Grace Community Church Pastor John MacArthur took an insouciant attitude toward threats of jail time over his church’s decision to hold indoor services amid ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns, saying he’ll simply open a “jail ministry” should he find himself behind bars.
In an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham on Tuesday, MacArthur revealed that he recently received a letter threatening up to six months in jail if he continues holding indoor worship services at his church in Sun Valley, California.
“Of course, my biblical hero apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the Apostle Paul,” MacArthur said. “And when he went into a town he didn't ask what the hotel was like. He asked what the jail was like because he knew that's where he was going to spend his time.”
“So I don't mind being a little apostolic — if they want to tuck me into jail, I'm open for a jail ministry,” he continued. “I've done a lot of other ministries and haven't had the opportunity to do that one. So bring it on.”
Speaking from the pulpit, MacArthur explained why “Grace Church does not just comply with the orders that have been laid down for churches.” He condemned the county’s ongoing restrictions six months after the first lockdown as “utterly impossible” to follow, adding that doing so would “completely shut the church down.”
"Obviously, this is not constitutional, but more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the church, who calls us together," the pastor said. “So look at the person next to you and say, ‘I don't know who you are but I'm so glad I'm sitting next to you.’”
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MacArthur has led in-person services since late July in violation of Gov. Gavin Newsom's second round of lockdowns and repeatedly criticized California for restricting worship.
“We’re under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He says to have church, and we will,” he told CNN on Thursday.
Over the last few weeks, the county has repeatedly attempted to get a court order to close the church and used various methods to prevent the congregation from gathering.
Last month, the county told the church it would terminate a lease for a parking lot the congregation had used for 45 years. Earlier this week, the county fined Grace Community $1,000 for allegedly violating a COVID-19 sign ordinance due to the placement of the sign.
MacArthur called the county’s approach “harassment” and argued that government officials are attempting to impede on his and his congregation’s “free exercise of religion by criminalizing activity directly required by our faith.”
“As a church, we have a moral and religious obligation to continue allowing our congregants to gather in our sanctuary to worship the Lord,” the pastor said, adding that the church is the “core of life for thousands from nursery to seniors.”
Other churches across California have faced opposition for holding services in defiance of state health mandates constraining worship services.
North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara was forced to stop hosting indoor services after accruing over $112,000 in county fines.
Last month, Ventura County, a suburb of Los Angeles, fined Rob McCoy, pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel, $3,000 for holding six services against local orders.