The Price of Protesting the Gathering Restrictions

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on

This post was written towards the end of New Zealand’s first lockdown, while large gatherings were still not permitted.

When the people of Israel were given a leader who led them out of their Egyptian slavery and into the Promised Land, they grumbled. No sooner had they left behind them the shores of the Red Sea they began to find things to complain about. Christians in New Zealand seem not to have been much better. Our country appears to have dodged a bullet and gotten off lightly in this pandemic, yet many Christians are berating the government because we cannot gather as churches under Lockdown Level 2.

Is this a breach of our rights and curtailing of our freedoms? Is this a discrimination targeted at religious people by leftwing secularists? Probably it is not. The government has been slow to point out the rationale for restricting weddings, funerals and religious gatherings of more than ten people. It is far from unreasonable. Certainly we are paying a bigger proportion of the price for the Covid-19 effort under Level 2. But surely we can recognise that this is because we otherwise enjoy a broader and richer community life than much of New Zealand.

Our faith isn’t the problem, it’s the fellowship.

We can have gratitude we have enjoyed that in the past, have maintained it online throughout the lockdown, and look forward to more in the not-too-distant future. For the sake of eradicating the virus, our fellowship must be postponed.

As the religious grouping with the highest profile, Christians will be seen as the weak link. How would it look if a renewed outbreak of Covid-19 is traced back to a church that flouted the rules? It has happened overseas. How will it look if Christians who could not wait just a few more Sundays were responsible for sending NZ back into lockdown, or worse? It may at this stage be unlikely, but it is a very real “what if” question.

Perceiving discrimination and casting suspicion on motives does not display the generous spirit of Christ that loves and prays for real and imagined enemies. It undermines our PR directive (cf. Philippians 2:14-18).

Probably we are too accustomed to having rights. We would do better to consider how New Testament era Christians with no prospects of rights were asked to conduct themselves. They weren’t asked to protest but rather to patiently do good, even under cruel masters. By doing this their demeanor adorns the message they live by, making it something worth paying attention to (cf. Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18-21).

Arguably, meek compliance to Level 2 restrictions does little to actively adorn the gospel in our present context but grumbling or noncompliance certainly tarnishes it.

Public grumbling must stop. When we complain and protest, we mar the message we are identified with. That is a high cost which I doubt we are counting. And for what might only be two more Sundays, I don’t see why any of us thinks that it is worth it.