The Ten Commandments of Religious Liberty: COVID and the Church’s Responsibility
On February 19, 2022, Come and Reason hosted a forum to discuss the article entitled “The Changing Landscape of Religious Liberty,” which was published in Southern Tidings. During the discussion, we explored multiple misconceptions that have crept into the thinking of many Christians during the pandemic regarding the role of the church in addressing questions surrounding religious liberty.
In this blog, I will outline “The Ten Commandments of Religious Liberty”—which I believe helps summarize the church’s responsibility in protecting and advancing religious freedom.
The church shall advance no other kingdom than God’s.
The responsibility of the church is to stand for God’s kingdom, principles, and laws, not the governments of this world. God’s heavenly government is founded upon His eternal law, which is not like human law (Isaiah 55:7–9; Matthew 22:34–40; Hebrews 8:10). God is the Creator, the builder of reality, and His laws are the design laws upon which reality operates (gravity, laws of physics, health, and the moral laws). Life, health, and happiness require harmony with God’s laws.
Humans can’t build reality; therefore, sinful humans make up rules that require external enforcement through inflicted punishments. All human governments operate through power over others, laws enforced upon others—thus, all human governments are part of Satan’s kingdom. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 8:36).
The three big principles (laws) of God’s kingdom are: love, truth, and freedom.
We shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Our first duty is to God; our second duty is to our fellow humans. Love cannot be commanded; it cannot be forced, compelled, or coerced. Love requires freedom! Violate the liberty of another—coerce, threaten, or compel them—and love is damaged, rebellion is instilled, and if freedom is not restored, then individuality is slowly eroded and people become mindless pawns.
Further, love is not false; it does not deceive. Genuine love, friendship, unity of heart, mind, and soul cannot be built upon lies. Therefore, love requires openness and truthfulness.
The governments of the world make up both rules and narratives (propaganda) to advance their agendas and then utilize external coercive power to enforce those rules upon those who they can’t deceive into accepting their agenda.
Therefore, the church must always stand for the kingdom of God, and God’s kingdom can only be advanced with God’s methods. When the church uses the methods of the world to advance its cause, the church betrays the kingdom of God and the human condition is diminished. This is the history of the church in the Dark Ages, using the methods of the state to advance its agenda.
The kingdom of God is not advanced through the state, for “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). God’s kingdom advances through individuals who have His design law operating within them, people who love God and others. When such godly people hold office within a government and practice the principles of God, then society and the human condition improves. George Washington, the first president of the United States, understood this:
For in politics … my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved. If this maxim was generally adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvests be more peaceful, abundant, and happy (Letter to Dr. James Anderson, Dec. 24, 1795).
The Constitutional principle that the church is to support is liberty—ensuring liberty of conscience, leaving people free to determine their own religious beliefs and practices, but also restraining behavior that crosses the line of actively injuring or harming other people—such as human sacrifice or parents beating children with rods to drive out demons, etc.
We do not restrain religious activity that harms the individual practitioner but does not harm others, such as someone refusing a lifesaving blood transfusion. We present the truth in love and leave people free to assess the potential benefits and risks of a certain course of action and choose for themselves.
When it comes to COVID, the only righteous use of external compelling power in limiting the autonomy of another person is quarantining an actively symptomatic, sick, and identifiably contagious person and only for the very few days that they are contagious. It is a violation of God’s methods and principles to quarantine (restrict the liberty) of a healthy person. The church must stand for the kingdom of God; therefore, the church must oppose all state intrusions upon a person’s liberty in how they treat their spirit temple for the sake of honoring God with their body.
The church must never allow the state to define its standards for human behavior, including where the line on religious liberty is drawn. The church must stand for God’s law, principles, and practices, and it must oppose the state whenever and wherever the state crosses the line and impinges upon the law of God—including in violating the consciences of people to govern their own bodies.
The church must oppose all activities that interfere with truth, openness, freedom of speech, discussion, assembly, worship, self-governance, and in carrying out one’s duty to God under the dictates of reason and conscience.
The church shall not make itself into the image of the state, nor the likeness of any imposed-law system. The church shall not bow down to the principles, methods, values, or practices of the kingdoms of this world, nor serve them, for the Lord our God is jealous for the health and welfare of His people, and only His methods bring health and wellness, while violations of God’s methods cause damage that cascades down three and four generations.
The church must not allow the godless “experts” of the world to be the standard for what is right, including the limits of religious liberty.
In the time of Noah, he preached about the coming rain and a worldwide flood. What do you think the godless “experts” of his day said? All in those days who went along with the agenda of the powerful, who listened to the godless “experts” and forced compliance on their families and friends, ended up missing the boat; so also today, there is extreme danger for anyone to embrace the coercive policies devised by leaders with godless hearts.
During COVID, when the CDC, FDA, NIAID, NIH, and others encouraged or enforced policies contrary to religious liberty, the church too often went along with such godless policymakers to form its position and practices on religious liberty—rather than applying the principles of God’s kingdom. Far too many church leaders accepted as reasonable church closings; church-school closings; mandated mask wearing, even for children; mandated experimental injections; restrictions on clergy visiting the sick and infirmed; restrictions on family, friends, and church members meeting together for fellowship, encouragement, communion, or anointing; and prohibitions on families being with dying loved ones.
Instead, the church should have embraced God’s principles of religious liberty, which would have resulted, as God’s principles always do, in advancing the most effective actions in preventing and treating COVID (see commandment six below).
The church must stop basing its policies and practices on the opinions, principles, and practices of the godless.
The church shall not take the name of Lord God in vain by utilizing
the methods and practices of the world.
The church cannot win God’s cause by using Satan’s methods.
The church must stand for heavenly principles, not earthly rules. We present truth in love while leaving others free to make their own decisions in the governance of self, including what treatments a person takes into their own bodies. Compelling power is found only under Satan’s government. God’s kingdom is the kingdom of truth, love, and liberty, and it is these principles that are to be used to advance it.
The church must stand for openness, truth, love, and freedom and oppose all mandates that violate conscience. The church must value the eternal health of its members over compliance with state regulations and rules.
The church shall remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.
The church shall remember that the Sabbath was made for humans as a gift from God for their welfare and that humans were not made for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). The church shall not teach that the Sabbath is a law like a human government would make, a rule to be enforced with threats of punishment.
The church shall remember that the Sabbath was created by God at the end of creation week in the context of Satan’s rebellion against Him and that the Sabbath stands as a memorial of God’s kingdom and methods of love. The church shall remember that in six days, God created the earth and its solar system, and rather than using His power to force Satan into line, God rested on the seventh day. God blessed the Sabbath day by investing it with His methods of governing—the truth (His creatorship revealed), love (a planet whose ecosystem operates upon the design law of love, with sentient beings designed to govern in love and capable of pro-creating beings in their image), and freedom (God rested and left His children free rather than compel them with power to obey).
In creating the Sabbath, God memorialized religious liberty, truth, presented in love, while leaving His intelligent creatures free to decide for themselves. Thus, the church will remember the Sabbath and keep it holy by practicing the methods and principles of God in how they treat others. The church will present the truth, in love, and leave others free, just like God has done.
The church shall honor the members of God’s family, loving them with a godly love, so that the church family may experience health on the earth that the Lord God has given it.
The church will respect the individuality and autonomy of its members, protecting the sanctity of the image of God in each person. The church will not fall into the worldly trap of valuing some lives more than others and shall not support practices that harm some people in order “to advance the greater good.” The church will not do as Caiaphas did two thousand years ago and sacrifice one man to protect a nation (John 11:50) but guard every human life as precious.
The church will not value temporal life over eternal life. The church will remember that our current life is temporal, temporary, and probationary for a single purpose: to be reconciled to God in order to be healed from sin and receive eternal life. What does it profit a person to gain 50 extra years of life but lose his soul?
The church recognizes that the saints of God are those who do “not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:11 NIV84). They are people like Daniel who did not compromise to avoid the lion’s den, like his three friends who would not bow to the idol to avoid the fiery furnace, like the apostles and martyrs throughout history who did not value life in this world over the life to come. Thus, the church will not compromise the principles of God because of a fear of death, including death from a pandemic.
The church will reject the fear-based survival-of-the-fittest principle and advance the principles of God’s kingdom, which is sacrificing self for others, and refuse the mandates to sacrifice others, to coerce others to take risks, in order to protect self. The church must reject the COVID philosophy that as long as the goal is to “save lives,” it is okay to violate God’s law and coerce the consciences of others. No! The church shall not live by the standards of this sinful world.
The church shall not kill nor collude with those who do kill.
Those who want to violate the autonomy of another person, to force some action upon others that is divergent from the routine practices of life, have the burden to prove that 1) failure to take the mandated action is harmful to others, and 2) the mandated action is effective in reducing that harm without causing greater harm to either party.
On all points, those who have advocated for the various COVID mandates have failed to meet this burden. In fact, the various mandates have caused more harm and deaths than the mandates have prevented. A John Hopkins study found that the various mandates placed upon society to stop COVID only reduced COVID deaths by 0.2 percent. If one uses the CDC’s inflated number of one million people who died with rather than from COVID, then the mandates and lockdowns saved 2,000 people from dying from COVID. If one counts only the approximately 40,000 people who died from COVID with no other causes of death, then the mandates and lockdowns prevented 80 people from dying of COVID. Either way, the lives saved from COVID pale in comparison to the number of people harmed and killed by the mandates.
A common principle that competent health reformers have applied throughout history, and for which the church is to practice, is that the cure cannot be worse than the disease—the intervention must not cause more injury than the illness itself.
Unfortunately, many in the church have followed the state and have failed to actively stand up for religious liberty, thereby colluding with interventions that have harmed and killed multiple times more than any benefit provided by those actions. The various mandates:
- Increased cancer deaths because people either didn’t get their treatment or failed to get screened; nearly 10 million cancer screenings were missed during the lockdowns.
- Increased deaths from heart attacks and strokes because people didn’t receive routine medical care or didn’t go to emergency rooms when symptomatic for fear of COVID.
- Increased teen suicidality; one study found that suicidality in girls ages 12 to 25 increased over 50 percent and boys increased 3.7 percent.
- Increased overdose deaths; over 104,000 people in the USA died by overdose in just 12 months ending September 2021. In 2019, 69,000 people died in the USA by overdose.
- Increased domestic violence and child abuse, which causes increases in mental and physical health problems and early deaths—and this cascades down three and four generations. But not only has the restrictive mandates resulted in increased direct abuse and neglect, there has also been a simultaneous precipitous drop in identifying, intervening, and protecting children from such abuse. One study found that an estimated 85,993 children were missed for prevention services and about 104,040 children were missed for child abuse and neglect, with a potential lifetime economic impact of up to $48.1 billion in the United States.
- Pushed millions into poverty, a condition that increases early mortality, which also cascades down many generations.
Keep in mind, these harmful outcomes do not take into account the uncalculated injury and deaths caused by the experimental injections and the grossly flawed CDC treatment protocols that obstructed early treatment and that prioritized/preferred medications with higher toxicity and less efficacy than those with proven safety and higher efficacy.
The church shall not betray the love and trust of its members.
Love protects and heals, but only and always by applying God’s methods of truth and freedom. To exchange the principles of God for the practices of the world will necessarily injure and harm, and it betrays the church’s responsibility to shepherd the flock of God.
The church must stand as a bulwark to protect its members from harm instigated by any source, but especially by godless forces in the world. During COVID, the church had the responsibility to protect the liberty of its members from assault by an authoritarian and abusive state. The church had the responsibility to examine the claims of the state when it encroached upon the religious liberty of its members and to challenge those claims with facts, evidence, truth, and judicial filings when necessary to protect freedom.
If the church would have done this, it would have protected the most vulnerable, those without the resources to resist unreasonable employer or state mandates. But because the church colluded with the state, it betrayed its trust to protect the most vulnerable and, as a result, deaths and injuries increased (see links above).
Worse, the various mandates upon children have resulted in the most pervasive, systematic infliction of child abuse in our national history. Millions of children have been harmed by these actions, which also offered no actual benefit to them. Since children have a statistically zero-percent chance of death from COVID, there was no benefit to them in any of these draconian mandates (school closings, mask mandates, “vaccinations,” etc.). To put it in perspective, seasonal flu is multiple times more dangerous to children than COVID; just consider your reaction to nationwide school closings, mask mandates, social isolation, pressures to inject an experimental substance into your children for the seasonal flu!
These abuses to our children have caused impaired language skills, developmental delays, lowered IQs, nutritional compromise, undermined social skills, increased victimization and abuse at home, increased anxiety and other mental-health problems—not to mention the multitude physical injuries and deaths from injecting them with an experimental medicine that provides them with no benefit.
The church shall not steal nor collude with powers that do steal.
The church shall not collude with the state in taking from people what does not belong to the church or state. The church shall not cooperate with the state in taking away the religious liberty of its members. The church will refuse to steal the livelihoods of people and will not terminate people from employment who seek to honor God with their bodies by refusing experimental medical treatments mandated by the state (nor will the church take action against those who seek to honor God with their bodies by getting the treatment). The church will practice this biblical principle: “We should each firmly make up our own minds” (Romans 14:5 GNT).
The church will instruct its institutions to take no actions against students in their schools, employees in their employment, or patients in their care who refuse governmental mandates that violate their freedom to honor God with their bodies. The church (and its institutions) will not steal the last moments of meaningful family life by obstructing family visitation of loved ones in hospice care in order to comply with state mandates. The church (and its institutions) will not steal the peace of mind from patients by obstructing clergy visits and religious anointings.
The church shall not bear false witness against humanity.
The church will not cooperate with any organization, agency, or government in spreading falsehood, propaganda, or in censuring free and open communication. The church will actively advance liberty of speech and openness, support inquiry, investigation, and honest questioning, because the church knows that the truth loses nothing by close investigation—while error, falsehood, and inaccuracies are exposed when truth and inquiry are advanced.
During COVID, the church had the moral, ethical, and godly responsibility to direct its institutions, universities, and medical facilities to conduct sound scientific research, hold public scientific panels discussions and educational events in which diverse perspectives and opposing ideas could be maturely discussed and evaluated. Members may not always agree on every point, but they should agree on the principles—truth, presented in love, leaving others free to decide for themselves.
The church shall not covet its properties, institutions, financial investments,
or political power over the health and welfare of people.
The church must stand for the eternal health and welfare of people, even to the point of losing its properties.
The church must resist the temptation of placing organizational survival over member health; the church must not run its systems as human governments do. We must remember that in God’s plan of salvation, institutions are not saved—people are! When the church forgets this and focuses on saving institutions, it will injure its members.
Oswald Chambers warned of this: “The church ceases to be spiritual when it becomes self-seeking, only interested in the development of its own organization” (http://utmost.org/the-spiritually-self-seeking-church/).
The church must recognize that all its properties, institutions, buildings, and assets do not belong to the church but to the Lord, and the church acts the role of God’s steward to utilize the resources of the Lord for the welfare of the people. The church must value the people more than it does its properties. Therefore, the church must stand against the state on matters of religious liberty and not compromise the liberty of its members to maintain government funding or property ownership.
The Missed Opportunity
Just imagine, if, during COVID, the Seventh-day Adventist Church directed all its local churches, conferences, unions, schools, hospitals, clinics, disaster relief agencies, and members to take an affirmative stance for liberty, for freedom, for the methods of God, and publicly state, “God’s kingdom does not coerce conscience!”
Imagine if every single church institution refused to comply with governmental mandates to close churches and schools, said no to mandated masks, refused to compel employees to get experimental injections—and instead called for open, persuasive evidence on the most effective way to stay healthy during a pandemic.
Imagine if the church stood up for the actual health of the people rather than the financial health of the institutions and trusted God with financial solvency.
Just consider how the attention of the entire world community would have been drawn to ask, “Who are these Adventists?” And the church could have advanced the eternal gospel that is to lighten the entire world for Christ’s return almost overnight.
But instead, the church failed to recognize the single greatest assault on religious liberty in American history and, thereby, missed the single greatest evangelistic opportunity in human history.
This is not the last time our religious liberties will be assaulted. I pray the next time we Christians will be better prepared to recognize the state’s abuses of our liberties and adhere to the principles of God to protect the people.