Churches Suing the Governor of Oregon | Pt. 2

by Glenn on May 19, 2020

This is an update to this post.

A legal battle is underway. The churches suing the governor of the state of Oregon received support from a judge but then the state supreme court put a stay. Who knows how this will play out. I still have a hard time with churches claiming their rights are being trampled on when there is a fairly obvious health crisis underway. To argue with myself for just a bit:

Q. Don’t you think the churches had a point?

A. I think it goes without saying that the right to assemble peaceably and the right to practice faith were both hindered by the governor’s order. But, that wasn’t an absolute prohibition. The governor’s order didn’t mean you couldn’t meet, say, virtually. It didn’t mean you couldn’t do something like a drive-in service. It didn’t mean you couldn’t record messages or services and share them. It didn’t mean you couldn’t live-stream services. There was an intent behind the order that needs to be considered. If human safety would be infringed by meeting together physically, the governor would not be doing her job if she permitted gatherings. That’s what I assume she has done. These are unusual times. The law suit simply didn’t make sense in these circumstances.

Q. Don’t you feel like churches were being singled out?

A. No. Because they weren’t. Plenty of other organizations are closed right now.

Q. But what does this say about the church not being included in the list of essential businesses? You can go to the grocery store. You can go to the hardware store. Why shouldn’t people get their needs met at church?

A. I suppose the idea of essential businesses and needs met depends on what you mean by essential and needs. On the Abraham Maslow-style “Hierarchy of Needs,” I consider faith a higher-level activity. Christians are not the only citizens in Oregon. While I consider my faith a need and believe that knowledge of Jesus (actually belief in Jesus) is essential for eternal life, others most certainly do not, particularly if they are someone who claims that this life is all there is. A lot of businesses are having to be creative right now, for example, restaurants with take-out only or other businesses who are using curbside check-out. I maintain that churches need to be creative right now. Even for businesses that are open, it’s not business as usual.

Q. Don’t you care about the legality of what the governor is doing? Wasn’t she supposed to get approval from the state legislature?

A. I don’t know the legality of what she is doing and perhaps I don’t really care right now. I imagine the argument that these churches made was correct, but honestly, I have no legal background and so I have no idea if the suing churches are right in their claim. I take a sort of Who cares if you’re right? approach to this, though, particularly because it’s not clear what is to be gained. What I see is the practicality of what she is doing. She is saving lives. We are in extraordinary times. Let’s say these churches had won an outright victory. What next? Business as usual at church? I think we can say, reliably, that this disease is passed on from human to human. It makes sense to limit human-to-human contact.

Q. There are counties that aren’t experiencing the Coronavirus? Why should they be treated the same as other counties?

A. Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what the governor is doing? She is treating each county differently. When a county meets certain criteria, they can open up.

Q. She is not moving quickly enough.

A. Perhaps. It’s hard to say how quickly she should be moving, though. One of the challenges of this disease is that there is no “real-time” data to inform decision-making. The effects of decisions made today won’t be understood for a couple of weeks. I’m okay with an abundance of caution. Something helpful to us here in Oregon is that there are certain states in the South that are opening up. We will know in a couple of weeks if that is a good move or not. They are a kind of experiment where the test results won’t be known for some time. I guess I would suggest patience should be the order of the day. I’m also pretty happy to live in a state where the death count is only 138.

Q. Our faith teaches us not to fear death. Are you afraid of death?

A. I don’t think so. I will say that the Coronavirus has caused me to think about my own death. I had in my mind the idea that I would live to my 80’s, giving me decades of life ahead of me, but this disease has me numbering my days a bit, not making any assumptions. This disease aside, I note in passing the death of the apologist Ravi Zacharias at age 74 from a sarcoma. I continue with long-terms plans while remembering that life is fragile. This disease can be mild or it can light up your immune system so much that you experience a life-threatening condition. I read today that patients near death are struggling for air so badly that they have to be restrained to keep from pulling out their breathing tube. I’m not fearing death, but I’m not wanting to engage in actions that could hasten my death. I don’t think I have that right. And, as I said, I have plans.

Further, I don’t think it’s right to hasten the death of anyone else. That’s another of the challenges of this disease. You can be asymptomatic and contagious. If you truly believe that people must choose Jesus before they die, then why would you do anything that could cause the death of unbelievers?

Q. I don’t think you appreciate what’s at stake here.

A. The same could be said of you. All of this talk about how the church here in Oregon is being hurt by the government feels more dramatic than anything based on reality. There are Christians around the world who are being imprisoned or tortured or killed for their faith. What we are experiencing here is nothing like that. We’re being told not to meet in large groups. Our government is telling us in actions, if not words, that our lives matter. That is hardly anything approximating let alone approaching persecution.

The people I am concerned about right now are people who have lost their jobs. I guess unemployment is working for at least some of them. I am eager to see the economy open up so people can get back to work.

It will be great to have services in our church buildings again, but we don’t want to do that until it’s safe. This is not cold and flu season. This is something very different. 90,000 Americans have died over the last couple of months. Now is not a time to be demanding anything.