How shall we respond to governors who close churches?

We are re-living the Japanese-American internment camps

Governors are reacting to the Wuhan virus the way the FDR reacted when he issued an executive order authorizing the military to force American citizens of Japanese, German, and Italian descent into internment camps in America after Pearl Harbor (1942-1944). Public servants had a lack of information about the threat: they knew little about the true loyalties of these citizens (their likelihood of engaging in sabotage), as governors last month knew little about the future impact of the Wuhan virus.  Like governors today, they ignored the US Constitution and US law because of an emergency to intern healthy, loyal citizens.

The Constitution is more important in emergencies than in stable times

The Supreme Court excoriated Abraham Lincoln for similar atrocities: “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2, 121 (1866).” 

Staying home is great advice, but most governors are not given authority by their state constitutions and laws to force healthy people to stay home. Indeed, the first amendment to the Constitution recognizes the unalienable right to peaceable assembly. The US Supreme Court uses the 14th amendment to apply the US Bill of Rights to state and local governments.

The Framers did not make an exception for pandemics when they wrote the Constitution in 1787, even though they had experienced a far more devastating small pox outbreak 1775-1782. It’s estimated that 10 Americans died of small pox for every one who died in combat during the American War for Independence.  

America has experienced many pandemics that were far more deadly than we ever thought the Wuhan virus might be, without ever locking down a state. Why did our generation react differently from previous ones?  Is it because our ruling class is used to working from home?  Is the working class, who can’t work from home, today suffering because of the modern privileges of the ruling class?

Parts of America now disdain religious freedom

Tertullian, who said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” was thinking of a specific, incompetently-implemented persecution in a specific period of history.  Islamic persecution has always decimated the Church in its territory once it has gained control of a government. Four-fifths of the Christian world was conquered by Islam permanently during the first few centuries of Islam.

We want a part of North America to remain a healthy missions sending base where the whole gospel may be preached and passed on to future generations. In Indiana (and many other states), the governor issued an executive order banning religious meetings of more than 10 people, even outdoors, and required meetings of fewer than 11 people to use individually-packaged communion elements, staying six feet apart, etc. Yet he didn’t ban retail stores or government buildings from having more than 10 people. The governor of Kentucky required police to record the license plate numbers of church attendees and required attendees to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Christian doctrine on church and state

Historically, the Church has taught that God instituted parallel governing structures for human society. Church government, civil government, and family leadership, are three human organizations that any society should have.  Each institution draws its authority from God, and each one has been given its own sphere of authority.

Billy Graham was a pastor to many presidents, but he never had the authority to veto a decision a president made. But if the president were serving at a Billy Graham rally, of course Billy Graham could veto a decision of the president regarding the rally.  If Billy Graham were in the Army, he would have followed orders from the president.

The sphere of authority of the church is watching over the souls and consciences and doctrines (worldview) of congregants and of society. It includes everything about church services and buildings. In the New Testament, we read much about the authority of apostles and of bishops/pastors, and of deacons, who somehow form a church government structure (not to mention offices of the church such as teacher, evangelist, prophet, etc which are generally non-governmental).

The sphere of authority of civil government is to punish the evildoer, to administer God’s justice.  As Paul puts it in Romans 13, “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Civil government holds the sword.  Church government guards the truth, helps us become spiritually healthy people, and binds up the wounds of the broken-hearted.

Government is not the highest authority. All institutions and all creation are under God’s authority, and his authority is delegated through multiple institutions, not one, to prevent the tyranny of Babylon.

Christian civil government

In the book of Judges, we see that God preferred that Israel would follow the men who the people recognized was chosen by God to lead them.  These men were called judges because they adjudicated civil disputes, but also led their armies. Although there was no formal voting like in a modern republic, judges were recognized by consensus. God warned Israel against accepting a monarch, saying that monarchs are tyrannical.

Generally speaking, wherever the culture of the people of a state has not been formed and infused by the Church, dictatorship or oligarchy is usually the form of government found. Out of fear of the power of a dictator, the people are forced to recognize the sovereignty (right to rule) of that man.

But in cultures that are formed by the Church, the people as a whole can have the courage to establish the sovereignty of The People by overthrowing tyrants who claim sovereignty.  Then they can practice self governance, in that public servants are temporarily given the honor of providing direction.  This is civil governance by the consent of the people who are governed.  It is the people themselves as a whole that are sovereign, not the public servant.

Paul wrote as a citizen of the Roman Empire. When reading Romans 13, Americans can read it two ways.  Are the “governing authorites” Paul speaks of analogous to our governors and president, or are they analogous to The People of our state, who actually hold the sovereignty? I would argue both, although in different ways. Romans 13 can be the foundation for submission or regime change.

 “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God”

In 1775 the Continental Congress selected 3 men to create a seal for the union of the 13 colonies: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. They chose this motto to place in the seal: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”  Our founding fathers believed, like most Puritans before them, that public servants who are a terror to good conduct are tyrants and out of alignment with the authority God gives to the institution of civil government.

Paul knew his letters would be dangerous to the carriers and holders of his letters if he openly undermined the authority of Roman rulers. Yet it’s clear that Romans 13 speaks only of rulers who punish evil, not rulers who punish good. Rulers who don’t punish evil  or who are “a terror to good conduct” are therefore not rulers “to whom respect is owed.”

The purpose of America

Beginning in 1620, the reason our ancestors established America was to avoid interference in their goal to establish a society that would be ordered and governed according to God’s will. A society that would know God and serve him. A place free from persecution of devoted, radical Protestants.  Therefore the actions of many of our governors are violations of the purpose of America.  


The Christian doctrine of the limited jurisdiction of civil government is perhaps the single most important lesson we have inherited from the struggles and religious wars of Middle-Ages Europe. The rejection of this doctrine by the ruling class and by the Left in America will result, in my opinion, in a religious war. 

We live in a country in which, in most states, the ruling class has deemed the church “non-essential.” During this cornonavirus scare, our government zealously guards the “constitutional right” to abortion, which is not mentioned in the Constitution, yet ignores freedom of religion and assembly, which are mentioned in the Constitution.  Abortion centers are using much-needed masks and gloves, and spreading the virus.  Obviously, the ruling class in this country has a different world view and a different religion from the one of the Framers of the Constitution.

On one side of this future war will be those who accept traditional American values, and on the other will be those who follow humanism. Most humanists don’t  perceive their beliefs as a separate worldview, and most believe that their religious doctrines deserve to  be enforced by the state, although they don’t think of their doctrines as religious.

I believe that the best way to avoid this war would be to form separate countries: one for blue states and one for red states. No one should be forced to move, but this gives partisans an opportunity to move instead of fighting.  For more on this, see Does Christianity call us to meekly forbear evil, or to courageously use the power at our disposal? A Defense of Secession

How shall we respond to governors who close churches?

If you are like me, you were happy to quarantine to avoid spreading the virus. But not all Christians are like me. Some don’t have access to internet or a car or a drive-in church service. They can’t borrow these things because of social distancing.

No one has a problem with governors giving suggestions. It’s the enforceable executive orders with punishments that burden the Church. Most governors are giving orders with the force of law. I researched the Indiana and Oregon executive orders and found that the laws they cite for the penalties that they are threatening are not laws that give them the power to shut down churches. So besides being in conflict with the constitutions of the US, Indiana, and Oregon, they aren’t based on authority given to the executive branch by the legislature.  The executive branch can not write its own laws. Only the legislative branch can. They are making decisions that are not theirs to make.

The most effective response will be lawyers suing governors and mayors.  I have high hopes for this, although most judges today don’t value the actual Constitution or self government.  Here’s an explanation of how lawsuits could prevail on the grounds that these executive orders violate “due process” of law:

But what about us, who are not lawyers?  Do we have a duty to disobey governors on this while we wait for a reversal of these orders? Or is online assembly enough?  Heb 10:25 says “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Obviously just watching a video is not assembly because we don’t get to exhort one another. One preacher preaching is not “one another.” Is the chat feature in YouTube or Facebook adequate to be considered assembly?

For average Christians, a limit of 10 people is usually too small for a good house church if kids are involved, and the stay-at-home orders in some states, such as Michigan, don’t even allow any people to visit other homes.  A church of this size does not give adequate opportunity for the expression of the variety of spiritual gifts that are available in the broader church.

A Protestant household can practice Holy Communion (The Lord’s Supper) alone at home. Where does this leave Catholics, who believe that only the priest can conduct the sacrament of Holy Communion? There aren’t enough priests to go around, even if their governor would allow them to visit homes and even if the priest knew their addresses.

The Bible says to lay hands on each other to heal them (Mark 16:18), and that was common in Jesus’ healing ministry.  In the ministry of the early church, people often laid hands on others (Acts 8:17, Acts 6:6, Acts 13:3, Acts 28:8, 1 Tim 4:14). The Bible says to anoint the sick with oil (James 5:14). Most Christians won’t mind missing out on that, but this is a decision for a congregation to make according to their own conscience, not a governor.

There might be a state where the governor or mayor could be voted out in a primary or general election.  In states like California states, a replacement for the governor is just as likely to be a tyrant as the current one.  Is this the kind of state you want to support with your taxes? The kind of state you want your descendants to become rooted in? Or is moving to a more righteous state a reasonable option?  There are a dozen states that haven’t burdened the practice of religion during this crisis. Six of them haven’t issued any stay-at-home order at all, and eight others recognized churches as “essential.”

Protests are being organized at state capitols. For example, there’s a Facebook page called American Revolution 2.0 that created an event post for each state for May 1. 

In any state, it’s possible to find churches that are still meeting in person, or both in person and online, in defiance of the orders.  Perhaps some feel, in their own conscience, that continuing to meet is the only way to remain true to their Master.  Some churches defy the orders in secret to try to avoid fines and reproach from those who are afraid of the virus.  Others do it publicly to resist the encroachment of anti-Church power and precedents. 

In many foreign countries, most people can only meet in churches in secret. Their children are forced to be brainwashed into the ruling class’ religion in the public schools.  When they graduate they find it’s hard to get work unless they follow the ruling class’ religion. We should not consent to letting our entire country go down this path.  Failure to act is consent.

The Governor of New Jersey had 15 members of a synagogue arrested and charged. When questioned by Tucker Carlson, the governor stated “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this”. When pressed, he said religious leaders were fine with it. Those who, by their actions, renounce their oath of office (to the US Constitution and their state constitution) have renounced their position as an official. He’s no longer the legitimate governor of NJ.

Why don’t government officials fear the consequences of violating the Constitution? Because the militia never makes them pay any consequences. The people created the Bill of Rights to draw a line in the sand that government may not cross. But officials have seen that they can cross the line without consequences. When lawsuits fail, only the militia can make them pay. In extreme cases like this, even our liberal judiciary might vindicate us (although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court failed us yesterday). But this is a clarifying moment that helps us think about the cases in which our liberal judiciary does not defend the actual, written Constitution. In America, sovereignty is in the people of a state. The ultimate guarantor of their sovereignty is their militia.

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