COVID-19 and the Church
As our churches – and our country – face increasing disunity and division over the global pandemic, we at the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities continue to be concerned about the ability of our members to freely and confidently serve Christ and their communities while at the same time being deeply concerned about the health and welfare of all Canadians. We recognize that we are all trying to do our best to fulfill our missions while demonstrating care and concern for our neighbours and that we have different perspectives within our ministry community as to how to do that. We affirm the individual discretion of our members to choose how to respond to the present situation. Our desire, as always, is to provide support and encouragement to help each organization to make their own decisions to be exemplary, healthy, and effective in a world with COVID-19.
1. The Role of Government
CCCC recognizes the important role of government to protect the public in the context of temporary public health emergencies. At this point, we recommend our members abide by government protocols when holding religious services, including the limits on capacity, mask requirements, and sanitation. We also encourage members to use their God-given creativity to engage to the maximum potential and possibilities. This might include unique ways of “gathering” such as virtual services, drive-in services, or open-air services. At the same time, we would expect the government to respond with similar respect and good faith, in order to accommodate, as much as possible, the ability of congregations to remain connected and obedient to Scripture.
Extraordinary measures ought to be limited to the emergency that justifies their implementation. When the crisis passes, we expect the measures to be lifted as quickly as possible. In the case of COVID-19, that will require a defined endpoint with appropriate (and transparent) criteria to allow decision-makers and the wider population to understand when and how restrictions will be lifted.
2. Constitutional Protections
Religious gatherings are unique, in comparison to other curtailed activities, in that religious practices – and the theological beliefs that underpin them – are constitutionally protected from government interference. Politicians do not have the legal or spiritual authority to decide whether a religious service is important to the religious community concerned.
It is appropriate for government policies to be shaped by a concern for public health. However, public health ought to consider spiritual and social dimensions along with physical wellbeing. To mitigate the perception of arbitrary or inconsistent policies, the government should include churches and religious gatherings in their decision-making.
3. Support for Members
Within its mandate, CCCC seeks to support its members to ensure that their ministry operations are secure and that there is a favourable legal environment for them to operate in. In the case of the pandemic, we acknowledge that some congregations and charities believe that the government regulations are necessary to protect public health, while others believe that the restrictions are violating their religious freedom. Each of these perspectives may be grounded in Scripture and deep, conscientious reflection. In a spirit of peace that puts Christ above the coronavirus, we long to see our members respond to each other with humility, patience, and above all, love.
While we may not all reach the same conclusions, we are committed to upholding our members’ freedom to practice their beliefs. CCCC is not a law firm that has the authorization or capacity to represent individuals or congregations in litigation. We nevertheless engage with the public on these issues through lobbying government officials; public awareness programs; legal interventions in appropriate cases that raise constitutional issues of national importance; and public engagement through webinars, editorials and legal publications; all with the goal of ensuring that the landscape for churches and religious charities remains as free and open as possible in order for those organizations to achieve their mission.