On Oct. 11, the Family Research Council (FRC) collaborated with Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in California to host an event called Freedom Sunday 2020. The purpose of the event, according to FRC president Tony Perkins, was to speak out against the fear some people have of not meeting for church in person because of COVID-19. The event’s speakers explained their view that there is a scriptural and constitutional basis—even responsibility—for churches to remain open in defiance of government orders.
“As the country has re-opened, some officials have taken unconstitutional steps to restrict churches from worshipping and to unfairly silence them,” says a statement on the website of FRCAction, a legislative affiliate of FRC. “The U.S. Supreme Court essentially said it was OK for casinos, tattoo parlors, abortion clinics, and liquor stores to operate with little or no restrictions, while churches around the country are still being held to a different—and even discriminatory—standard. Friends, as you know, the church is more than essential. It’s time to choose faith over fear. It’s time to honor God over man. It’s time for a Court that will honor and uphold our First Freedom.”
During the event, Rep. Mike Johnson, (Louisiana’s 4th district) suggested Americans are at risk of losing their “deeply embedded” religious heritage, their national identity, and even more than that, “We actually might lose God’s favor and his blessing.”
Freedom Sunday took place at 5 p.m. PT at Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, California, and people could join in person or via livestream. In-person attendees did not appear to be practicing social distancing or wearing masks.
Tony Perkins moderated the Freedom Sunday event, which included a variety of speakers as well as video montages churches’ recent legal battles and other current events like the protests against racism. Featured speakers included Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) president Dr. Albert Mohler, Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur, and professor and theologian Wayne Grudem.
Freedom Sunday: Churches Have a Right to Resist
A major theme of Freedom Sunday 2020 was that the church has a right to assemble in person in defiance of government restrictions and that the threat of COVID-19 has been blown far out of proportion. This is certainly the view of Pastor John MacArthur, whose Sun Valley church has been engaged in an extensive legal battle against the state of California over their continued gathering. MacArthur said that when communities first locked down, churches were told they needed to do so because millions of people were going to die. So Grace Community Church stopped meeting in person, and MacArthur preached online services to an empty sanctuary.
“I think about four weeks into that it became apparent to our people here in California that millions of people were not dying,” said MacArthur. “People were interacting more with others and they were not as fearful as they had initially been led to believe they should be. And so they started coming back to church.” The pastor said his church never made an announcement encouraging people to come back, but that members kept returning until there were hundreds and then thousands of them.
“Now there are so many coming on Sunday that we fill up the auditorium standing room only,” said MacArthur. “We don’t tell them anything about social distancing. We don’t tell them anything about masks. We let them make their own judgment.”
Pastor MacArthur does not believe that his church is putting people in danger by meeting in this way. If people are between the ages of 50 and 64 and live in the state of California, they have a 1 in 19.1 million chance of dying from COVID-19, said the pastor. “People know that,” he said. “They see that.” MacArthur was alluding to a claim made by One America News Network and widely circulated on social media. OAN came to this conclusion based on a study done by UCLA, Stanford; however, one of the study authors has said that this statement “is a misrepresentation of the study and findings.”
MacArthur went on to state, “In fact, even catching COVID, it only happens to one one hundredth of one percent of the people in California. So our people have become aware of the fact that the fear that is being generated, it doesn’t relate to reality.” Grace Community Church has been open for a couple of months, filled to capacity with no social distancing precautions, and no one has died or been hospitalized, said MacArthur. There were a few people who tested positive for COVID-19 early on, but the church has no known cases currently.
This view of the danger that COVID-19 poses was reiterated later in the program by Dr. Dan Erickson. Erickson owns Accelerated Urgent Care in Bakersfield, California, and he shared discrepancies he has observed between his experience as a doctor and what the media is reporting.