07/13/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Mat Staver, with the Liberty Counsel, is a representative of a church who sued the state of California for the discriminatory lockdowns placed on churches at the beginning of the pandemic. The courts overwhelmingly ruled that churches are essential. Jeff King sits down with Mat Staver to talk about the importance of the church, assembly, and the wake-up call Christians need to have in the United States.
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Jeff King: Mat, first of all, welcome to Into the Deep. I want you to tell the viewers, what is the whole story here? You had a year long battle with the state of California. Break that down for us and let us get into the implications of it and the lessons of it, et cetera.
Mat Staver: It’s unbelievable. Since March of 2020, California has had the worst restrictions in the entire country. And except for a short window of time where you could have up to 100 people in the sanctuary, you had a no worship ban from March of 2020 until February 5th, 2021. And that was no worship, even with one person, no Mater what the size of the sanctuary is. And that also included no worship in your home, apartment or condo with anyone who does not live there. So you could not actually go to your neighbor down the door, across the street, over the yard, and pray, anoint them with oil. Maybe they’re sick. Or have a Bible study and praise and worship. To do so either in a home or in a church was criminal activity.
So like most of churches around the country, Pastor Ché Ahn on with Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena and Harvest International Ministry that has about 140 other affiliate churches in California and 65,000 worldwide, they shut down because they didn’t know. But then they realized all these other places are open, abortion clinics and liquor stores and you name it. The big box centers were overflowing with people.
But churches were told they can’t worship. And they began to look around and they began to realize this is wrong, and that Caesar doesn’t have control of the church, number one. And number two, the people are really hurting and they really need the church now more than ever.
So they opened up, and that’s when the litigation began. And then in August of last year, we received a letter from the city prosecutor of Pasadena to Pastor Ché Ahn, threatening him with daily criminal charges, his staff, and anyone who comes into the church to worship. Every single time that they come in up to a year in prison in daily fines.
And so that’s how this case began. We continued to litigate it. We lost before the Obama appointed judge. We went to the Court of Appeals, got a two to one decision. Went to the Supreme Court on December the third, ultimately had a victory. Went back down to the court and we told the judge it’s fairly clear the result you need to reach, but not to this judge, ruled against us again. Went back up to the Court of Appeals again. Went back to the Supreme Court, got a six to three decision in our favor, striking down the total ban on worship. But there were still remaining restrictions that were discriminatory and unconstitutional.
We continue to litigate. Now we have a court ordered, first in the nation, permanent injunction, so it’s permanent, not temporary. It’s statewide, not just for some churches that are involved in the litigation. And it will include not only COVID, not only this governor, but anything in the future. You can never discriminate and put these discriminatory restrictions, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s Governor Newsom, it doesn’t Mater who, ever again on churches and places of worship.
Jeff King: It’s incredible. And thanks for your work first of all. I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but I’m in the religious freedom business. I run an organization that deals with persecution all over the world. And so as an observer, so many Christians, myself, we look on this and say, “This is clearly unconstitutional.” But I think that the government’s going to go as far as they can until it gets challenged and shot down.
Any thoughts? What there any special animosity? Was this just a case of government control run amok? What’s your insight into this?
Mat Staver: Well, I’ve always used up until now very careful wording in the United States with regards to the difference between discrimination and persecution.
Because as you know, you work with persecuted Christians and other believers around the world, and people are facing jail, loss of life, rape, and all kinds of other abuse. And we do a lot of work internationally with persecuted Christians as well.
But now when you come to 2020, 2021, pastors and people going to church are threatened with criminal activity for worship. That has crossed the line from discrimination to persecution.
And that’s unsettling here in the United States. And so what we find is that the worst restrictions have come from these governors in states that are very pro-abortion very pro-LGBTQ. And they really don’t think that the church is essential. And so they literally put their heavy hand on the church while allowing everything else, frankly, to operate that is their pet organization or business or whatever it may be.
Jeff King: Yeah. It seems pretty clear, especially when you mentioned liquor stores. I mean, it’s obvious with the big box stores, well, they’re essential. Walmart, you’re in there with thousands of people.
Mat Staver: Yeah.
Jeff King: And if this virus is so dangerous, what’s the deal?
Mat Staver: Right.
Jeff King: I mean, that’s somewhat of a different discussion, but-
Mat Staver: And also by the way, the people that work there.
Jeff King: Yes.
Mat Staver: [crosstalk] eight hours a day.
Jeff King: Yes.
Mat Staver: Encountering people all day long, and they never said anything about that. But if you come into a church service, even if it’s socially distanced and sanitized much more than these other secular places, and you’re only there for a short period of time, oh, that’s a real problem to them.
Jeff King: Yeah. And so it’s more than fighting a virus, it’s more than public safety. There’s a special animosity, animus towards the church, and it’s obvious.
Mat Staver: You’re right.
Jeff King: And talk about Pastor Ché Ahn’s background. Why is his background important to this case?
Mat Staver: Well, his grandmother became the first Christian in the family and she was in what is now North Korea. And that’s where she became a Christian. And his father was in North Korea. And with the persecution that happened there, they moved to South Korea. Pastor Ché was born in South Korea, he’s a Korean immigrant. Came to the United States as a pastor’s son, because the United States sent missionaries to what is now North Korea. That’s how his life was transformed and his family before him. And the family that are generations from him as well, because the United States sent missionaries to North and South Korea.
So he came to the United States, but in the sixties, he was like a hippie protest, anti-Vietnam, got involved in drugs and alcohol. And one day when he was a teen, he was at a party at a house and he was in the upstairs room and he said he went there because he was just empty. And he wanted to known, and he cried out, “Is this all there is to life?” And that’s where he gave his life to the Lord.
So he loves America, his family love America. He has been radically transformed by Jesus Christ. He now has a ministry that’s in 70 nations, churches in 70 nations. He’s visited a hundred nations. And about a year or two before, even though he has this massive international church planning ministry with 65,000 churches worldwide in 70 nations, the Lord was putting on his heart that he needed to really start to focus. Something was going to happen in the United States on America, because America, of course, is that foundation of freedom. That’s why his whole family became believers is because of American missionaries.
And so then in 2020, this broke out and he realized exactly what was going on. So when he ultimately prayed about what to do, and he put his hand to the plow, he did not look back. I mean, I wept many times on Sunday morning when I would wake up and I would pray for our pastors like Pastor Ché.
They didn’t know whether they were going to come home that night because they could be arrested. And every day was like that, every time that they worshipped.
Jeff King: That’s excellent, I appreciate that. Looking again, over the year of COVID and the shutdowns, I kept wondering, and I mean, praise God, finally, you guys, McArthur, stood up and said, “No more. This is ridiculous.” But I kept wondering, it’s like, people are sheeple often, but why did the church roll over? Why did so few actually stand up from my perspective?
Mat Staver: Yeah, no, that is a very disconcerting situation. When we started messaging on this that it was wrong, we didn’t know the stats that would come out about, the fact when you shut down the church and then you threaten people’s livelihoods and you lock them into homes. And some of them are living in single room or small apartments.
And then they’re trying to figure out how to do online with their kids and they don’t have a job. They don’t know where the next paychecks or the food’s coming from. You’re going to have an increase in depression-
Jeff King: Suicides, yeah.
Mat Staver: … and alcohol and drugs and suicide, all of these things.
Jeff King: Domestic abuse.
Mat Staver: And that’s unfortunately what happened. And I was stunned by the fact that some people, they are so myopic in terms of their Christian worldview in terms of other people around them. Because they think that because they have one of these, that’s fine. They’ve got high-speed internet and they can watch online.
But we represent a church in Virginia that doesn’t have internet because of the place that it’s located. So they can’t broadcast. What about, for example, Orthodox Jews?
They can’t use electronics on Sabbath, Friday night to Saturday night. So they had no alternative. What about the mother who just found out that she’s lost her job and she’s living paycheck to paycheck. The church, I think, it has been a challenge to pastors and to people of faith that the church has to be more than just an online podcast. That’s a way to get out the message, but if that’s all the church is, well, maybe it’s not all that essential after all. You got to be more than an online broadcast. It has to be so essential that the community groans when the lights are off and the doors are closed.
And I think you work with persecuted believers around the world, they don’t take the assembly of themselves together, reading the Word, for granted. And we’ve gotten kind of used to that in the United States. And I think this has been a wake-up call and a shakeup call.
Jeff King: Yeah. I hope it has. It’s like, so many were just meek. And as Christians we’re told to be meek, we lift it up as a virtue and at the same time, and I’ve said for a long time in the States, it’s like, look, Christians have to get comfortable with shouting. We have immense power, but we’re so meek. And so many are the frog in the proverbial kettle. It’s like they’re cooking and either they don’t see it or they see it and they’re like, “Eh, it’s not that bad yet.”
And you know, Mat, oversees, I mean, you know how this works. So overseas the government never comes out and says, “We don’t like Christians, so we’re going to do X, Y, and Z.” They use the restrictions, they use the law and in this case, unconstitutionally. Just the same over overseas. The constitution can say one thing, it doesn’t Mater. Whoever holds the power if they hate the church they’re going to use those levers of power to come against them as an enemy. And it looks like the same. And I can’t imagine the damage that’s been done across the nation to churches. How many are going to fold or have folded.
Mat Staver: A lot of them have folded and those that have waited longer to reopen, their attendance is very low, and so they’re having difficult struggles. A lot of people got out of the habit of going to church and they got into the habit of just watching it online-
Jeff King: Right here.
Mat Staver: … and they’re [crosstalk] and having coffee and toast on Sunday morning.
Jeff King: Yeah, it’s bad.
Mat Staver: And in those respects, it’s weakened. However, on the other case, places that opened up and they face persecution, incredible revival is taking place. For example, in Tampa, the River at Tampa Bay Church, that’s the first pastor that we know of in the world, certainly in the United States, that was arrested under COVID restrictions.
Jeff King: Wow.
Mat Staver: And the last Monday of March, all the way that far back. As a result they opened up later on Pentecost Sunday what they call The Stand, it’s an outdoor venue. And that’s been going now for over one year.
Jeff King: Wow.
Mat Staver: For three to four hours every night.
Nonstop, since the last Sunday of May. Now we’re into this month here, so it’s literally been going on nonstop every day, in addition to the Sunday morning service. And it’s packed with people, and we’re seeing that around the country as well. You see different places and churches that have faced intense persecution and they’re having revival in their areas.
So I think it’s a wake-up call, but I think it’s a test for the church. Many didn’t pass that. Some did, but more’s going to come and more persecution like that will no doubt be in the future. And this was a wake-up call for being prepared.
I would say one other thing, a lot of people mistakenly relied upon Romans 13. You just have to obey the government.
Forgetting Jesus’s words in Mathew where he says, “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” You don’t like taxes, Caesar’s images on there, you got to pay your tax, et cetera.
But this church of Jesus Christ has never belonged to Caesar. And somehow we’ve just seated it over to Caesar and think that a governor can on their own issue, this executive order, and then close the church. Or micromanage whether we can sing or whether we can have communion.
Jeff King: Yeah. And take a minute and break down for people, why is a religious freedom so important? It encompasses a number of freedoms. Why did the founders say this was so important to us as a nation, so sacred that they enshrined it. Break that down for us.
Mat Staver: I think it’s critically important. Religious freedom is not only our right, but our duty to worship our Creator. Government, as we know it here in the United States, is founded to protect those God-given rights that come from our Creator, not from government. And when government ultimately doesn’t do that, we have to challenge it.
And so that’s what we did, and that’s what we’re continuing to do. And we’re continuing to, as it were, kicked down the gates of hell. And make sure that the church of Jesus Christ is free in the United States of America.
Jeff King: And as you know, religious freedom encompasses … Look, what do we see here? It’s freedom of speech, assembly, conscience, et cetera, et cetera. And that mass, if you put it all together, and that is religious freedom, and-
Mat Staver: No, that is clearly religious freedom. Yes. And yeah, just really appreciate you getting the word out on this and appreciate … I’d love to be able to come back on your program.
Jeff King: Absolutely. And how can people support you guys?
Mat Staver: They can go to our website, lc.org, L-C dot O-R-G.
Jeff King: All Right. Mat, thank you so much. God bless.
Mat Staver: Thanks, God bless.