fulfill its mission and to foster a healthy, vibrant, and growing Church community such that its members can gather together to grow in the Lord, mature in their faith, and understand the Scriptures better.”
The legal filing, filed by the conservative Christian legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel, calls for an injunction that would not only allow home fellowship and Bible study gatherings but also end the governor’s prohibition on indoor worship services entirely.
“Harvest International has 162 member churches in California, and each of these churches has and exercises the sincere religious beliefs that the church is to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ to its members and attendees at its facilities,” the complaint reads, adding that the churches can’t fulfill this ministry without “gathering together in person.”
“[It] cannot effectively engage in its constitutionally protected free exercise of religion on the internet.”
If you want to read more in The Christian Post you can do so in, “Churches sue Calif. Gov. Newsom over COVID-19 order banning in-home Bible studies.”
Jim Franklin’s Assembly of God Cornerstone in Fresno is Vowing to Defy State Government
In Fresno a downtown Assembly of God called Cornerstone is vowing to disregard the governor’s order and continue meeting indoor during the COVID-19 pandemic. It should be noted that a number of churches are moving worship outside and following health guidance. This blog has written about Jim Franklin’s Cornerstone before. You can read about this church in, “Why You Should Sign a Do Not Resuscitate Order Before You Attend Jim Franklin’s Cornerstone Church in Fresno, California.” According to a local website this is what JIm Franklin told a local television station.
“I think we need to come to church and if you are able to come to church, then you ought to get out and go to church,” said Cornerstone Church Pastor Jim Franklin during their Sunday service.
Last Monday, Gov. Newsom ordered that indoor church services be temporarily suspended and moved outdoors as coronavirus cases continue to rise.
Franklin said the order infringes on his and his parishioner’s rights to worship.
Instead of following the order, he chose to conduct service indoors, just like he has over the last several weeks.
“It was a great service today, many people showed up. We had people that drove all the way here all the way from Visalia, because they say they are looking for a church that is open,” he said.
You can read more in, “Downtown Fresno church continues indoor services despite Gov. Newsom’s order.” If people get sick with COVID-19 at Cornerstone Church in Fresno and/or the church covers up the infections and misleads the country health department or more this blog is asking you to contact this blog. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile N.T. Wright and Francis Collins Criticizes Evangelical Behavior During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Francis Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and an evangelical. N.T. Wright who is an Anglican Bishop has written quite a bit about evangelicalism. Both of them expressed their worry of evangelicals rejecting science. Here is how Wright addressed the conflict of evangelicals and science as written about in The Christian Post.
Addressing the science-faith conflict, Wright argued that the United States is experiencing the effects of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial,” which centered on a Tennessee science teacher who was accused of violating a state law banning the teaching of evolution.
“You’re still reaping the whirlwind from [the trial] in terms of people saying, ‘We of faith have to ignore [science] and go somewhere else,’ which is right now, crazy,” he said.
Collins and Wright also lamented the disturbing news as to how evangelicals are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Collins is calling for people to wear a mask especially with asympathetic symptoms of COVID-19.
Collins said he has heard “disturbing examples” of Christians not following safety guidelines with arguments such as “the devil can’t get into my church so I’m safe” or “Jesus is my vaccine so I don’t need to worry.”
Wright agreed that such attitudes are “irresponsible” and pointed out that caring for the sick is “deep in the Christian tradition,” as is the “responsibility to act wisely while a plague or pandemic is going on.”
He admitted that while attending worship services held over Zoom or other streaming platforms is “quite depressing,” he would “much rather have that than more sad funerals which people can’t attend in great numbers, of people who shouldn’t have died.”
You can watch the video up above and read about this issue in The Christian Post in, “NT Wright identifies ‘knee-jerk’ reactions Christians have in response to COVID-19.”
Analysis of the Situation in California
Those who are acting in this fashion and suing in the middle of a pandemic are just sickening. Che Ann’s church is likened to a cult. And like any toxic organization there is a blog that has written about it. While this blog, The Wondering Eagle, doesn’t focus on Calvary Chapel they are known for their problems. And it seems as if during the COVID-19 pandemic problems with the Assemblies of God are popping up around the United States. Those who are resisting and screaming persecution seem to be the charismatic churches. They are screaming the loudest it appears.
This pandemic is revealing much about evangelicalism. Its showing how its flawed and how shallow these organizations are. Its encouraging that Francis Collins and N.T. Wright see the problems and also pointing them out. When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture the behavior of the above mentioned churches is truly disturbing. But it also leaves me with another question to pose as well. From the Calvary Chapels to the Assemblies of God listed above is it possible that not only are these churches dismissing science but they have other motives as well? For example Cornerstone Church is considered by this blog to be a family business in Fresno. The Franklin family largely controls the church. Jim is the senior pastor, his wife is an associate and one of his sons is also on staff. That is a recipe for being toxic. But let me float this aspect as well…is it possible that some of these churches are acting like this out of greed? Either they need to force the congregation to meet so that money can be pushed. Or is it possible that in some situations that when people have worked out denotations to churches in their wills that these places are trying to create an environment where the virus will take someone out and stock options or property will be passed to the church and used by the pastor’s. Is that possible? This blog would not dismiss schemes like that in evangelicalism, as they are possible. Either way this blog is going to pay attention to the COVID-19 pandemic in California and see what develops.