Douglas Wilson of Moscow, Idaho has seen no shortage of controversy in his tenure as pastor at Christ Church. Many within and without of the broader church have what can only be described as a vitriolic hatred for the man. As one friend quipped, “He could cure cancer and still be hated for it.” It takes a special sort of man to earn that reputation, but rest assured, that disdain has been passed down as a birthright to his children and church-goers as well. They’ve been labeled a cult, heretics, sexists, racists, and basically anything else you can throw at the wall to see if it sticks.
My point here has little to nothing to do with his theological, political, or social persuasions though. If you’re looking for me to condemn him for Federal Vision and what many believe is pastoral negligence before I get into the heart of this piece, you’ll be sadly disappointed. That’s certainly not to say I agree with him on all of his positions—in fact I disagree with him about a great deal. However, I am willing to say that I believe the majority of accusations against him and the many godly people at Christ Church are more than contrived, they’re malarkey. Yet regardless of where you stand on these issues, and I do really mean that, it should be painfully obvious to you that the recent arrest of three Christ Church congregants during a Psalm Sing service held in Moscow, Idaho is also malarkey.
Love him or hate him—you can’t get a more peaceful assembly than singing hymns. Yet here we are, 2020, where mostly peaceful protests involve rioters who burn down entire city blocks, beat up old men who try to protect their life-long business endeavors, throw bricks and Molotov cocktails at cops, and like Billy Mays used to be fond of saying, they continually cry, “But wait—there’s more!” Violent anarchy from domestic terrorists in the streets? This is fine. Law-abiding families from churches singing Amazing Grace, while not following the mask mandate nor social distancing protocols? They pose an imminent threat to society and their mothers should be ashamed of themselves for raising such a gaggle of brutish criminals and brooding thugs. How can any society maintain law and order under such conditions as these?
This is really where I believe we are going to find the American church divide take place, and ultimately, this will prove to be the wedge of divide in our country as well. Not over masks and the like in particular—but over what matters people believe are acceptable to peaceably assemble over and which are not. If you’re assembling with a crowd that just so happens to peel away at some point and wreak havoc on people, you’re in the clear. This is your constitutional right. You can hold up your signs and it costs you little-to-nothing in reality, but you can say you’ve been part of a larger movement that is sweeping the country, even though that movement is wedded to a damnably idolatrous and wicked ideology. But gather with the church during a pandemic in a manner that isn’t safe? You’re truly a menace to society.
Sarcasm aside, all of this is bigger than your conviction on masks and social distancing. It truly is. In fact, it actually has very little to do with the like in substance, save the fact that this was the occasion for their gathering in the public square to sing praises to their King. What this has to do with is a trajectory we’re on as a nation right now—a trajectory that will either continue to grow in more and more governmental overreach and impositions on law-abiding citizens, or one that will subside as people regain some sanity. At the crux of this is the fundamental right people of all stripes and convictions have to peacefully assemble. What we see is one group allowed to exercise this right while another is not. People can march down the very same streets as those who attend Christ Church in Moscow, with the same broader aim of practicing their constitutional right, both violating social distancing protocols—yet only one group sees arrests.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I am quite opposed to the movement that is Black Lives Matter for many reasons, but I do firmly believe that people do have the fundamental constitutional and God-given right to peacefully assemble. This is one of the wonderful things about our country; you can go and hold up a sign in protest of what you believe is a totalitarian state and freely criticize the president without any fear of reprisal, like you’d actually get in a totalitarian state. That really is a tremendous thing when you stop to think about what all had to happen for you and I to have that as a guaranteed right. You and I can disagree on everything under the sun, but one of the things we should not disagree on is the right we have to peacefully assemble because of how wonderful a privilege that truly is. Unfortunately, this is where things start to break down rather rapidly in our current social and political climate, because one is clearly peaceful and the other is often not.
My youngest child nervously pointed out to me the other day that there were people gathering in our city of Kenosha again with signs. This year was the first time she’s experienced riots firsthand and seen the carnage in the aftermath, so it is no surprise to me that she associated the people protesting with those who rioted. I reassured her that so long as these people gathering remained peaceful, it really is ok that they are gathering. There’s no harm in it, and in fact, it is their right as a citizen of our country to do so. I likewise said that while we may disagree with why people assemble peacefully, we should nonetheless support their right to assemble. But here’s the rub: the line is so blurred between the “mostly peaceful protests” and violent riots nowadays that her trepidation isn’t all that outlandish. When we compare these things to what’s now transpiring with many churches in California, whose governor is muscling small churches into the dirt by imposing massive fines upon them, we should be able to say, “One of these things is not like the other…” The same should be evident here, in that the broader contours of what is happening reveals a blatant double-standard.
It should be troubling, at the least, to see what is probably the most peaceful protest to date in 2020 end in handcuffs for Gabriel Rench, and Sean and Rachel Bohnet. Again, this was not mostly peaceful, it was entirely peaceful, and it ended in arrests? The fact that many Christians are either mocking this or giving it an indifferent shrug because it is those pesky Moscow Idahoans of Christ Church up to no good again, does not bode well. You may disagree with the occasion for their protests, and that’s fine. Really, it is. But I truly don’t understand how anyone can look upon this and see that it doesn’t set a dangerous precedent, regardless of your personal convictions. There are bigger things at stake than your beef with Douglas Wilson, whatever that may be. There are bigger things at play here than masks and social distancing protocols—and that is essentially what the people of Christ Church are looking to say.
In many ways, this is the same thing I’ve been seeking to draw out, in conjunction with what can only be described as a simultaneously whorish church at large (in the technical sense of that word, concerning rampant ideological idolatry). The point I have been making in the recent weeks and months with people like John MacArthur and Grace Community Church, and now Douglas Wilson and Christ Church today, is that the rights of a people are never stripped away immediately. You never go to bed one day with abundant freedoms and wake up to find a totalitarian regime marching your family off to the Gulag. You simply can’t do that unless you give an extreme show of power—but the world often condemns such actions because they are a little too on-the-nose.
You gradually strip away rights and freedoms to end in a place where there are few rights left; you gradually dial in on a particular sub-culture; you gradually turn the corner to calling evil “good” and good “evil,” and few bat an eye, save the overly zealous individuals whom everyone already likes to hate. Things like these ought to give us pause to think of what may be just around the corner for the church—not just for rejecting things which run antithetical to Scripture, but even for gathering in the most peaceful of ways possible. You can’t get more peaceful than sitting in the service of your church to worship God freely, or even gathering in public to proclaim the majesty, glory, and authority of your King and Savior through harmonic melody. The church is essential and has the God-given right to order the service as they please, the governing authorities continue to shift the goalposts during a pandemic that turns out, is not nearly as deadly as was first believed, and there is abundant partiality being shown in and among the key players of a movement that [sic] stands opposed to partiality. That is the whole point in a nutshell, which many seem keen on missing.