Desire to cooperate is still strong, but pressure builds to ease restrictions

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Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix appreciate the faith community, and vice versa – but may need to do more to work with them. BC government photo

Lynda Steele said, “You know what, I love this,” while co-host Eric Chapman added, “Pastor, you’re giving me goosebumps . . . you make me want to go to church.”

Those were the reactions of the co-hosts of The Lynda Steele Show during their discussion with Frank Berto, senior pastor of Living Hope Christian Fellowship in Surrey, November 30.

They were  impressed by Berto’s response to what they described as the three “rogue churches” which opened their doors in Langley and Chilliwack last Sunday, in defiance of provincial COVID-19 health orders.

Dr. Bonnie Henry announced November 19 that all in-person indoor worship events and social gatherings of any size were suspended until at least December 7.

The three churches were Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, which received a $2,300 fine, along with Free Grace Baptist Church and Free Reformed Church, both in Chilliwack.

Berto said:

Frank Berto

Probably like you, I watched Dr. Henry and Minister Dix, and Dr. Henry sum up exactly what I, and our church, believe – 46 additional deaths, that’s 46 families missing somebody.

I do funerals all the time, all the way from people who have long full lives and die of natural causes to drug overdoses – but how could I look a family in the face and say, ‘I’m burying your loved one because your right to gather trumped their right to life.

I’m a Christian minister, and the whole thing Jesus gave us, Lynda, was, my life is in his hands and I use my life to serve others. Others’ rights trump mine. So when I hear churches say they’re fighting for rights, I think they’ve missed the plot. . . . I think they’ve mistaken which Charter of Rights is first and foremost for Christians.

How can I love my neighbour? Well, close the building for a little while.

Go here for the 5:32 minute interview.

This is the kind of support Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have counted on from the great bulk of faith leaders thus far during the pandemic.

During her Monday (November 30) briefing, Dr. Henry said:

Especially, I want to reach out and thank the faith leaders who are supporting their congregations safely in these most challenging of times. , , ,

I was contacted by many faith leaders this weekend to talk about some of the issues we are dealing with, and was reminded in many ways that faith is not a building, that it’s not about Sunday mornings. It’s about every day and how we connect with each other and how we support each other. It’s not about rights, it’s about community and responsibility toward our fellow citizens. . . .

As Pope Francis reminded us this weekend, looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens, and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of those least fortunate. . . .

We know there are some high-profile people who are trying to create some consternation around this, [but] most people are doing the right thing. Most faith leaders have been so strong in supporting their communities to do the right thing and to carry on their mission despite having these challenges that we’re dealing with in a global pandemic. . .

The bulk of churches are continuing to support Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix for the time being – at least through this next weekend, until December 7, when the current tightened regulations will be revised, or at least reexamined.

Challenges

Though pastor Berto and Dr. Henry make some powerful points, there are equally thoughtful people who agree that caring for the community must be the church’s priority, but feel that the current rather draconian restrictions may in fact be interfering with that goal.

Resistance has been simmering, even as the number of afflicted continues to grow. Here are a few examples:

* Archbishop Michael Miller

Archbishop Michael Miller

The B.C. Catholic posted this story November 23: ‘Archbishop disturbed by uneven handling of worship, restaurants.’ Here is a portion of the article:

The archbishop has received “a mass of emails” from Catholics expressing everything from confusion to anger over the inconsistency of banning public worship while allowing secular gatherings.

The announcement was particularly surprising since establishments that have had COVID outbreaks remain open while the archdiocese’s 78 churches, which are blemish free, are prevented from offering public Mass, said the archbishop. . .

The latest restrictions appear to be at odds with the religious freedom guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he said, and while there might be “very serious reasons” for overriding charter rights, “it would be nice to know the real reasons.”

* Giulio Gabeli

Giulio Gabeli

Giulio Gabeli, lead pastor of Westwood Community Church in Coquitlam and president of the ACMV (Association of Church Ministries Vancouver), told me he he honours Dr. Bonnie Henry – “I think she’s amazing, and so is Adrian Dix.”

But he’s not convinced they are dealing properly with churches. Like Archbishop Miller, he can’t understand why liquor stores, gyms and schools should remain open, but not churches. He is not aware of outbreaks in churches, and congregations he knows have been following all the required protocols.

He said, “I am not wanting to be defiant, but we don’t think this is right. It’s inconsistent; where is the science behind it?”

Gabeli would like to see faith groups be allowed to open up their buildings for gatherings again after December 7, though he would be satisfied with the earlier maximum of 50 remaining in place. He said he has been told that many churches, possibly several dozen, will open up in defiance of restrictions if they are not lifted.

* Petitions

At least two petitions are opposing the restrictions.

More than 13,000 people had signed Let the places of worship gather! and 4,900 have signed the Re-open Religious Services in BC petition, as of December 2. A letter to the provincial government – Expand BC Worship Services – was signed by 144 churches.. .

* Brian Bird

Brian Bird

The Vancouver Sun recently featured an article titled ‘Banning religious gatherings defies common sense, and perhaps the Constitution.’

Brian Bird, professor of law at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC said, in part:

Based on what has been publicly reported to date, there is little evidence that religious gatherings are riskier than many activities that continue. The Charter requires the province to disprove this apparent state of affairs if the ban is to persist.

See the accompanying article on this site about Brian Bird and his work.

The issues raised by these leaders were among the arguments proferred by the three churches which met last Sunday.

More specific answers will be necessary as December 7 closes in. Dr. Henry and Adrian Dix would be wise to offer some more substantial responses during their next conference call with faith leaders (assuming one is planned), but also during an upcoming briefings.

Will church support hold?

Brett Landry

I quoted Brett Landry, senior pastor of Christ City Church, as some length last week. Here is a portion:

This week has been full of tension, and our passage of scripture should inform our response. What is the church of Jesus Christ in the city of Vancouver supposed to say, when schools are open, sports leagues are running, pubs are still pouring pints – and the church is not allowed to gather for worship? What are we supposed to do?

Overlapping with pastor Berto to some extent, and highlighting our need to follow the government’s lead even if we don’t always agree with it, he added:

I know by this point in the message, some of you have already cued up the email on your device, and you’re ready to email the elders, and you’re ready to say, “This is soft, this is weak, there are times to stand up to the authorities in the world and we have to sometimes disobey for the sake of the gospel.”

I agree, there are times for that. I just don’t think this is one of them. . . .

The question is whether the clear consensus that has allowed the provincial government to rely on faith leaders as “pillars of strength in communities” will remain strong, or whether it will crumble under a combination of pressures. The majority of churches will likely continue to be persuaded by the approach represented by pastors Berto and Landry – but it is time for government to strengthen, or adjust, its own case.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is offering a webinar today (December 3) at 11 am: The Church and Covid.

4 comments for “Desire to cooperate is still strong, but pressure builds to ease restrictions

  1. Lorri and Gerd says:

    I believe Pastor Frank Berto is correct. Common sense tells me that as well as my desire as a Christian believer to keep others safe. No one has banned online church services. No one has banned phoning the pastor for support.

    We are at war with a virus and in times of war many people are hurt and even sacrifice their own lives. I believe those making these demands are medically ignorant and just plain selfish.

    I also think the government need to be fair in their rules, and banning church services and allowing pubs to be open is not fair.

  2. John Kaptein says:

    I was incredibly disappointed with Pastor Frank Berto’s comments on The Linda Steele show. If I follow his logic we should all stop driving in BC because if we stop driving we will save 314 lives that will die from traffic accidents every year in BC. So Pastor, quit driving your vehicle and pedal a bike from now on!

    You’re missing your own plot line. We were commanded to meet together in Hebrews 10:25 and yes, it can be done safely, contrary to what you hear. Did Jesus need to get permission from the local authority to clean out the temple so it could be a house of prayer?

    What are the stats Pastor Frank on churches in BC that have caused problems? I am guessing it is much less than driving. Not everybody is zoom friendly and has internet capability. Before you start accusing other churches of not caring for their neighbours maybe take a look at the facts a little closer.

    Pastor John Kaptein

  3. Rick Wiebe says:

    “There are times for that. I just don’t think this is one of them.”

    I am wondering Brett, if there EVER will be a “time” for you?

  4. John Kaptein says:

    Here is the challenge though, to Giulio and to Archbishop Miller. Are your churches open to attendance this Sunday?

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