Thursday, September 24, 2020

Why "Christians Arrested For Singing Hymns In Moscow, Idaho" Is Not An Accurate Headline

You’ve heard about the Christians arrested in Moscow, Idaho for singing hymns, right? Well... it turns out there is more to the story that is worth knowing. Most of my quotes and info are from a local paper, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, from which a lot of national sources have pulled their material. Other sources will be noted throughout.  

This past Wednesday, 150 - 250 Christians from Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho showed up to sing at the Moscow City Hall parking lot. They’ve done this kind of thing before without any problems. “Ben Zornes, a Christ Church pastor and organizer of the event, said the church hosts psalm, or hymn, events about once a month at places like Friendship Square, East City Park or at a house.” You can find the history of these "flash choirs" easily on the church’s Facebook page. It seems like a pretty cool idea.
This time, however, 5 people were cited by Moscow police for being in violation of Moscow's mask/social distancing rule, which has been in place since July.  “Reports say the officers were ‘very lenient’ and attempted to work with everyone in the group before giving any citations.” 

The city had tried to help them. They knew the group was coming, so “city crews painted colorful circles in the city hall parking lot that event attendees could stand on to maintain proper social distancing Wednesday…the city knew about the event, which prompted the social distancing dots on the pavement, and that it would potentially include people without masks.” The Public Health Emergency Orders says you have to wear a mask if you can’t maintain 6 feet of distance from non-family members, so kudos to City Hall. They wanted to make it easy for Christian singers not wearing masks to sing and not get in trouble.

However, this time of singing was different than the previous ones. “Wednesday's psalm sing was also a fitting way to show that residents want a return to normalcy in the face of COVID-19. ’We wanted to make a statement we're ready to head back to normal,’ Zornes said.” In another interview he complained about “groundless laws.” Douglas Wilson, noted apologist and pastor at Christ Church, notes on his blog that “it really was a peaceful protest, a petition to our city government for a redress of grievances, and a religious assembly, all in one.”  

He goes on to cite two factors that caused the church to take this step. "The first and most obvious is that this last Monday night, our city council extended their masking mandate into January.” (Part of the frustration is that there have been virtually no cases in that area). As he explains in the rest of the paragraph, this event's first and most obvious purpose was to make a statement about frustration with the mask mandate.

The second reason he gives is that the law is enforced hypocritically, and he gives several legitimate examples. Mere weeks before, there was a large outdoor wedding - presided over by the mayor, no less - without a mask in sight. Others have noted there was a BLM protest in Moscow in which no one was arrested, and all kinds of mask and social distancing laws were broken. 

So, fair enough. The governing authorities are perhaps overreaching in creating restrictions and certainly hypocritical in enforcing them. I do not necessarily have a beef with this frustration. I think this resonates a lot of places right now.  If Wilson is correct, he has fair grievances for which to file for redress as a citizen of the United States. I am not disputing that possibility. 

I am noting all this to come back to my main point: in none of the articles I read did anyone in the church make an argument that this was about religious liberty or conscience. No one claims a hardship had been placed on the congregation's ability to worship or to share the gospel. In other words, the arrests weren't about singing or being a Christian. CBN’s headline is, “Idaho Police Arrest Three Christians Singing Hymns During Outdoor Worship Service.”  Faithwire has run the same story with a different but just as inflammatory headline. Those headlines are disingenuous and misleading. 

No one was arrested for singing. No one was arrested for being a Christian - which is where I have seen the "Is this Moscow, Russia???" question floating around on social media. The church group could have separated their worship event from a different demonstration of civil disobedience. They didn't, and that's their call. But the arrests that followed were about the civil disobedience part, not the Christians worshipping part. The headlines - and the story that follows - should follow the true narrative: "Protestors arrested for not wearing a mask while protesting needing to wear a mask." 

Fellow Christians, let's not share stories that distort reality to create a false narrative.  Moscow, Idaho is a world away from Moscow, Russia. 

In Moscow, Idaho, hundreds of Christians have been publicly singing hymns for months with no problem, and can continue to do so.

In Moscow, Idaho, the city council works with local churches (!) to help make the singing of hymns of praise to God on city property a reality. 

In Moscow, Idaho, every pastor in every church can stand up next Sunday and preach the gospel to all who enter their building. 

And in Moscow, Idaho, while a mask mandate might wreak havoc in a secular society, it cannot stop the mission of the church. If "tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword" can't separate us from the love of God, a piece of cloth won't either. 

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