Some Calif. churches plan to defy new gathering ban: 'My mandate is to obey the Word of God'

Pastor Greg Fairrington of Destiny Christian Church in California, 2019
Pastor Greg Fairrington of Destiny Christian Church in California, 2019 | Facebook/Destiny Christian Church

A California pastor has declared that his church will not comply with a ban on indoor church services that is impacting dozens of counties across the state. 

Greg Fairrington, pastor of Destiny Christian Church in Rocklin, California, is the latest church official choosing not to comply with the bans on indoor church services in over 30 counties, according to a Facebook video Tuesday.

"I believe my mandate as a pastor is to obey the Word of God. And part of what we do is worship together as a church," Fairrington said. "We are not going to allow our government to use data that is not supported factually to shut the church down."

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Many pastors have spoken out after California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday issued a new executive order closing indoor operations statewide for several facilities, including restaurants, wineries, bars, movie theaters and family entertainment venues.

Enforced restrictions are more firm in over 30 counties on the state’s monitoring list, where places of worship, fitness centers and hair salons are among many services that are banned from indoor operations. These counties have been on the “monitoring list” for more than three days.

As the state’s Department of Health reports that more than 7,300 people have died in California after contracting COVID-19, Fairrington argued that fear is being used to deter worship and he plans to hold an in-person service this Sunday.

Some might also be skeptical of official COVID-19 reporting figures after reports revealed this week that there has been incorrect reporting of 100% positivity rates at some Florida labs. 

The Destiny Church pastor called on his congregation, as well as other residents in the area, to band together as they struggle with COVID-19.

"We need more support right now than ever before," Fairrington said. "Do not let the fear the media is driving and the fear of what's out there affect us as a church; let's pull together."

Some church leaders feel less strongly on the issue and have chosen to adapt to the new orders instead. 

Pastor John Cox of Riverpark Bible Church in Fresno told The Christian Post that Romans 13:1 tells Christians to submit to government.

"It put us in a tricky spot. We want to be who God ordered us to be. But also, [we] want to be gracious and submit to leadership," Cox said. "We don't want to worship in defiance or to stand against the government, but as the people of God."

Cox said that Riverpark services will be online and not in-person for the time being. The primary issue, according to Cox, is the vagueness of the order. He said knowing what is permitted and what is not can be difficult to distinguish.

Other churches, including Harvest Christian Fellowship and Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, will be holding their upcoming Sunday services outside. 

"We’re going to comply," Pastor Brian Brodersen of Calvary Chapel said.

"We don’t feel that there is some governmental attack against the church. If you look at the different things that are temporarily being closed down, worship services indoors are just one of many things," he added, noting that he believes the ban is just for a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, Jim Franklin, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Fresno, told ABC30 that he disagrees with the governor's order.

Under the new order, church services in the impacted counties can only take place in-person if they are held outdoors.

Holding services in 100-degree heat could pose other risks, according to Franklin.

"To move services outdoors in 100-plus degree weather, you are putting restrictions on churches that should not be placed upon them," Franklin added. 

While he understands the governor’s reasoning for the new order, he thinks it's an infringement on his right to worship.

Fresno County, which is included in the state monitoring list, has nearly 9,000 cases and 91 COVID-19-related deaths as of Thursday, according to data released by the county.  

Chase Barnhart, pastor at LifeBridge Church in Fresno, told FOX26 that the pandemic and restrictions have opened new doors and new methods for spreading the Gospel.

"We saw our online services blow up. We saw thousands of people attending online, so we installed a permanent online campus because of that," Barnhart said. "Through all of this, Jesus is going to provide new opportunities."

According to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, it is prohibited to create a law that limits a citizens' right to freely exercise religion. However, a Supreme Court ruling in May allowed Newsom to put restrictions on religious establishments amid the pandemic.

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