Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Pastor James Coates has been arrested. He is currently quarantined in a solitary cell at Edmonton Alberta's Remand Centre, awaiting trial on May 3rd (Jccf).* Coates’ church is one of the selective in not only Alberta, but in all the country of Canada, who has the audacity to dare defy the draconian laws that expedite our ruin. Many months ago, his church opened to nothing less than full capacity (Jccf) so that their congregation, which is now growing in number every day, was able to obey the command of our sole Sovereign, Christ. Meeting together without restriction, they were strengthened and refreshed as they, for the first time in a long time, listened to the word of God, enjoyed each other’s company, and celebrated the glory of the Lord Jesus together in their full humanity…They’re still meeting!
But because churches in Alberta are limited to 15% fire capacity, ordered to enforce mandatory masking, and required to have families distance in the church, Coates was arrested. He was charged with two counts of violating sections of the Public Health Act of Alberta and one count of not complying with the conditions of an undertaking (conditions he never agreed to) (CBC)
To our shame, few churches have supported the courageous pastor and his church, and even fewer have followed their example. To our greater shame still, many multitudes of Christians in this nation continue to condemn the obedience of Pastor Coates to the Lord Jesus. I don’t think they understand what’s happening. The precedent is set. The bastions of free speech are shutting down, the sanctuaries of good news have locked their doors, and as Churchill said, “The lights are going out.”
The hordes nestled in the fortress of our bureaucracy are satisfied with Pastor Coates' arrest and justify his detention on the grounds of safety. For the moment, they have not explicitly ruled the content of his preaching to be unsafe, but the method and avenue whence it was carried out. The court claims that his message isn’t the thorn that provokes the ire of government, but the disregard for well-being by allowing the church to open fully without restriction. Whether the princes who demanded Coates’ arrest have ulterior motives (a study of history makes me confident they do) is not my immediate concern—it’s presently impossible to prove anyway. A year or two from now, dark secrets from the members of state might be cracked open, thus revealing the method and menace of their present madness. But for the moment, we have no choice (even if we refuse to believe it) except to accept the lawmaker's claim that this pastor was jailed in the name of safety.
Fine. So then what exactly do our elected officials mean by “safety?” They are, after all, the ones who legislate (are they?). Nonetheless, I’m sure the Christian definition of such things is much different than the secularist. As he was paraded to the guillotine, the apostle was assured he was infinitely more secure than the emperor who presided over his martyr (Philippians 1:21-24). We believe that a young Christian private in the maelstrom of battle is far safer than the atheist sipping tea in his study across the safeguard of the seas. And we have complete confidence that the pastor in prison has much more peace than his free yet unsaved captors.
But this idea of eternal security is foreign to the world. For our superiors in government, the appropriate definition of safety is something more primal, like “whatever prolongs life.” If activity X and activity Y increases the chance of death by 1% and 2%, respectively, we would conclude that X is safer than Y. This definition of safety is satisfactory and logically utilized by millions of rational individuals every day. But we must be cautious; a law is not unquestionably just merely because it increases safety. For safety concerns the questions of probability, sensibility, and longevity, whereas law concerns morality, justice, and desert. To marry the two, composing a “justice” primarily dependent on the increase in safety, is animalistic.
Yet this forbidden union between the two has been consummated. Our eyes open with the greatest dread as we recognize that safety and legal justice have merged, forming a modern hydra of innocent tyranny and unimpeachable persecution. How could we have allowed such a monster to manifest?
Who is granted this extraordinary authority to determine what’s safe? It cannot be the individual, which ironically would be safest, because if it were, Pastor Coates wouldn’t be in prison. Instead, designated experts, those who are supremely educated in their respected discipline, have been knighted with the task of enforcing what they believe is safe and punishing what they believe is unsafe. True, I don’t drink something like chemical because the chemist, who is the expert in the discipline of matter and molecules, has placed a warning label on the side of the bottle. I think it’s wise to listen to him, and it might even be legislated by law that I’m required to do so. But does that mean I unquestionably surrender absolute power and legislative capacity to him? I’m not so sure. Do I let the experts, precisely because they are experts, determine what is law?
In Alberta, our Chief Medical Expert, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has consolidated power for herself. She’s baptizing the church (and businesses and families) in her river of security and safety. We’re being held under the water too long. Many of us are drowning in depression, and a pastor now prays in prison. Laws have been created and enforced, not because they’re morally right or just, but because they’re safe. And the two are not the same thing.
We’ve grappled with our rulers in the political ring that these laws are unjust. We’ve protested this terrible arrest of Pastor Coates, and we’ve pleaded with our government to end these restrictions because they are cruel. But these leaders are seasoned veterans and have trained for this very situation for a long time. Their counter to our complaint is tactically placed and debilitating.
“My dear citizen, didn’t you hear? Laws are no longer about what’s right or what’s wrong. Ontological morality no longer matters. Laws are now about what’s safe and what isn’t safe. Besides, on what grounds can you criticize? You, after all, are not an expert in the matter of safety and do not possess sufficient scientific knowledge in the discipline of epidemiology to even think about arguing with me.”
Thus we’ve come to realize that unelected experts have become our rulers. Perhaps James Coates really wasn’t charged because of the contents of Christ’s message which he proclaimed and continues to believe. Indeed no other pastor in Alberta has been arrested (yet). No, Pastor Coates was jailed for a far more sinister reason. He was arrested because an oligarchy of experts determined he was unsafe. His accusers charge that he endangered others by his actions, placed the frail at risk, and helped perpetuate the spread of this virus.
Do we realize what we’ve done? We’ve allowed a pastor to be jailed because an “expert” legislated preaching in person to be unsafe. We’re inexcusably naïve and foolish if we believe this pertains only to COVID. Today, James Coates is in prison, unable to preach the gospel, apparently because doing so would increase the chances that the neighbours of GraceLife Church’s community die by COVID. But tomorrow, the precedent having been established, a psychologist who’s an expert in mental health might declare the doctrine of Christianity to be “mentally unsound and disturbing.” The argument will be that those who follow the commands of Christ and affirm the doctrine of sin, Hell, and Christian marriage are intellectually and morally insane, and as such, are a danger to the well-being of those around them. The preaching of the gospel, meeting in church, and publicly praying will be required to cease “for the good and safety of the mental health of others around us.” It's unjust and cruel but we will not be able to argue so because justice has become a problem of security and not morality.
Do not be misled. To be forced to withhold interaction with other humans, to be remade after some arbitrary notion of safety until every pastor, believer, and congregant conforms to the commands of Dr. Hinshaw or Premier Kenney, is persecution.