Religion is a subjective thing. Because a variety of religious doctrines are all different, conflict arises. Today, many feel persecuted by other religions, government and individuals.

Christianity is all a matter of interpretation. Lutheran Church exists because in the 16th century, Martin Luther protested some of the ideals of the Roman Catholic Church for example. There are differences in beliefs, approaches and obviously interpretations of the Bible. 

So when the Alberta government amongst other provincial governments provided regulations about group meetings and mass gatherings due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus and all of its variants, it was for everyone to comply to keep it from spreading. Whether we like it or not, the only way to truly stop the virus is it to stay physically, but not socially, distant apart. Some of this isn’t possible like perhaps going to get essentials like food and supplies. Sacrifices have to be made and unfortunately one of those has been attending church and related gatherings.

Can anyone be naive enough to think churches, Christian or otherwise, which aren’t defying the government orders and having services? Of course not. It doesn’t make it right, but they have their reasons. They are not going out of their way to say they are defying the law. However what has happened Feb. 16 and previously seems hypocritical. GraceLife Church, an evangelical church in Spruce Grove, located west of Edmonton, has continually defied orders from the government to follow provincial regulations on whether to remain open, and later whether parishioners were wearing masks and keeping the numbers of people to 15 per cent of the building’s capacity. For GraceLife,  those are large numbers as the church from photos looks fairly large.

GraceLife, along with Heights Baptist Church in Medicine Hat, co-filed a court challenge in Alberta Court of Queen’s bench this past December saying the government’s health-based regulations were unconstitutional. The two church's request was dismissed. Not sure what happened in the case of Medicine Hat’s Baptist Church, but GraceLife continued to defy the order. 

"Somehow" information GraceLife was ignoring the regulations was leaked i.e. they have been very open in regards to telling anyone who will listen they are staying open. On Feb. 16, Edmonton media reported that James Coates, one of the pastor/teachers at the church turned himself into the RCMP for repeatedly ignoring and breaching an Alberta Health order to not hold a service Feb. 14. He was officially charged with two counts of contravention of the Public Health Act and failing to comply with a condition of his undertaking. An RCMP officer was there when he and the church were told of the health order by an AHS official right at the church. This was ignored. He turned himself in Feb. 16 and because he failed to promise to and refused to comply with the new order, he was held in jail at least for one evening… as per his lawyer.

The way media is these days, there is no way they have the time or the inclination to call up every church and ask “hey, so are you defying the law this Sunday.” No… the info was reported to the media by his lawyer who ironically was doing media interviews through social media and not in person.

In this world where Christians feel persecuted by other religions and atheists alike for a wide variety of reasons, the thoughts is to stand up for God and what you believe in. 

However, GraceLife has taken it to another level. It shouldn’t come as a big shock that they are defying the orders f you look closee enough. As part on their homepage the church (www.gracelife.ca) displayed a long letter justifying Coates and the church’s actions. 

“Our fervent desire and steadfast commitment is to have a biblically sound church whereby the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is preached. Our intention is to operate on Scriptural principles and guidelines that control how we function both as individuals and as a church. Our aim is not to please men, nor follow worldly practices; rather, we aim to please our Lord and Master, the Head of the church, Jesus Christ. We believe without reservation that the Scriptures are the word of God. They are inerrant (without error) and infallible (incapable of leading astray). The Scriptures speak with authority in all matters, and our desire is to submit to that authority.”

In other words, GraceLife is defying man's rules and following only God’s word, which apparently means ignoring health orders. 

In reading the letter, not to mention listening to Coates Feb. 14 sermon which was more of defiant explanation of their actions: https://gracelife.ca/sermons/directing-government/ it is evident that they don't believe in the dangers of the pandemic. Part of the issue with the violation of the health order was not only ignoring the rules by exceeding the building’s 15 per cent capacity and but many of those in attendance were not wearing masks. 

Not everyone will agree with masks and not everyone will agree with the mass gathering rules. The issue is one of martyrdom and psychological games i.e. guilt which aren’t healthy. It creates nothing but division as oppsed to the ideals of inclusion or cooperation. Coates has made himself the example and even with this writing about him, it brings him attention. Unfortunately for Christians it just gives ammunition to non-believers and sceptics about the criticism of hypocrisy. 

Think Coates is being brave, heroic and standing for Jesus? Here are some quotes from and you decide. At about 55 minutes into the 61 minute sermon, Coates gets very defiant, a very "I'm doing this all for you" attitude. 

He noted that in “This particular time in history, (the pandemic) has exposed some deficiencies in the broader evangelical church. One, it has exposed a deficient ecclesiology (New World Encyclopedia: “Ecclesiology, in Christian theology, is the study of doctrine pertaining to the Church itself as a community or organic entity, and of how the Church understands itself—that is, its role in salvation, its origin, its relationship to the historical Christ, its discipline, its destiny, and its leadership.”)

After that, it becomes more about Coates. 

“We can see it online, many of our neighbours hate us, want us dead, want us locked up. I would just say this, I am putting my life on the line. I’m doing that for even those who hate me. There are those in our precious province who can’t stand me, want me dead, and I am willing to put my neck out for that.”

After Coates compared to what he is doing is a "miniscule fraction" as opposed to the sacrifices Jesus made in dying on the cross for mankind’s salvation (Easter is April 4).

“To the public of Alberta, if you hate me, that’s okay. I’m going to put my neck on the line believing that I am doing is the best I can do for you regardless what you think about it and that’s loving my neighbour which is what God is commanding me to do…amen? Amen."

Critics will say the arguments are full of hypocrisy. On the one hand they don’t believe in the government’s laws because he only follows God’s yet if they didn’t care there would be no constitutional challenge nor would they care about defying provincial orders nor would they proudly proclaim turning himself in and made sure the public knew he was spending time in jail. Coates also proudly during the sermon added that there’s an RCMP officer as a member of the congregation, also obviously defying the regulations. 

For those (of us) who are believers, aren’t we supposed to be Christians 24/7, seven days a week? Are we not supposed to look after each other, and whether you believe in the pandemic or not, the fact is people have died directly because of it. Yes eventually health officials and scientists have apparently figured it out and innoculations are sllllowly being completed. 

If the only reason you are going to church is for the socializing for the one hour to (fill in the blank) hours a week and not actually following the doctrine, then you are a hypocrite. Many churches have been doing online services and while it isn't the same, if you are looking for the word of the Lord, you have still had the opportunity to be served. 

Grandstanding and making a nearly hour-long sermon basically thumbing your nose at health officials and basically other Christian groups isn't Christian. 

“I am a better Christian than you because I am defying this world’s/government laws” is the message. 

I am sure that all of the students and their parents who followed the health laws within Alberta Christian schools will not be happy to know they are not worthy Christians.  Guilt trip/gaslighting… not what God wants.  Last time I looked, Edmonton area had the second highest number of active cases in the province.

These health rules caused by the pandemic are not enjoyable or helpful when it comes to the status quo. Many lives have been unfairly damaged or ruined by Covid. You can talk about people’s mental health, private industry/business, economy… it has hurt.  No one wants these rules, especially not the Alberta government which is all about business and the economy. Rules are in place so we can get through this, hate and disagree with them all you want, that’s a fact.

However, grandstanding, bringing attention to oneself and causing disruption and possibly endangering people’s health by encouraging them to ignore rules that are there to keep people healthy… heaven help us.

Ryan Dahlman is managing editor of Prairie Post West and Prairie Post East.

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(1) comment

Anja

Thanks for the article Ryan. I was wondering if anyone else is asking the same questions I am, so it was encouraging to read your article. It's important that we ask the tough questions, because the points you make point to - what is it to be a Christian? Listening to Pastor Coates in interviews he uses the words "defiance" and "in conflict" a lot. I don't know him, but as a person who does trust in the God of the bible, I don't support this type of legalistic position that often leads people down the wrong road. I've been in churches like this so speak from experience. Again, thanks for talking about very important points to many Christians out here, that speak about a deeper love of others that God has asked us to exemplify to not just those that belong to church membership but to our neighbors. This includes respecting the rights of others to follow the health orders because people care about doing their part to stop the virus in our communities. I personally can't stand wearing a mask and also don't care for most of the lockdown ideas, but many people are actually scared, I see this with the elderly. I would hate to part of something that would escalate the already fragile mental health of the rest of our communities. Care, respect, patience and finding work arounds for staying connected is what we've all had to do. People in Chile, with a very large Christian population, are locked in their homes 5 days a week and need a pass to go out and get essential supplies. I feel we get lost in our own nonsense so quickly in North America. Prayers, and more prayers, that's all I can say.

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