A coalition of more than 90 American pastors from different denominations have boldly declared they will “never again” comply with government orders to close their churches.
Taking up a biblical rallying cry from Acts 5:29, these clergyman say, “We must obey God rather than men,” and have signed on to a statement declaring that the government violated the U.S. Constitution by ordering churches to cease meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The purpose of the document is to provide a muster point for clergy,” said Pastor Stephen Mannion of Faith United Methodist Church in Lancaster, New York. “The ‘Acts 5:29 Statement’ declares to the government: ‘Don’t try to close the Church again. It won’t go so well next time.'”
Churches and other houses of worship were forced to shut down in early 2020 when government-issued “stay at home” orders required “non-essential” public places to close. While some religious organizations objected at the time, citing First Amendment concerns, the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2020 declined to take up their cases and permitted lockdown orders to remain in effect.
As a result of government restrictions, many church leaders had to innovate and embraced technology to deliver live-streamed worship services over the internet. But in-person Bible studies, small groups, counseling services, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and a multitude of other Christian ministries suspended their activities. Many Christians contend that suspending these services came at a great cost. Deaths associated with alcohol, drugs, and suicide spiked 20% in 2020, claiming the lives of more than 186,000 Americans.
Mannion told TheBlaze in an interview that the government overstepped its authority during the pandemic.
“Bodily autonomy and parental rights [were] often stripped away, livelihoods were lost, dedicated service men and women where forced to retire or be cut from our armed forces, students were robbed of an education, and all for an [infection fatality ratio] of much less than 1%,” Mannion said.
He explained that the idea to draft the Acts 5:29 Statement and invite other ministers to sign it came to him after reading “God vs. Government” by authors Nathan Busenitz and James Coates. The book recounts the efforts of pastors John MacArthur and James Coats to defy lockdown orders in Canada and the United States.
“The Church should have spoke up more on these issues. As for overreach more specific to the Church: It is beyond the God given authority, and Constitutional authority, of the Government to restrict numbers or attendance at worship,” Mannion said.
He drafted the statement along with Rev. Bill Cook, founder and CEO of America’s Black Robe Regiment, an organization of politically active Christian pastors dedicated to preserving “the Blessings of Liberty.” It is based on Hebrews 10:25 and Acts 5:29, Bible verses that instruct Christians not to neglect to gather together for worship and forbade obeying laws that violate God’s commandments.
So far, 93 ministers from 29 states have signed the statement, which declares that government officials “clearly transgressed their lawful authority in executive action that prohibited public meetings or mandated the wearing of masks and ‘social distancing.'”
“As a national coalition of pastors and churches, we reject any Presidential or gubernatorial decree requiring us to disobey the word of God. We will resist any attempt by a Federal, state or local official to restrict or prohibit the free exercise of our Religion or place restrictions thereon,” the statement reads.
During the pandemic, legal experts and public health authorities argued it was right and constitutional to order houses of worship to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Religious gatherings are not immune from in effect becoming petri dishes of infection. The potential negative, even catastrophic, consequences resulting from these gatherings are obvious, even if one lacks advanced training in epidemiology,” law professors Sanford Levinson and Eric Segall wrote in an April 4, 2020, blog post for the American Constitution Society.
But Mannion and the signatories of the Acts 5:29 Statement dispute those arguments, highlighting the hypocrisy of letting so-called “essential” businesses like Walmart remain open while churches were closed.
“The Church was never a super spreader. Walmart was open with 400 people walking around, but the church could only have 25, and then 0? ‘But Walmart is a necessity’. So is the Church. The soul is of infinite more value than the body,” Mannion said.
“Jesus said, ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?’ The local church is more than capable of taking necessary precautions suitable for it’s building and attendance numbers. NO one is forcing anyone to go to church. Each person can make their own risk/benefit assessment without bid daddy in Washington telling him/her what they can and can’t do.”
The organizers of the statement have set a goal of recruiting 5,000 signatories. On Jan. 1, 2023, the signed statement will be sent to local, state, and federal officials informing them that the undersigned ministers will never close their churches on the government’s orders again.