Churches face off with government over COVID-19 restrictions, China cracks down (and other stories)

Latest roundup of culture war news from around the interwebs:

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As the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions drag on, churches are attempting to discern how they should respond to government regulation of worship. As I noted on my podcast a few weeks back, in Ontario, Canada, Rev. Joe Boot of Westminster Chapel led the charge to reopen churches. In California, Rev. John MacArthur is defying California Governor Gavin Newsom’s prohibition on gathering (and explains his rationale for that move here.) And the Supreme Court has ruled on the difference in treatment between churches and other gatherings recently. From Christianity Today:

The Supreme Court has chosen in a 5-4 ruling not to grant injunctive relief to churches in Nevada in light of the state’s arguably inconsistent Covid-19 guidelines. In doing so, the Supreme Court let stand what is wrong: churches are being treated differently than similar gatherings. Multiple justices in the minority wrote dissents, and those help us to see the issues in play. I’ve quoted the justice’s words since their expertise is more important (and informed) than mine.

Justice Neil Gorsuch explained in his dissent:

This is a simple case. Under the Governor’s edict, a 10-screen “multiplex” may host 500 moviegoers at any time. A casino, too, may cater to hundreds at once, with perhaps sic people huddled at craps table here and a similar number gather around every roulette wheel there. Large numbers and close quarters are fine in such places. But, churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting 50 worshippers—no matter how large the building, how distant the individuals, how many wear masks, no matter the precautions at all.

Read the whole thing. I only wish Gorsuch had been this clear-headed in his Bostock opinion.

I’m quite conflicted about how the churches should respond to government regulation. Much of the rationale for resistance seems bound up in how serious you think the COVID-19 pandemic is at this stage, and that is not at all clear to me. When governments treat churches differently than other gatherings, it is obviously unfair. But where the line between acceptable government regulation to stop a pandemic and government overreach into church business lies is a very tough question. We should also keep in mind that if churches make the wrong decision—if, for example, MacArthur’s packed church this past Sunday results in a COVID-19 spike—this will result in enormous ire directed towards Christians, accompanied by accusations that we do not care about the protection of human life.

As I said, no easy answers.

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While riots continue in major cities across the U.S., one of the most poignant standoffs of the 21st century is unfolding in Hong Kong—and almost nobody is paying attention. A handful of protestors fighting for freedom and democracy are standing up against a genocidal Communist behemoth, and they are losing. Red China has utilized the COVID-19 pandemic to seize control of Hong Kong. From TIME:

In the three and a half weeks since the enactment of the law at the end of June, a sense of fear and uncertainty has taken hold in Hong Kong, where anything seen to provoke hatred against the Chinese government is now punishable with up to life in prison. Some people have redacted their social media posts and erased messaging app histories. Journalists have scrubbed their names from digital archives. Books are being purged from libraries. Shops have dismantled walls of Post-it Notes bearing pro-democracy messages, while activists have resorted to codes to express protest chants suddenly outlawed.

The first arrests came just hours after the law was implemented. On July 1, the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China from Britain, hundreds of protesters were rounded up for unauthorized assembly amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ten, including a 15-year-old girl and a 23-year-old motorcyclist who drove into police, were accused of breaching the new law, mostly by carrying separatist stickers and pro-independence flags. In at least one respect, the regulations are already proving successful: the sometimes violent demonstrations that flared across the freewheeling Asian financial capital over the past year have largely evaporated. 

Read the whole thing. One of the unambiguous battles between freedom and totalitarianism of our time, and the West, paralyzed by its own problems and intertwined with Chinese interests, is largely standing by. Heartbreaking.

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Hong Kong’s Christians are terrified that the brutal persecution plaguing their co-religionists on the mainland will soon arrive, as well. As The Christian Post noted last week:

Li Geng (a pseudonym), who’s a member of the religious minority The Church of the Almighty God, told Bitter Winter about his arrest five years ago and subsequent imprisoned that lasted three years and six months for “organizing and using” an “evil cult” organization to “undermine the law enforcement.”

During his incarceration, Li was kept under 24/7 supervision by a group of prisoners that were led by guard-assigned inmates. To force inmates to renounce their faith, guards subjected them to mandatory indoctrination.

Li recounted how he was ordered to memorize prison regulations and “The Standards for Being a Good Pupil and Child,” a manual centered on the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius. Additionally, he was forced to watch videos that defamed The Church of the Almighty God.

“Every evening, I was told to write down what I had learned from these books or videos while a TV played very loudly in the same room,” Li said. “As time went on, I started hearing ringing sounds in my ears. After I was released, I learned that my hearing was affected severely, and I could not hear people speaking in slightly lower voices.”

If guards were displeased with Li’s written reports, they would beat him.

“Instructed by guards, the prisoners who supervised me once pulled me to a corner of my cell and tore up the paper I wrote about the videos. They slapped my face more than a dozen times,” Li told Bitter Winter. When Li refused to renounce his faith, he faced even harsher punishments: “For about a month, the ‘team leader’ did not allow me to use the toilet in the daytime: I could only use it at night after all other inmates were asleep,” Li recalled. “I was not allowed to defecate for 16 consecutive days. The leader told me that I could not use the toilet because I am less than an animal.”

Li also noted that he ate and drank very little during the 16 days of torture. And within the span of two months, he was forced to eat more than 100 cockroaches, some were still alive.

“Some of the cockroaches were bigger than crickets,” Li recalled. “My inmate ‘supervisor’ caught a cockroach and put it into my mouth while it was still alive. He didn’t allow me to spit it out, threatening to beat me if I did.

“He then continued putting cockroaches into my mouth but would not let me swallow them. He wanted them to crawl in my mouth first, and only then was I told to chew the cockroaches thoroughly.” Li added. “The pungent taste made me nauseous. I was in unbearable distress.”

China claims it guarantees freedom of religion. However, Chinese Communist Party officials have arrested an untold number of believers, shut down several prominent Christian churches, and detained or imprisoned hundreds of thousands of religious minorities in recent years. The crackdown on religions is part of a wider crackdown by President Xi Jinping’s perceived threats to the CCP. In December, Wang Yi, pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church in the capital of Sichuan province, one of China’s largest churches, was sentenced to nine years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business activities” following closed-door proceedings.

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In a time of social and political chaos, fewer Americans than ever appear to be turning to Scripture for comfort and guidance:

People may be reading the news and “doomscrolling” through social media during the coronavirus pandemic. But what they don’t appear to be reading is the Bible. That’s according to the 10th annual State of the Bible survey released Wednesday (July 22) by the American Bible Society.

Nearly 31% of American adults said in June that “realistically” they never use the Bible, according to the survey, conducted with Barna Group, a Christian research firm. That number jumped up 2 percentage points between January and June.

Read the whole thing.

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The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Canada is reporting that, once again, assisted suicide deaths are on the rise:

The Ontario Office of the Chief Coroner released new MAiD data (euthanasia and assisted suicide deaths). In Ontario from June 17, 2016 to June 30, 2020, there were 5445 reported assisted deaths with 1127 reported assisted deaths in the first six months of 2020. The number of assisted deaths is increasing. In Ontario there were 1789 reported assisted deaths in 2019, 1499 in 2018, 841 in 2017, and 189 in 2016. In 2019, of the 1789 reported assisted deaths with 774 in the first six months and 1015 in the second half of the year in Ontario.

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This column from The Rutherford Institute, detailing the extent of the sex trafficking of children in the US, is stomach-churning and difficult to read. That said, if you had any doubt that our culture’s groundwater has been poisoned, you should at least read the first bit.

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