GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Canada, today is distancing itself from a protest Sunday that resulted in fences on church property being torn down and accusations of trespassing from a nearby First Nations tribe.
According to John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which is representing GraceLife, no church members participated in the protest.
“Grace Life Church congregants were not at the protest that occurred on Sunday, April 11, 2021 near the Church’s facility,” Carpay wrote in a statement posted online. “Grace Life Church recognizes the place for peaceful protest within the context of a democracy.”
However, Tanya Cardinal, communications head for Enoch Cree Nation, a local First Nations tribe, disputes Carpay’s claims. She said six GraceLife members who attended the protest contacted her to apologize for mistakenly parking on Cree land.
According to a press release from the Cree nation, 150 trespassers parked their cars on a private road. One trespasser vandalized a Cree chief’s car and another was arrested for attempting to assault a tribal councilor, the release added.
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The protest Sunday gathered 300 to 400 protesters from various parts of Alberta in a mostly peaceful standoff with police outside the fence at GraceLife that Canadian authorities had erected earlier in the week.
At one point, though, some protesters tore down sections of the fence. Soon afterwards, others helped police repair the fence.
The scene quickly de-escalated and some protesters helped police repair the fence. pic.twitter.com/yFU6DWwxRS
— Laura Krause (@LauraKrauseNews) April 11, 2021
The protest is the latest in a series of clashes involving GraceLife Church and local authorities.
Despite Alberta public health rules requiring religious services to limit capacity to 15% and to wear masks, GraceLife has continued to host church services at full capacity and without masks.
GraceLife Pastor James Coates spent 35 days in jail for refusing to follow the COVID guidelines. He was released on March 22. On April 7, local authorities fenced off the church.
The protest mixed aggressive and peaceful actions, City News Edmonton reported. Some protesters prayed or sang worship songs, and others shouted at an estimated 200 police officers guarding the fence.
Some protesters also carried signs with statements like “I am standing up 4 freedom,” “Stop Communism,” “No Gestapo Policing,” and “COVID Vax are killing people.”
According to Corporal Tammy Keibel, the media relations officer for central Alberta police, no police officers were injured and no arrests were made at the protest.
The protest began before 10:00 am and ended in the late afternoon, according to the Edmonton Journal.
According to Erin Coates, James Coates’s wife, GraceLife’s congregation met in a secret location on Sunday to avoid the police.
“For the first time in months we worshiped without the harassment of the police, media, and health services,” she said. “Our people have been through so much, the emotional toll was lifted for just one day. It was a joy to worship unhindered. That’s all we’re asking for.”
“They can take our facility, but we’ll just find another one,” said James Coates in his April 11 sermon.
“This is a first for the western world to have the government lock out believers from a church,” MacArthur said in yesterday’s sermon. “There’s massive outcry against the government for doing this.”
Before his sermon, MacArthur read a letter from James Coates.
“Thank you for the way you cared for me my family and congregation during my imprisonment,” the letter said. “Your love and prayerful support were vital to our steadfastness in the face of suffering. The letter from the elders was an immense encouragement.”
John MacArthur on GraceLife Church lockdown:
“Restaurants and churches, they’ve all been associated with large-scale transmission events,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, the medical director of infection control at St. Joseph’s Healthcare, an Ontario hospital. “It’s imperative that those settings are mitigated as much as possible.”
Jackson Elliott is a Christian journalist trained at Northwestern University. He has worked at The Daily Signal, The Inlander, and The Christian Post, covering topics ranging from D.C. politics to prison ministry. His interests include the Bible, philosophy, theology, Russian literature, and Irish music.