While several churches throughout California have fought tirelessly to sustain their First Amendment rights to assemble and worship freely, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren insists that state and countywide COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship are a matter of safety, not oppression.
“A lot of churches are nervous about the religious freedom aspect,” the evangelical megachurch pastor and author said in a Monday interview with Relevant Magazine. “They don’t want to wear masks. They don’t want to meet outdoors.”
“We’re not being discriminated against. This is a safety issue,” Warren added, noting that several other places where large groups of people gather have faced restrictions, such as movie theaters and film production studios.
Warren went on, claiming that the pandemic had exposed a “fundamental weakness in the Church,” that all they have to offer is worship services.
“Most churches only have one purpose: worship. And if you take worship away, you’ve got nothing,” he said. “They’re in a hurry to get back to worship because that’s all they’ve got.”
Saddleback, Warren told Relevant, has instead spent the duration of the pandemic focusing on meeting needs in the community and developing small group bible studies:
We flipped it. We looked around and made a list of all the different problems that COVID was creating. For instance, the first one was food. People needed food. There are a lot of people out of work, and they’re hand-to-mouth, and 126 food banks shut down in Southern California when COVID started, because there was a rush on food. 126 shut down.
Saddleback had three food pantries already up and running. Typically, in a normal month, we feed about 2,000 families. The first month of COVID, we fed 45,000 families.
Then we figured out, you don’t have to have a building. We invented a new way of doing food pantry we called pop-ups. We said, “We’ll come to your school. We’ll come to your neighborhood. We’ll come to your park.” We partnered with every school district in Orange County. According to the recent report I got, over 13,000 Saddleback volunteers have served over 3.5 million pounds of food to over 300,000 families. We’re the largest food distributor in Southern California.
We teach our people that every member of the church is a minister. Everybody’s a missionary too. You’re a witness. Those people already know how to share their faith. When people would pull up they’d talk to them about the Lord.
Warren concluded, telling Relevant that he did not want to “gamble” with his congregation’s health.
“Some churches are willing to gamble the health of their people. I’m not,” Warren stated.“I don’t want to be a superspreader. I’m not doing this out of fear; I’m doing this out of love. You wear a mask for love [of] your neighbors, yourself.”
Warren’s comments directly contradict those of Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur, who inadvertently found himself at the forefront of the First Amendment battle against COVID restrictions for churches.
“…In response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely,” MacArthur stated over the summer, “we, the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”
“The biblical order is clear: Christ is Lord over Caesar, not vice versa. Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church,” MacArthur declared. “Conversely, the church does not in any sense rule the state. Again, these are distinct kingdoms, and Christ is sovereign over both.”
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