With Governor Herbert’s directive allowing churches to meet while observing certain social distancing requirements, many of Cache Valley’s churches have or will soon resume services. A number of churches like ours will meet this Sunday for the first time in 2 months. For better or worse, it will bring challenges and opportunities as we meet with others for worship.
One of the unexpected negatives that the pandemic has brought out is how quick we are to judge the actions and motivations of others. As we move forward, we find people on one side of the divide or the other. Return to work or remain in isolation; reopen schools, or close until the fall if even then; wear masks in public or not. Holding our point of view passionately is not the problem; the problem is how we judge others who do not share our convictions.
As our community and nation wrestles with the pathway of what the new norm will be, these differences in opinions will create even greater conflict. How are we to graciously respond to those who have views different than our own? Is grace available for those who choose to not wear masks in public or for those who believe that churches and restaurants should remain closed?
We can find ourselves navigating the tension between individual rights and what is best for our community. Our church, like others, chose to adhere to the Governor’s directive and ceased to meet after March 15. Constitutionally we did have the freedom to meet, but this freedom is held in tension with the biblical call for us to love our neighbor and to honor and respect the governing authorities who have the responsibility to protect our whole community’s interests.
As I speak with pastors around the west, it seems that certain communities find themselves at greater odds with governing authorities than we do here. Each of us must consider how we will live out the tension between freedom of assembly and freedom of religion with our shared responsibility to love our neighbor. Our decision to meet this Sunday will be done adhering to all the health departments recommendations. Seating will be moved to accommodate family groups with 6 feet of social-distancing; those serving will wear masks; seating will only be permitted only on hard, cleanable surfaces and we will clean, clean, clean.
None of these are arduous. In fact, they are the opposite! As Paul tells the church, having the mind of Christ calls us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)
What this will mean for us as a community as we move forward through this current pandemic? How can I, in humility, consider your needs above my own? It doesn’t mean that I am to bend to your every whim and desire, especially when it contradicts my own conviction before the Lord. But it does mean that I am not to needlessly flaunt my convictions before you should they cause you angst. Nowhere should this be more evident than in our places of worship.
Paul’s words are not situation specific; they are general words rooted in the example of Christ. The verses that follow tell how Christ looked out for my needs and interests by going to the cross to die for my sins and how the Father raised him again to bring me assurance of eternal salvation. If God did this for one who is sinful like me, what excuse do I have for not doing it for someone else?
When churches open their doors, I am confident that all will be welcome. But, will those who have contrary views feel welcome? We must avoid distinctions that divide. Maybe we could reword Galatians 3:28 to say, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, masked nor unmasked, self-quarantined nor business as usual, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Where the devil seeks to divide us, the Spirit of God reminds us that our only hope is found in standing together in Christ. Standing united enables us to live out 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always endures.” I pray that love will mark all our words and actions towards one another in the days ahead regardless of our views on how we should move forward.
Eldon Peterson is pastor of the Cache Valley Bible Fellowship. His column appears on the Faith page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.