God tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” (Romans 13:1). The exception to this would be when a governing authority orders one to violate a command of God. In that case one would need to violate the governing authority in order to obey the highest authority – God.
On Tuesday, March 24, 2020 Governor Steve Sisolak issued an emergency directive prohibiting any indoor or outdoor gathering of more than 10 people. Refusal to comply was, according to the directive, grounds for civil or criminal fines or penalties issued by local law enforcement. While this directive may not be popular, it is specific and it does not require Christians to violate a command of God. Churches across the country are creatively fulfilling the mandate to continue to meet together without breaking the ten-person limit.
This week, Attorney General William P. Barr issued a ruling that a Mississippi church would not be required to pay fines for violating this rule because the state of Mississippi placed greater burdens on the church than they did on other businesses.
But even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings. Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.
Thus, I do not believe that AG Barr has ruled out the mandate limiting meeting size to 10. Instead, he has said that states cannot single out churches for unfair treatment (or enforcement).
So, I do believe in order to follow God’s command as recorded in Romans 13:1 to be subject to governing authorities, Christians must meticulously abide by the 10-person limit in any gathering. For our church that means ensuring that at no point during any time of the week are there 11 or more people gathered at the church or at a home or at any place physically together. While many of us may find the directive silly or frustrating, we must obey the directive in order to be obeying God, which is always wise.
UPDATE: On Friday, May 22nd, 2020 President Donald Trump issued a statement that all churches, synagogues, and mosques are essential businesses as of now. At Granite Hills Baptist Church we are going to thoroughly consider the President’s statement and work towards reopening for in-person church services as soon as it is safe for us to do so. Thank you!
UPDATE: On Tuesday, May 26th, Governor Steve Sisolak moved Nevada to Phase 2 which allows for large gatherings of up to 50 people at one time. Granite Hills Baptist Church is now working diligently to open for in-person services starting Sunday, June 7th at 8:00a and 11:00a. Please RSVP if you plan to attend.