John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, is urging Christians to sign a petition aimed at deeming the church “essential.” In a video released this week alongside the petition, MacArthur also urged pastors to “open your church.”
MacArthur, who is in the throes of a legal battle with LA County after holding indoor worship services in defiance of the county’s pandemic-related restrictions, released the 4-minute video, produced in collaboration with Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, on his social media platforms. The video follows MacArthur as he walks through the campus of GCC, where he has pastored for more than 50 years.
Throughout those years, MacArthur said the church has gathered every Sunday. “We’ve been protected by our government; we’ve been given the freedom to do that,” he said.
GCC initially complied with California and LA County’s ban on large, indoor gatherings. It pivoted to online services with MacArthur preaching to an empty auditorium and his sermons streaming into the homes of his congregation, like many churches across the country.
But by mid-summer, the famed pastor said he believed the government had exaggerated the risk COVID posed and that not gathering to worship was disobedience to God.
GCC began holding indoor services again on July 26 and masks and social distancing were not required. Los Angeles officials sent a cease and desist letter, threatening fines and arrest. The county noted that it permitted large gatherings outside, just not indoors.
MacArthur and GCC responded by filing suit, securing Thomas More Society as legal counsel, and claiming the state-issued health restrictions “violate the California constitution.”
Since then, the battle has intensified, with the county evicting the church from a parking lot it’s leased for 45 years and a Los Angeles Superior Judge granting a preliminary injunction against MacArthur, prohibiting his church from holding indoor worship services. MacArthur continues to defy the orders. The court has issued a hearing in mid-November at the county’s request for civil contempt against MacArthur.
MacArthur remains undeterred. In his video released this week, he blames politicians for “trampling on the constitution” and manipulating citizens through “manufactured fear.”
“The reality is that the COVID data just doesn’t match the government’s COVID narrative,” he said. “Here in the state of Calif, we have 40 million people. People that have COVID are now 1/100th of 1 percent. You have a 99.99 percent chance to survive COVID. It’s just not what they’re saying it is.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, which is tracking confirmed cases and deaths in California related to COVID-19, confirmed cases of COVID-19 were 846,230, making that just over two-percent of the population who have been diagnosed with the virus as of Wednesday. Deaths in the state reached 16,485 as of Wednesday.
“That absolutely does not warrant shutting down anything, but especially, absurdly, arbitrarily churches who have a special protection from the constitution. Oh, and at the same time leaving open abortion clinics, strip clubs, and marijuana dispensaries,” MacArthur said. He also cited the government as saying they would allow protests where social distancing and adherence to restrictions on large gatherings were impossible.
“It is obviously targeted discrimination,” MacArthur said. “Leftist and secular government officials have no tolerance for biblical Christianity, so they’re using COVID as an excuse to shut us down.
“We have to stand firm on the reality that the church is essential,” he continued. “The most meaningful, transformative, exemplary lives in a community all come together in the church, and that’s been our impact on the city of L.A.”
Since GCC began holding indoor services in late July, MacArthur said Sunday services have grown to about 7,000 worshipers in attendance. They have also resumed student and adult ministries, according to the church’s website. Photos from Sunday services show attendees gathered close together, many not wearing masks.
“The church is the original protestor,” he said. “We go back to the protestant reformation 500 years ago when the government tried to dictate to the church how it should worship.”
He called the government shutdown of churches a “watershed moment” in America, saying the church is both free to meet under the constitution and commanded to meet by Christ.
“This is a time of all times to meet as the church,” he said. “Open your church. The church is essential.”
Reactions to the video, which had more than 264,000 views Wednesday night, were mixed, with some considering the move reckless in the face of a deadly pandemic and others praising MacArthur for his stand for religious liberty.
The corresponding petition urges officials to deem church “essential,” which would allow them to stay open and offer fewer government restrictions during the pandemic. The website only lists 49 signatories to the petition. Requests to the Falkirk Center for comment were not immediately returned.