For the last year, I have watched local church pastors put through the wringer. It has been a challenging time navigating the pandemic lockdown while trying to keep a church open and functioning. For many, it seemed at first like compliance and quiet submission were the only course available if the witness of their churches was to remain intact.
Some think a passive leadership role, one without exercising legal recourse, is always the right path to take. They do not feel comfortable pushing back against government overreach. Che Ahn, the pastor of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, California, was told to shut down his church or face fines and imprisonment if he did not submit. He chose to remain open, enjoying the same freedom as grocery stores, big box stores, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, and transportation services. Che Ahn filed a lawsuit against the Governor of California and won. As a result of the disposition of that case, discriminatory restrictions on worship and religious gatherings may no longer be applied to churches and places of worship. The state must now pay for all legal and attorney fees.
The Early Church did not live in our cultural context. The rule of Rome was absolute. There was no Constitution or Bill of Rights. 2,000 years ago, Paul, a Roman citizen appealed his case to Caesar. It was his right and he exercised it. In the process, he did not become a card-carrying crazed nationalist who had spiritually lost his way.
To some within the Western Church, it would appear unseemly to make such an appeal. As a result of these attitudes, a passive form of engagement with the government has emerged in some quarters of the church deeming passivity to be the higher road. If you don’t hold to that line of reasoning you are either shamed into silence or branded as someone who missed the intellectual boat, or worse, given a label and dismissed altogether.
The Gospel works in any cultural context, free or restricted. When we do have recourse to address a grievance or injustice, it is not unloving or unspiritual to take advantage of legal remedy if done with humility and honor, especially when injustice is afoot. It also takes courage to seek righteous recourse when recourse is not the easy way forward.