Our view of the coronavirus can affect how we understand persecution in Canada. If I view the pandemic as severely harming society and if I see restrictions as preventing that harm, then fining someone for breaking health regulations generally makes sense. I would not see it as persecution for righteousness’s sake.
On the other hand, if I do not see the pandemic as a genuinely harmful virus and if I see restrictions as useless (and so harmful due to economic and mental strain), then government interventions could look like unjust persecution.
Obviously, views on the virus slide along a wide spectrum. So this basic binary does not cover every situation. But I think it highlights something important when it comes to current discussions on what constitutes persecution for righteousness’s sake (Matt 5:10).
Even so, we have to admit a number of complicating factors. First, all (or virtually all) churches have followed the safety guidelines at one point. Even all (or most) who advocate no longer following health guidelines have frequently done so in the past.
What changed? We can give many reasons. But there is one key reason: we disagree on the severity of the virus.
If the virus is severe and harmful, then no one would decry following health guidelines. No pastor would require a cancer patient with a severely weakened immune system to gather with Christians who are sick, as an example.
On the other hand, if the virus is not severe and harmful, then why would we order our lives around a fabrication and not gather together to worship? If Caesar tells us “no” and there is no natural or moral reason why we should follow that “no,” then we reason that we have to obey God rather than men.
On this view, we may think that Caesar tells us lies. We may think that masks do not prevent harm, that distancing does not help, and that the virus is not a genuine pandemic and severely harmful. So we cannot obey. The government is either wickedly commanding harm (i.e. lockdowns) or badly deceived.
I recognize that the above does not describe everyone. There is a sliding scale of opinions. But I am trying to paint a picture of how people can disagree on the nature of persecution and the relation between church and state based on how they view the virus.
More reasons can be added, as I noted, but I am focusing on one only here: whether we understand the virus to be severe or not.
Since the churches who say, “Reopen without restrictions” and those who say, “We should open with restrictions” have agreed frequently by their practice on Sunday, one key question is: where is the threshold before we feel like we can disobey government-imposed health regulations?
I am arguing that this threshold shifts partly based on how we view the virus itself. I know other reasons can be included such as one’s politics or theological emphases. But evenly strong “reopen without restrictions” churches have often met according to Provincial Health Guidelines.
If that is so, we really have a practical wisdom issue, not a black-and-white theology issue. After all, we all agree and have agreed by practice that we can at times modify our worship gatherings to accommodate for public health guidelines.
For me, I still think resistance looks like appealing to MPPs/MLAs, writing letters, protesting (as citizens), etc. I do so largely because I think the Bible and reformed theology entail using available and valid civil structures for resistance.
And yes: I generally see pandemic as a real and serious virus. I grant that it is not as bad as we feared in 2020. Thanks be to God!
But given this reality, we need to be careful that we don’t affirm what is untrue: namely, that someone is persecuted for righteousness’s sake (i.e., breaking health and safety guidelines and being fined) when we believe that these are in fact good-ish or at least plausibly good.
Instead, we must affirm what we can—the religious freedom of our fellow Canadians who genuinely believe they cannot follow the government guidelines for public health. If we do so, then we are most honest with ourselves and how we can support others with whom we disagree. People will be upset. So be it. Tell the truth.
On the other hand, Paul tells us to submit to civil leaders for the conscience’s sake (Rom 13:5). That leaves room here to allow for brothers and sisters in Christ to disagree over the specifics of how we resist (Rom 14–15).
So if someone differs from me on the virus and the need to follow guidelines, I can sympathize and allow room for differing opinions.
In the end, love does not equal affirmation. Unity is not uniformity. Affirm the good, love the person, but stand firm in what’s true.
 Some churches have decided not to open at all during the pandemic, even when they can do so. In my circles, that is an oddity. So I am excluding that group here in the discussion.
Doug Sayers says
Thanks Wyatt, I really do appreciate your willingness to write on these very practical and pressing pastoral issues.
Your article makes sense but we are still left with the question of where do we find trustworthy information on which we can base our “view” of the virus and it’s actual threat?
We have medical experts giving us their view of the facts and they are quite contradictory.
We have experts who are all-in on lockdowns, masks, and shots and we have those who have questioned the reliability of the PCR tests, the way death certificates have been filled out, interpreted, and counted, and the safety and efficacy of the lightly tested new vaccine-type mrna treatments.
Bad data leads to bad conclusions.
Who do we trust when we can’t get good information: Those who will rake in advertising revenue, campaign contributions, stock portfolio booms, and unprecedented profits OR those who have lost their jobs, had their reputations tainted, and medical licenses threatened and/or suspended trying to warn the public of possible (if not likely) personal harm and further erode our trust in the health care systems of our countries?
Their is good biblical reason to “follow the money” and include that data in our assessment of the situation.
Thanks, Doug. That is a real problem, isn’t it? I think it involves finding trustworthy individuals who are known to be skilled at what they do. But … that can take some filtering.