In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a local church defies the law

The pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, Rev. John F. MacArthur, 81, sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti for discrimination by means of placing a restrictive mandate upon his church, requiring MacArthur and his congregation to adhere to common safety protocol amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The suit comes after the church spent twenty-one weeks conducting online services. During this time period, over 8,000 congregants stayed home from in-person services. On July 26, a group of church members came back to the sanctuary, catalyzing thousands to follow suit in the subsequent weeks.

MacArthur opened Grace Church’s Aug. 9 service by calling it the “Grace Community Church peaceful protest,” a statement that was met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation from the thousands of worshipers in attendance.

What has followed is a legal battle between the church and California’s government.

California is currently inhibiting churches and other places of worship from offering indoor services. Instead, religious leaders are expected to conduct services outdoors with proper social distancing and other protective measures such as mask wearing. 

According to Rev. MacArthur, his congregants simply “did not buy the narrative” that they were putting others in harm’s way if they worshiped in-person. 

In a sermon preached on Aug. 30, MacArthur cited a recent report from the Center for Disease Control which stated, “For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.”

Not only did MacArthur affirm this fact, but President Trump also affirmed it by tweeting this statistic last week, a tweet which has since been deleted. 

Many COVID-19 skeptics have concluded there is little reason to fear the coronavirus since 0.02% of positive individuals have died directly from the disease. Both MacArthur and Trump suggest this statistic minimizes direct COVID-19 deaths from 189,000 to 9,000. 

The resulting legal case from these claims is not the first time Rev. MacArthur and his congregation have been involved in a lawsuit. They were sued back in the 1970’s over a case of clergy malpractice involving the suicide of a 24-year-old church member, Kenneth Nally. 

Nally, who was a student at UCLA, was suffering from depression and had also undergone a breakup with his girlfriend. His father, Walter Nally, accused the church of discouraging his son from seeing a clinical therapist and encouraging him to engage in pastoral counseling instead. Nally suggested such malpractice led to his son’s death. The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Grace Church and declared they were not guilty of clergy malpractice, thereby rendering them able to continue operating as a valid ministry.

There has been considerable concern among critics of Grace Church that their refusal to obey the prohibition from meeting indoors will lead to more deaths. Congregants plan on continuing to gather in spite of safety concerns.

In a statement released on July 31, MacArthur affirmed church members who were worried about attending a service due to the threat of COVID-19, insisting they remain home until they are comfortable enough to attend in-person.

For those who are comfortable with attending, complimentary personal protective equipment, such as masks and hand sanitizer, are offered to anyone who desires them.

The majority of attendees at Grace Church’s weekly services do not socially distance, nor do they wear masks, yet MacArthur does not want anyone to feel like an outsider because they choose to wear a mask. He affirms these are superficial matters in the grand scheme of the church. 

“We will obey God rather than men,” says MacArthur, echoing the Apostle Peter’s statement in Acts 5:29. “We do not bow to Caesar. Caesar is not our king. Jesus Christ is our king … We will continue to gather as a church every Sunday … That is not going to stop. We will sing. We will pray. We will proclaim the Word of God.”

On Monday, Aug. 31, reports came out from various sources indicating that the county of Los Angeles had ordered the church to give up the parking lot which they have leased from the county for the past 45 years in an effort to discontinue church gatherings. If MacArthur and his congregants do not vacate the premises within the following 30 days, then their vehicles will be forcefully removed. 

Despite opposition from critics and the local government, MacArthur continues to affirm his initial statement offered at the beginning of this legal process: “One thing I can promise you, we’re having church at Grace every Sunday.” 

As of Sunday morning, the only church that can legally meet indoors is MacArthur’s church as a result of the legal battle. The church is currently awaiting a ruling regarding their lawsuit, which is due by the middle of this week.