Here is a letter I wrote to Governor Walz regarding his press conference May 13th which announced the opening of businesses at 50% capacity.
Dear Governor Walz:
First, I would like to thank you for doing everything within your sphere of authority to keep the residents of Minnesota safe and healthy. I believe you have the best interests of all Minnesotans in mind as you go about your work. I am sure that this is not an easy time for you, either as governor or personally, as you make difficult decisions about how best to uphold the welfare of the people whom you have been elected to serve. I also appreciate that from the very beginning of this pandemic, you have recognized faith-based leaders as “essential workers.”
Please know that we here at Christ the King Free Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks keep you and all our other elected and appointed leaders in our prayers regularly and by name. According to Holy Scripture, we believe that all governing authorities are put in place by God for the good of the citizens of our cities, states, and country (Romans 13:3-4).
Under the Fourth Commandment (the command to honor one’s father and mother), we believe that governing authorities are an extension of parental authority, and therefore, we must fear God so that we do not despise or anger our parents or superiors, but honor, serve, obey, love and respect them. We always strive to keep that commandment and carry out our vocations as citizens of this state. God has appointed you to uphold the law of this state and to protect its citizens by the means granted to you by the Constitution and laws of this state.
We also believe that God rules in two ways in this world. He rules by means of the governing authorities of a particular place, to keep order and protect the citizens of that place. But He also rules in another way, by means of His Church, in which Jesus alone is Lord; who saves and forgives by His death and resurrection; and who grants and sustains faith by means of His living and proclaimed Word and Sacraments. As Christians, we strive to uphold and submit to both of the ways by which God rules in this world, first as members of Christ’s Church, and then as citizens of this world, this country, state, and of the city.
We also believe that neither the Church nor the governing authorities have the power to interfere or try to rule in the other’s realm. The Church does not, and should not, have the authority to make civil law or enforce it. Likewise, the State (in the broad sense) does not, and should not, have the authority to rule within the Church or to instruct the Church on how God’s Word is preached. That belongs to Christ’s explicit command, and not to the rule of the civil governing authorities.
In light of that, I believe you have overstepped your God-given sphere of authority by issuing the Emergency Executive Order 20-26 of May 13, in which you continue to prohibit faith-based gatherings. I do not accuse you of targeting any specific religion – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other specific faith. But because I am a Christian, I can only speak as a Christian.
Since we also believe that under the Fifth Commandment (that one must not murder) we are commanded by God not to harm our nor cause any suffering to neighbor in his or her body, I understand and agree that we ought not do anything that might intentionally cause our neighbor any harm, including spreading the COVID-19. Instead, we Christians are to be active in promoting our neighbor’s bodily welfare. We have many people in our congregation who fall into the various categories of higher risk for contracting the virus, and even if you had not issued any directives, we still would have done everything in our power to care for the members of our congregation and community by taking important health precautions. For the sake of health and the well-being of both the congregation and the community, as well as in our voluntary submission to you as our governing authority, for the past several weeks we have held services by way of YouTube recordings.
As a citizen of Minnesota, I ask you to continue to keep and uphold the law of our state, and to continue your good and God-given work of protecting the citizens of Minnesota. I will continue to pray for you and for your administration as you strive to do that.
But as a Christian pastor, responsible before God for the work of the Church and the congregation I am called to serve, I would ask you to remove the current restrictions on gatherings of faith-based communities so that they are consistent with the current restrictions on businesses. Again, I can only speak as a Christian, but we can take reasonable precautions as to how we would worship together.
In your address on May 13th, you mentioned that small businesses are critical to the communities and residents of Minnesota. As a pastor to many small-business owners, I agree, and I would also argue that churches holding worship services are at least equally critical. You said that turning the dial on activities needed to consider three factors (I quote):
- “How close are you and another person in a given setting or activity?”
- “How long are you in that close proximity to another person?”
- “How predictable that setting is.”
While we desire to gather together in our sanctuary as an entire congregation, we could add additional worship services and have families sign up for those services to ensure that we do not exceed 50% capacity. We could shorten our worship services. We could make changes on how and where people are seated to ensure that we maintain the recommended social distancing. We could thoroughly clean and sanitize after each service. We could hold our worship services outside. All of the current recommendations for a business can be done just as easily at a church.
So, I ask you to reconsider your prohibition in 6 c of your Emergency Executive Order 20-56. Please trust us to act reasonable and responsibly as you trust other small businesses.
In many of your statements and declarations, you mention that you want to keep the residents of Minnesota safe. That is a godly and right duty that you are to carry out as the authority of this state, and I hope that you do so. You are to keep the people of Minnesota safe from people who do evil. But the government has limitations, both by law and by ability. You cannot keep people safe from things in God’s creation – like fires, floods, and COVID-19 – that are beyond anyone’s control. Yes, protections and precautions can be made, but when those things threaten us, we trust in God to protect us if He wills because no earthly authority can offer shelter from those. And I hope that you do not feel that you have to carry such an impossible burden.
Again, thank you for your clear desire to carry out your office with honor and care. Thank you as well for your time and consideration of this matter.
Rev. Samuel Wellumson
Pastor, Christ the King Free Lutheran Church
East Grand Forks, Minnesota