By FRC's David Closson
In the not too distant past, it would have been difficult to imagine a scenario in the United States where government officials would have the temerity to threaten churches for holding indoor worship services. However, as the coronavirus pandemic abates, and the nation returns to work, certain states and cities continue to reveal a startling level of bias against churches. Nowhere has this mistreatment been more flagrant than in California, where Governor Gavin Newsom continues to hold churches to unfair and impossible standards. But liberal politicians no longer want to simply keep churches shut down indefinitely, they are now threatening pastors who defy their orders with arrest and jail time.
But many pastors are refusing to stay silent about California's ongoing campaign against churches. One such example is Che Ahn, Senior Pastor of Harvest Rock Church who joined Tony Perkins on Washington Watch last Thursday to explain the unfolding situation in Pasadena. Ahn explained that he was contacted just last week by an official in City Hall who said the pastor would be arrested within the week for refusing to abide by California's restrictive measures that prevent churches from holding indoor worship services. After receiving the call, Ahn recalls, "So, I was just waiting, but nothing happened."
Undeterred by the threats, Ahn is continuing to hold services. "I just want to worship," he explained. "We believe we haven't broken the law...[and] this great country has given us the freedom [to worship]. But Governor Newsom has violated the Constitution by locking down the church and declaring us not essential."
Pastor Ahn, who leads a network of 163 churches in California, has been active this summer in the cause of protecting religious liberty and the right to worship. In July, Ahn filed a lawsuit against Newsom for the state's restrictive measures on churches. In the lawsuit, Ahn argues that Newsom is not applying the same standard to churches as other gatherings, including protests.
Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel who represents Harvest Rock Church explained, "Newsom encourages tens of thousands of people to gather for mass protests, he bans all in-person worship and home Bible studies and fellowship. Such repression is well-known in despotic governments, and it is shocking that even home fellowship is banned in America."
Pastor Ahn, who has also led Harvest International Ministries for 25 years, compared the current situation in California to what he has seen overseas, particularly in communist China. While Christians in China are forced to gather illegally in underground meetings due to the "totalitarian communist one-party regime," Ahn sees the same antichrist spirit "waging war against our freedom in the United States." According to Ahn, there is a spiritual component to the current battle over religious liberty and pastors must be willing to speak truth to power and insist on their obligation to God and their congregation to open their church and continue the gospel work entrusted to them.
Ahn, whose church requires congregants to wear masks in the auditorium and is providing gloves and hand sanitizer to anyone who attends their services, is not trying to be intentionally provocative. However, he believes the state and local governments in California are not treating churches fairly. Undoubtedly, this unequal treatment stems from the government's decision to not consider the church essential. In fact, even putting aside the immediate situation in California, it is worth noting that the posture of most state and local officials to the coronavirus pandemic has been to see church as a non-essential amenity rather than a necessary and indispensable part of believers' lives.
Considering recent research that shows only six percent of Americans have a biblical worldview, it is understandable why so many people, including political leaders, do not understand why worship services are vital to the spiritual wellbeing of individuals and society. This is why Christians must persist in being salt and light in a dark culture, and despite resistance and obstacles, continue to boldly model grace and love as they point people to Christ.
Pastor Che Ahn deserves credit for his courage and bravery. Despite the threat of jail time for holding a worship service, Ahn preached yesterday to a grateful congregation. May others follow his example in the days and weeks ahead.