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Canadian pastor in jail for church’s defiance of health orders

by Lynde Langdon
Posted 2/19/21, 05:37 pm

A judge in Alberta, Canada, refused to release Pastor James Coates of Edmonton-area GraceLife Church unless he agreed to abide by COVID-19 health restrictions. Coates says the Alberta Health Service’s rules—limiting in-person worship gatherings to 15 percent of a church’s capacity and requiring attendees to wear masks and social distance—violate his conscience and religious beliefs. His attorneys appealed to provincial Premier Jason Kenney, asking, “How long are you going to allow Alberta to be a medical dictatorship?

Why was the pastor arrested? At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, GraceLife Church in Alberta, Canada, held livestream worship services and followed local health orders. Since the church resumed meeting in person, authorities have fined the pastor and warned the church to follow the ongoing health orders, which the congregation says go further than necessary to protect the public. Coates turned himself in on Tuesday to face charges of contravening the Public Health Act and failing to comply with a court order.

Dig deeper: Read Steve West’s report in Liberties about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn pandemic worship restrictions in California.

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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital's managing editor. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kansas. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • GC
    Posted: Mon, 02/22/2021 09:47 am

    I truly am at a loss to understand how mask and social distance requirements can violate one's conscience and religious beliefs. 

  •  Uff Da's picture
    Uff Da
    Posted: Mon, 02/22/2021 12:22 pm


    It will take some time, but they have laid out their position:



    Posted: Mon, 02/22/2021 01:16 pm

    Thank you, Uff Da, for the link to the clearly articulated statement of reason and faith. (It's the same link [further than necessary] that Lynde provides in the article.)

    Posted: Mon, 02/22/2021 02:36 pm

    Thanks for the link, Uff Da. That explains their position, although I don't think the facts back up their defense. 

    I do not think the government should be, for the most part, regulating when and how churches meet. In my own state of Michigan, churches have been exempt from penalties since March 2020, when the lockdowns started. Our city and county have exempted churches from penalties as well, and Detroit is including clergy with essential workers for first vaccine priority so that it is safe for ministry to continue.

    But more rights mean more responsibility. Churches, above all institutions, should want to avoid spreading COVID-19 and adding to the public health risk. It's a shame that workplaces are making more effort to protect their employees than churches are to protect the health and lives of their congregants. Of course, workplaces can't hide behind the sovereignty of God as an excuse for their mismanagement, and churches often do.

  • SJBaptist
    Posted: Mon, 02/22/2021 12:15 pm

    "I see four lights."


  • not silent
    Posted: Mon, 02/22/2021 04:00 pm

    I read the link posted by GraceLIfe Church. It states, "there is no empirical evidence that lockdowns are effective in mitigating the virus." This may be technically true, as written (i.e., I'm not sure what is meant by "no empirical evidence" by "lockdowns" or by "mitigating the virus"); but I've personally read studies from the foremost authorities in infectious disease which showed that social distancing, mask wearing, and limiting crowds indoors helps cut transmission of the virus. So there IS evidence that THOSE PARTICULAR MEASURES REDUCE TRANSMISSION of the virus. 

    The link also says this: "As such, we believe that love for our neighbor demands we exercise our civil liberties."  I value civil liberties, of course, but I would REALLY like to see where the Bible says that exercising civil liberties is part of "loving our neighbors."  I think they have confused somethig "good" (i.e., civil liberties) with the command which Jesus said was second most important.

    1 Corinthians 13, the "love" chapter, says this (vs. 4-7):

    "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

    .When an expert in the law asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus asked him to state what HE read in the Law. Vs. 27 records his response: "He answered, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Jesus agreed with him, but then the expert asked "And who is my neighbor."  Jesus then told what most of us know as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.  I doubt Samaritans had many rights at that time, but this one stopped and spent time and money helping a Jew, someone who would normally despise him. This had to have been incredibly shocking to the audience-that the "hero" of the story was from a group of people they despised! 

    At the end, Jesus asks (I'm going to quote vs. 36-37): "'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell in with robbers?'

    The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.'

     Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'"  

    The Bible also says this Philippians 2:5-8: "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And...he humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death-even death on a cross!"

    If anything, it seems to me that loving our neighbors means being willing to give up our rights. I want to make this very clear: being willing to give up rights if necessary for the sake of the gospel is NOT THE SAME as giving them up automatically because secular society demands it. We can and should value our rights, but they should never be our number one priority.  We should be willing to give them up along with everything else if necessary for the gospel.

  • not silent
    Posted: Mon, 02/22/2021 04:50 pm

    I'd like to add a few comments:  First of all, it's possible that Alberta, Canada may not have as great an issue with COVID as where I live and where most of my family lives. Good for them, but it doesn't mean that COVID has not caused more deaths than usual ELSEWHERE.

    My personal experience is consistent with the warnings from the medical community. Two of my high school classmates (who were under 60 years old) have died OF COVID.  Two of my relatives have been seriously ill with it; one was hospitalized.  Another relative could not find an ER to take care of an urgent medical need (which they thought could be COVID) because the hospitals in their area were full of seriously ill COVID patients.  We've had friends who had relatives and neighbors die of COVID.  Statsitics are one thing; but these are real human beings whom I knew personally or who were loved by someone I knew personally.  A doctor I know told me that there were previously something like 24 ICU patients in his hospital being treated in the hallway outside ICU because the hospital was full of critically ill patients with COVID.They are now down to 5 patients in the hallway.  I have worked in hospitals for years and have been in many ICU's, and I've NEVER seen ICU patients being treated in the hallways. 

     While it's great that GraceLife has not had many congregants contract COVID (praise God!), other places have had numerous congregants get sick and die after exposure in church. The reason I made the point in my previous comment about being willing to give up rights if necessary for the gospel is this: in my circles and those of others close to me, the refusal of churches to follow safety guidelines has made non-believers more resistant to the gospel and more inclined to hate Christians.  (They have said so openly.) I have debated atheists online for years, and there is a BIG difference between being offended by the gospel and being turned off by the behavior of Christians. We need to ask ourselves if our rights are more important than allowing God to use us to bring non-believers to Christ. 

    Posted: Tue, 02/23/2021 11:27 am

    A woman of 101 years old and full of energy was given the vaccine. Said she was very tired. She lay down and died.

    Posted: Tue, 02/23/2021 11:28 am

    Does Canada also let murderers out of jail because they might get COVID?