Testing the limits of human morality, outlier religious leaders have banded together to fight the province’s COVID-19 restrictions in court.
"We have no authority scripturally based and based on Christian convictions to limit anyone from coming to hear the word of God," said Tobias Tissen, a minister at the Steinbach-based Church of God Restoration, according to The Canadian Press.
Scripture doesn’t explicitly map out the parameters for many of our laws — and rightfully so, given the context of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is often used in case law as the reason for the religious neutrality of the state.
But let’s not look too hard for logic in their rationale. These religious leaders either don’t believe in the objective realities of the COVID-19 pandemic or they’re dismissive of these realities.
The unbelievers are perhaps the easiest to empathize with. The pandemic has been difficult for all of us, and while their adherence to fake news in order to cope with a difficult reality is troubling, few of us can claim to have never fallen victim to falsehoods. They believe they’re helping us by misinforming us the pandemic is "just a flu" or altogether fake and that global health measures are part of an elaborate conspiracy to fatten the pocketbooks of the one per cent and throw the balance of society under a communist regime.
Although these disturbing beliefs have contributed to rising rates of COVID-19, and needless deaths by extension, a dash of empathy prevents us from seeing them as the demons they might otherwise be seen as.
Those dismissive of the realities of the pandemic, however, are far more insidious. They cite broader annual mortality statistics to dismiss the deaths of almost 1,000 Manitobans whose lives have ended prematurely as a result of COVID-19. They also lean heavily on the fact the majority of fatalities thus far in the pandemic have been seniors, thereby implying certain lives are more valuable than others.
This mentality is morally reprehensible and grotesque, which is why it’s so disturbing to see churches band together to fight public health orders aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
They either believe in falsehoods, are dismissive of certain lives, or are a dangerous combination of the two.
While there’s no denying our collective mental health has plummeted during the pandemic — an idea supported both anecdotally and in spiking overdose rates — fighting public health restrictions in court is a bad look for churches.
Finding alternative, safe means of reaching out to congregants during these troubling times would be much more in keeping with their respective mandates. That is, if their purpose centres on the betterment of their communities, as is what we’ve been led to believe.
To be perfectly clear, these problematic churches are rare outliers, with the vast majority of religious organizations in Manitoba dedicated to serving the greater good.
This much was affirmed last month when the Sun reached out to various churches for their reaction to the loosened restrictions of the day, which allowed for in-person Easter services.
McDiarmid Drive Alliance Church lead pastor Darryl McAuley said he joined what he believed to be the balance of the local church community in cringing at the actions of those breaking health restrictions.
"It doesn’t feel like a very loving response in the midst of a pandemic," he said.
St. George’s Anglican Church rector Jonathan Hoskin shared a similar sentiment, saying that although people haven’t exactly been excited about health restrictions, his congregation is a law-abiding group intent on looking out for one another.
"We have a number of elder folks as well, so that’s been part of our consideration," he said. "We don’t want to put anyone at higher risk in jeopardy."
To those outlier religious leaders intent on doing just that — what are you thinking? Are you thinking?
To quote the book those leaders claim to follow:
"Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ."
— Galatians, 6:2
"Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
— Philippians, 2:4
"God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them."
— Hebrews, 6:10