We’re Above the Law: We’re (Some) Canadian Christians

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In the ongoing saga of narcissism masquerading as humility in the form of some brands and expressions of Christian sects and Christian personalities, a pastor from Alberta has been arrested for violation of COVID-19 public health rules and the orders from the Alberta Health Services.

The violation of the public health order and rules happened for several weeks in a row coming from an outskirts Edmonton pastor. The RCMP came and arrested the pastor at GraceLife Church of Edmonton.

As an aside, this continues to come from churches, not synagogues, in British Columbia: Congregation Beth Hamidrash, Congregation Schara Tzedeck Synagogue, and Congregation Beth Israel, Vancouver, Beth Tikvah Congregation (Richmond, BC),  Congregation Emanu-El (Victoria, British Columbia), Temple Sholom, Kolot Mayim Reform Temple, Temple Sholom, Or Shalom Synagogue, Ahavat Olam, Aish Ha’Torah, Center for Judaism of the Lower Fraser Valley, Chabad Centre of Vancouver Island, Chabad of Richmond, Chabad of Vancouver Island, Congregation Har El, Congregation Schara Tzedeck, Eitz Chaim Congregation, Lubavitch of British Columbia, and probably others, do not engage in these behaviours, as far as I know it.

These kinds of actions tend to come from Christian groups, primarily. It may be a matter of demographics, but, even so, it doesn’t seem to come from public secular groups much or at all.  

The church, GraceLife Church of Edmonton, is located on Highway 627 in Parkland County. The Alberta Health Services issues a work order on December 17, 2020. This kept going until a closure happened in January, 2021.

Apparently, Edmonton Corn Maze’s parking lot has been full with the church welcoming members every single Sunday. This is the post-request of closure for not wearing masks, ignoring social distancing.

Even further, hundreds were inside, which violates 15% capacity limits. Some ~300 members of GraceLife Church of Edmonton were shown not wearing masks in the video of the services.

The RCMP and Alberta Health Services have been working together to investigate the non-compliance of the rules and health orders by the GraceLife Church of Edmonton members and leaders.

The pastor arrested was James Coates. He was charged with a Section 73(1) contravention of the Public Health Act with violation of capacity limits and non-compliance with physical distancing requirements of the health order.

Mike Lokken, Parkland RCMP detachment Inspector, said, “There are many different discussions and considerations at play in relation to the GraceLife Church and their non compliance… In collaboration with AHS, we have now followed up with escalated enforcement.”

Pastor Coates was given a $1,200 fine, ordered to attend Stony Plain Provincial Court (on March 31), and released with conditions. Some updates to the church website, apparently, downplay the seriousness of the pandemic.

The statement on the website states:

what follows will shed light on our approach to what is being called a “pandemic.” The reason we put “pandemic” in quotes is because the definition of a pandemic was changed about 10 years ago. At one time, a pandemic was defined as an infectious disease that resulted in a certain percentage of excess deaths over and above normal annual averages. The definition was changed in connection with H1N1 to remove this threshold. Ten years ago, COVID-19 would not have qualified as a pandemic. In fact, not even close.

When COVID-19 first appeared, we shifted to livestream and abided by most of the new government guidelines for our gatherings. But when the first declared public health emergency ended, we opened our doors and returned to nearly normal gatherings on Sunday June 21st, 2020. We did so recognizing COVID-19 was much less severe than the government had initially projected. This sentiment was reflected in the assessment of the Premier of Alberta, who deliberately referred to COVID-19 as “influenza” multiple times in a speech announcing the end of the first declared public health emergency.

Concluding:

Death looms over all of us. But there is a message of concrete hope, in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In short, many statistics and arguments are proposed via redefinition in a form of denialism of the pandemic because of what they see as a redefinition and the use of the lockdowns and other measures to reduce civil liberties. Then it closes on a soliloquy about the only life being given through the saviour of Jesus Christ.

The short of the long is, more or less, religious conclusions about the need for services and, with some secular governmental conspiratorial additions, so the religious foundations of defying the public health orders, because the ultimate aim is to gather as a congregation and worship God in public.

The main form of denialism made public in the statement is the GraceLife Church of Edmonton authorities don’t consider their collective actions to contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

In contradistinction to GraceLife Church of Edmonton and others, a group of several faiths, Indigenous leaders, and charitable organizations, released a statement:

We encourage our fellow citizens to not merely adhere to them begrudgingly and minimally, but willingly and with an overabundance of care. We pledge to model this ourselves each in our own particular communities as well in ways appropriate to contexts.

The same thing happened in Langley with the Riverside Calvary Chapel and some other churches. They disobeyed the public health order for religious reasons without the side justifications of marginal denialism.

The chief medical officer for Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has not commented on GraceLife Church of Edmonton. Hinshaw has reiterated the need to follow the health orders.

Hinshaw, recently, said, “There have been recent events in some faith gatherings that indicate some are not taking these measures seriously… I want to reinforce these measures are mandatory, not optional, and that in Alberta we have made great efforts to make sure that faith communities can continue to meet in a safe way… Those who are not following current restrictions are breaking the law.”

Which is to state, GraceLife Church of Edmonton violated the law.

With files from Dean Bennett and The Canadian Press.

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