On March 27, 2020, Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 121, specifically restricting the gathering of Churches to no more than 10 people, beginning Monday, March 30. On May 5, 2020, Governor Cooper issued EO 138, which explicitly exempts Churches, referring to the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
As far as I can tell, nothing changed in the US Constitution between 3.27.20 and 5.5.20, with regard to the First Amendment. This would lead me to believe that EO 121 specifically violated the First Amendment rights of the citizens of North Carolina.
Why is this significant?
On Sunday, April 5, 2020, Covenant Bible Church gathered for our normal Lord’s Day services, which include morning worship, lunch, fellowship time, evening worship, and supper together. That afternoon, after our morning worship, while still gathered for fellowship, a deputy of the Alexander County Sheriff’s Department was dispatched to our place of worship, under direct orders from Sheriff Chris Bowman, to disband our meeting, per EO 121. While I reminded the officer that the Constitutional rights of the citizens do not cease to exist in times of supposed health emergencies, the officer insisted that we leave. Having determined, within a few brief moments, that, since our morning worship was already concluded, and in light of these unforeseen circumstances, our obligations under God to gather on the Lord’s Day to worship the risen Christ had been fulfilled, I unilaterally made the decision that we would disperse for the day and begin to make plans for future gatherings and could do so with a clear conscience. The officer had asked me to speak with him outside the building, so I was alone in that decision. The officer proceeded to park in a nearby parking lot until we had all left the premises.
The following week, we met at an earlier time, in separate rooms in the same building, to make some attempt to satisfy the requirements of EO 121. Beginning the next week, we returned to meeting together in the sanctuary, still at the earlier time, with the hopes that an earlier meeting on Sunday morning would attract less attention to our congregation, and we’d be left alone. On May 17th, we returned to our normal schedule of worship, with both morning and evening services, which we have continued to the present.
Why do I publicize these matters now?
1. To publicly confess that in this scenario, I did not act with the boldness that suits a Christian pastor. It was my duty, on Sunday April 5, 2020, to ensure that our congregation would continue to meet according to our normal schedule, as much as within me lay, until I could do no other of my own power. I did not do that. Whether I acted in true, God-honoring wisdom to the best of my limited capacity, or under the pretense of a false wisdom in a moment of weakness, self-preservation, and a fear of man, I do not know. I felt, at the moment, I was acting with prudence. Looking back, and knowing the folly of my own heart, I cannot say with certainty that I did not act in ignorance and weakness.
2. To make it known that we currently have a sheriff in Alexander County who is willing to enforce the closure of houses of worship, even though such closures are contrary to our United States Constitution, simply because a higher magistrate has handed down an order. Though it is Sheriff Bowman’s duty under God, and under our Constitution according to his own oath of office, to stand in the gap and refuse to enforce unconstitutional orders, he did not do that. He will answer to God for his actions, as will I. But, I have no reason to believe that he will not do the same thing in the future. Which Constitutional rights are next to be stripped from us with the help of local authorities who only do what they’re told? A lot is being said about the Second Amendment these days. Do we have a Sheriff who will protect us from tyranny? I do not know.
3. To make it known, that by the help of my God, as He gives me strength by His Spirit, I have no intention of acting with the same weakness in the future. Our church will meet as we see fit. We will gather in whatever numbers decide to show up. We will turn away no one. We will not wear masks. We will sit as close as we like. We will sing as much as we like. We will eat together. We will fellowship with one another. We will do what the risen and reigning Christ has commanded us to do.
4. To make it known that we, as a Church, will do what we can as citizens of this county, state, and nation to support our leaders, especially our lesser magistrates, as they stand in the gap and interpose between the people and the tyrants who occupy Raleigh and Washington. And, for those who do not or will not, you do not have our support, though you will be mentioned in our prayers. I cannot promise those prayers will be prayers for your well-being, but I can promise we will seek the justice of God for those who oppose Him and His people.
5. I believe there are people who want to gather for worship, whose churches have closed, resorted to silly scheduling, are taking temperatures, requiring masks, or having people sit in the parking lot in their cars and listen to a sermon. Those people need to know that there are churches who are open completely, without fear, without reservation, and will continue to do so.
6. I believe the time is here for churches to make their positions known publicly and boldly, so that other churches know who is friend and who is foe.
May the Lord give us grace to live in light of eternity, with our eyes fixed on Christ.