June 1, 2020
Warm Hearts and Cool Heads:
During this Covid-19 crisis, I have repeatedly asked that we lead with our hearts, and make decisions with our heads. Warm hearts and cool heads will prevail. I watched a potentially violent demonstration in Bellevue last night turn into a compassionate dialogue as the Bellevue Chief of Police bent down on his knee and humbly appealed to the restless crowd. It was a point of light during a dark weekend which saw tragic events, including a Supreme Court decision that affects us all. As many of you are in the process of planning for reopening in-person services at a future date, it will be important for us all (in both Washington and Idaho) to continue to comply with our state Governor’s and local authorities’ regulations and restrictions, whether we agree with those regulations and restrictions or not. I have consulted with our attorney, Caleb Stewart and Richard Hammar, who plans to be publishing his opinion on this new Supreme Court ruling later today. The United States Supreme Court rules on and offers opinions that broadly impact similar cases in all states and interprets the law of the land by its rulings. I have heard all variety of opinions about this, and the emotions are high. I also know that many of you are hearing a variety of opinions from your parishioners, often very emotional. Those opinions create stress and tension, and range from those who believe the Covid-19 crisis is a hoax or conspiracy, to those who believe that it is completely irresponsible to reopen church in light of the still growing number of outbreaks in many parts of the country.
While I was preparing this on Saturday morning, it was very dark outside as we were experiencing an unusual thunder and lightning storm here at my home in North Bend, WA. When it was over, more than an inch of hail the size of large peas (some the size of a filbert or peanut) had fallen, and left my meticulously groomed flowers, shrubs, lawn and trees looking like a war zone. We are living in stormy times. Don Ross, Dave Cole and I, along with many of our pastors signed a two-page spread in
The Seattle Times
last Wednesday lamenting and mourning the outrageous murder of a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Before that was published, a week ago today another young black man, George Floyd, was cruelly murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer. Cruel racial injustice displayed over the past two weeks took center stage in the form of protests across the country over the weekend. We have all seen those horrific videos and the egregious acts, cruelty and injustice of racism sparked fires of protest across the nation. We saw peaceful demonstrations turn into literal fires and looting in the largest American cities, including Seattle and Spokane. Jodi and I watched and prayed, grieving for the sin of racism and praying for deep change in hearts to root out the hatred of prejudice and racism, and for God’s people to rise up against it and truly support our basic biblical and American premise of “liberty and justice for all.”
Just as Jesus spoke to the storm, “Peace, be still,” we speak to the Master of the storm, this day, and pray for His peace to guide you and your church in these stormy days. May you find peace in the midst of whatever storm comes your way. That’s the thing about storms. They come. And then they eventually go. Epidemics and pandemics come and go. But racism has persisted for too long, bringing with it cruelty, division and injustice. NWMN Leader Don Ross is preparing a video on this topic for our ministers and churches that will be available later this week. He will be interviewing Pastor James Croone, of Risen Church in Seattle. James also serves on our network leadership community as an Appointed Presbyter and is a noted voice in Seattle’s African-American community.
As I stated above, emotions are high and opinions are diverse about many things in our churches. Over the weekend, an article came out in
about how there seems to be a division among pastors and congregants in some churches over Covid-19. The article examines the tension between Romans 13 and Hebrews 13.
if you would like to read it.
I have written an appeal to Governor Jay Inslee, requesting mitigation for the requirement that pastors and worship leaders wear facemasks while preaching or singing on stage or platform. I requested that consideration be made for those leading services to stand behind a Plexiglas barrier while speaking in lieu of wearing a facemask, similar to what I have seen in many businesses, including the receptionist in the doctor’s office I visited last Friday. While I received confirmation of my request, I have not heard back if it is being considered.
US Supreme Court Ruling:
Last Friday evening (May 29, 2020) in a 5-4 decision the court ruled that the Governor of California does have the right to enact and enforce emergency orders for churches, and it is not a violation of First Amendment rights nor discriminatory to religion, as long as the rules are applied evenly to churches and other similar organizations and businesses. This ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by a United Pentecostal Church against the Governor of California that had gone to a split decision in a California higher court. The US Supreme Court ruled against the church’s request for an injunction against the California governor’s orders. For now, the Governor’s orders stand, based on the five majority Supreme Court judges. Four dissenting judges wrote in favor of the church’s position. Even though this applied to a single church in California, it has implications for all states and all governors and all houses of worship. While we may disagree with the decision, we have heard from the highest court in the land that the Covid-19 crisis and emergency orders to stop the spread do not constitute a violation of First Amendment religious liberty in this case. There are other pending cases, including a suit against Washington Governor Jay Inslee by the Alliance Defending Freedom. We will continue to watch, advocate in peaceful ways behind the scenes as we have been doing, for more clarity and for equal treatment of churches and houses of worship as the rules and guidelines for Covid-19 apply to similar organizations and businesses.
“Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,”
Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling.
“Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” the chief justice wrote. “And the order exempts or treats more leniently only dissimilar activities, such as operating grocery stores, banks and laundromats, in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods.”
You may read and download the entire court opinion
Once we have received the written opinion of Richard Hammar on this ruling, we will post on the NWMN website Covid-19 page, and in our NWMN and NWMN Healthy Pastor Facebook Groups.
You are loved and appreciated. Keep praying and bringing the hope of Jesus to your community. The darker the storm, the more need for our lights and the light of the Gospel to shine.
“For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” Hebrews 6:10 ESV
Associate Network Leader – Secretary/Treasurer