Where is the love?–Faith and public health collide near Steinbach



Steinbach was in the news again. Religion did it again. Last week, the police confronted more than a 100 vehicles at the Church of God Restoration south of Steinbach yesterday. The members of the church had been warned that if they tried again to flout Manitoba’s Health orders against religious gathering they would be ticketed. So the police warned them not to gather or they would be ticketed. The RCMP went one step farther and blocked off the driveway from the adjacent highway after the maximum 5 vehicles drove onto the parking lot of the church. Earlier, the same church was fined $5,000 and their pastor $1,296. It was the pastor’s second such fine. Under current Manitoba public health orders all faith-based services must be conducted virtually. The church is certainly taking what they perceive to be their rights seriously.

One of the congregants made an interesting argument:

“You can go back into Winnipeg and go to Walmart, and there’ll be 800 cars in the parking lot, just like there is in Costco, but we can’t go in this parking lot because it’s deadly? What if I put a Wal-Mart sign on that building, would that make it better?” Dube said.

Yet, are they really analogous? At Wal-Mart is there a danger that people will socialize as they wait in line to get their groceries?

The Minster of the church, Tobias Tissen, was not backing down. He said he was going to continue to have Sunday church services. This is what he said:

“Really, these police officers that are here blocking our entrance, they’re not blocking us, they are blocking God … by laying fines upon us, handing out tickets — mister officers, do you realize you are doing that to God?” he said.

Can anyone block God? Is that possible? According to Manitoba’s top public health official Dr. Brent Roussin who is charged with the responsibility of making these public health orders,  “faith-based gatherings had been identified as proven resources of Covid-19 transmission.” As well as saying that, Dr. Roussin added this by way of justification:

“We know that from the literature, from our own experience, that prolonged, indoor gathering such as faith-based gatherings are high risk for super-spreading events.’

Dr.) Roussin why we can’t be here?” Allard, one of those in attendance asked.

The province’s top doctor reiterated on Friday that faith-based gatherings have been identified as proven sources of COVID-19 transmission:

“We know that from the literature, from our own experience, that prolonged, indoor gathering such as faith-based gatherings are high risk for super-spreading events.”

Another visitor who asked not to be identified and who it seems was not a member of the church at all, made perhaps the most interesting argument of all when he said,

“The gym provides essential services for me. It helps me to boost my immune system. The church provides essential services for those who believe in God — it’s essential to them … some would say it’s more important to them than food and water.”

This argument is analogous to those who argue that schools should be kept open even though they do pose a health risk, because schools are essential for the health of young people. Is it not reasonable to suggest that for some people religious services including a communal or even social aspect, are essential to maintaining mental health?

One of the attendants took the actions of the province as a challenge saying,

“I hope they try to make an example out of me. I hope the Crown attorney keeps this ticket alive. Don’t drop the ticket, come at me — we’re going to set a precedent.”

One thing that disturbs me about all these arguments made by self-proclaimed Christians. What about love thy neighbour as thyself?  I always thought that was the most important part of religion. I did not see any concern for others among these conservative Christians. That makes me distrust their assertion that their claim is based on religion.

Where is the love?

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