Multiple California megachurch pastors are refusing to comply with a new mandate from Gov. Gavin Newsom shutting down church services, starting this past weekend.
Last week, Newsom directed houses of worship, gyms, hair salons and several other indoor venues to close in the several counties on the state’s “County Monitoring List,” citing the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the localities.
Churches are grouped into what the governor described as “non-critical” sectors.
Newsom said the counties on the monitoring list, currently 30 of them, make up about 80 percent of California’s population.
Placer County, located just north of the state capital of Sacramento, became an addition to the list last week.
The designation meant Destiny Church, in the city of Rocklin in Placer County, would have to close its indoor services, which Pastor Greg Fairrington decided he was unwilling to do.
“I believe my mandate as a pastor is to obey the word of God, and worship is a part of what we do together as a church corporately, and we need to do this. It’s important that we do this,” he said.
A message to our church and community. pic.twitter.com/gBadbGgG9I
— Greg Fairrington (@gregfairrington) July 13, 2020
“We are not going to allow the government to use data that is not supported factually to shut the church down,” Fairrington added. “Do not let the fear the media is driving, do not let the fear that is out there, affect us as a church.”
The preacher told The Western Journal that now is the time for the church to stand up because the future of religious liberty is at stake.
“If I read history right, and I think I do, once the government takes rights away, even in a crisis like this COVID, you don’t get them back,” Fairrington said. “When does government get to decide when we meet, where we meet, and what we do when we meet?” he asked.
“The Constitution says, ‘Congress shall make no law …’ So it’s just a continued infringement on the church rights. Our right biblically and our right to the Constitution.”
The First Amendment to the Constitution states, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
Tim Thompson, founding pastor of 412 Church Murrieta in Riverside County in Southern California, said he agrees with Fairrington’s assessment regarding the First Amendment.
“This has everything to do with understanding that we live in a democratic republic, and there is a concept of the separation of church and state,” Thompson said.
“And it’s weird, because when the church tries to interact with the government in any way, everybody is quick to throw separation of church and state in the face of the church,” he noted. “But when the state tries to interfere with the church, nobody’s quick to throw it in their face.”
In contravention to executive orders from Newsom, Thompson opened his church for in-person services beginning the first weekend in May and has not closed it since.
“Why is anyone allowing a government leader, why are we allowing the government to tell the church what to do, ever? That is what men and women fought and died for during the Revolutionary War,” Thompson said.
“That we wouldn’t have the church being mandated by the state on how we worship God, where we worship God, what time, what manner.”
Both ministers said they believe their churches are performing a vital function during the COVID outbreak.
“If ever there is a time that church is essential, it’s right now,” Fairrington said. “In times of prosperity, the church is important, but it’s not nearly as important in times of crisis. We’re in a time of crisis right now. People need the church. The church is a place of hope.”
Thompson recounted that the number of people attending his church has tripled, which might result in 412 Murrieta going to four Sunday services (up from two pre-COVID) or finding a larger venue.
“People are coming from all over the place because they want to go in to church,” he said. “They want their kids to be in Sunday school. They want their kids to be around other Christian kids and not be walking around in fear. What we’ve found is our church is the one place of normality.”
Thompson pointed out the Bible is “replete” with instances of people standing up to civil authorities, when directives went against the word of God.
“They were not afraid to disobey the king’s command,” the Bible says.
The Apostle Peter, when confronted about preaching about Jesus Christ in contradiction of a government edict, responded, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
In addition to individual churches engaging in civil disobedience by continuing to hold services, Harvest Rock Church, in Pasadena, is suing Newsom over his decisions to shut down indoor worship services, to prohibit singing during church gatherings, and to ban meeting in private homes for Bible studies.
Harvest International Ministry, also a plaintiff in the suit, includes a network of 162 churches in California.
Like Fairrington and Thompson, Ché Ahn, senior pastor of Harvest Rock Church, went forward with Sunday services last weekend.
“As a pastor, I believe we have been essential for 2,000 years,” he told KCBS-TV.
Never in the history of this state has the government told churches how to worship. It’s a tremendous violation of our first amendment rights. We are taking a stand for the church, our religious freedom and the Constitution. We are contending for the freedom to continue to meet. pic.twitter.com/GWhejou7gR
— Ché Ahn (@che_ahn) July 20, 2020
“No one’s above the Constitution, no one’s above the law,” Ahn said during his Sunday worship service, and he also called on his congregation to pray the church would win its court case.
Liberty Counsel, which is representing the plaintiffs, said in a news release Monday that the federal district court in Los Angeles hearing the case has ordered expedited proceedings, with a response by the state due by Aug. 3.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.