Dermot Cole

The Anchorage Baptist Temple collected from $350,000 to $1 million in federal bailout funds to temporarily “save” at least 166 jobs.

The Temple, which has had tremendous influence over the Alaska Republican Party for decades, contends that obeying God means ignoring government rules when necessary.

I find the argument by Pastor Ron Hoffman about why he is breaking the municipal public health order impossible to swallow, but to be consistent he should give back the federal subsidy the church collected from the COVID-19 bailout and call it good.

This is a way to avoid confusion about the rules under which the Temple operates. Render unto Caesar and all that.

“Our job is to obey God over obeying man,” Hoffman told his congregation Sunday. He delivered a roundabout spiel on why he is disobeying the Anchorage health order to limit gatherings to 15 people or less to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Hoffman said obeying God requires that people be in the same place at the same time for church, preferably in large numbers.

If so, the people who have tuned into the Temple proceedings on TV for decades are in trouble. And forget about services via Zoom.

“We cannot stop sharing the Gospel. We will not stop worshipping God. We will not stop being the church. We cannot stop. It won’t happen,” he said to generous applause from his congregation at a Sunday service preserved on Facebook.

This is a choir of strawmen. No one is telling Pastor Ron to stop sharing the Gospel, worshipping God or stop holding church services. Science is not anti-God.

What the Anchorage civil authorities have said is that all indoor gatherings with more than 15 people are prohibited for a month. In the interests of serving God and respecting life and preserving health, Hoffman could easily find a way to follow this sensible rule without disobeying God.

But Hoffman said the lesson he draws from the Bible about a highly infectious disease is that people should gather in church.

“God has called us to meet together. He has called us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” he said.

The church is not the building, the lights or the TV cameras, he said. The church consists of the people assembled to worship.

“We are called to assemble together to give God all the glory,” he said. “How can we do so, how can we obey this commandment God has given us if we’re apart?”

Pastor Ron said he understands the risk of COVID-19 and that it can cause death. I’m not sure that he understands the risks or the potential consequences.

He referred with disdain to “all-elusive science” and said “science seems to be changing by the week.”

“I don’t know what science is right and what science is wrong, but there’s lot of science,” he said. Pastor Ron owes it to his congregation to try a little harder to stay up to date. The evidence is overwhelming that large gatherings are a way by which people are getting sick. And many religious leaders say that temporarily limiting large indoor church services is not disobeying God, but an inspired choice to protect the flock.

The Anchorage Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance wrote a good column on the topic in the Anchorage Daily News:. Quoting the same Bible for direction, the group reached a different conclusion than Hoffman, saying that stopping in-person worshipping never stops worshipping. “The decision to stop in-person worship flows from the sacrificial love for others, not from a traditional or casual dismissal of worship.”

What the science clearly says, to anyone who cares to pay attention, is that COVID-19 is highly infectious and that the real death toll in the United States alone has already surpassed 200,000, On Wednesday, nearly 1,500 people died in the U.S. from the virus.

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