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Confess your sins: Clergy call on government to admit COVID church crackdowns were unlawful, harmful

Pastors, church leaders and other Christian groups in New Zealand are seeking legal recognition that the New Zealand government’s suppression of churches during the COVID-19 pandemic was illegal.

free to be church (FTBC) will appeal last August’s Wellington High Court ruling that the government was justified in suppressing “obvious religious beliefs” under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

‘You have no right to intervene’

“Here in New Zealand, we’ve just been branded together at social gatherings that include strip clubs, bars and sporting events,” said Andre Bay, FTBC president and pastor of Shore Baptist Church on the North Shore. told Fox News Digital.

“That is, the church was not seen as a unique entity of people acting according to their conscience. The church was not seen as a special, distinct unit.”

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In 2021, FTBC clergy wrote an open letter to the government of then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, arguing that restricting worship transgressed God-given authority. (Reuters/Lauren Elliott/File)

inspired by Legal Victory in Scotland A small group of New Zealand clergy established the FTBC in September 2021 in response to the country’s COVID-19 restrictions, after the Scottish High Court overturned the church’s closure.

of open letter Responding to a government modeled after that sent to California leaders by the Reverend John MacArthur and Grace Community Church, the ministers said, “Government officials are not allowed to influence or undermine the affairs of the Church.” He presented the theological framework of the belief that “there is no right to interfere in the affairs of the Church in any way”. They ignore the God-given authority of pastors and elders. “

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The FTBC eventually filed suit against government ministers in April 2022, ahead of the High Court’s ruling in August. They decided to appeal in principle, seeking recognition that the government’s actions were wrong and continuing to seek legal precedent to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Their appeal is scheduled to be heard on August 3.

“Psychological Damage”

Although restrictions have been lifted, Bay said the government’s response to COVID-19, which has prevented pastors from praying with lonely and dying parishioners, has “realized the real spiritual damage done to people.” said it was important to remember

“We want to be true to our mission, so the emotional and spiritual aspects of these restrictions are very important in terms of the impact they have had on our people and us pastors. I think it’s underrated,” Bay said. “But if the law prevents you from doing what you believe God has commanded you, that puts you in a very difficult situation.”

Photo of Pastor Andre Bay

Pastor Andre Bay told Fox News Digital that the government’s policies have caused “psychological damage” to New Zealanders. (YouTube screenshot)

“They really hurt our consciences,” said Matthew Johnston, pastor of Riverbend Bible Church in Hastings, of the government’s response to COVID-19. “They violated religious liberty and tore people and relationships apart, a rift that continues to this day.”

Mr Johnston noted that the government has limited the size of worship services based on the vaccination status of members. From December 2021, religious gatherings in New Zealand will be limited to 100 vaccinated or 25 unvaccinated people.

Mr Johnston said the government had at one point floated the idea of ​​requiring all ministers to be vaccinated before rescinding.

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Photo of Pastor Matthew Johnston

Reverend Matthew Johnston told Fox News Digital that the New Zealand government had “ripped people and relationships apart”. (YouTube screenshot)

“It would have been, in effect, a state-owned church, where someone’s qualification to dispense the means of grace would have required ticking more boxes than the Bible says about qualification.” Mr Johnston said. “You have done your duty to the state.”

October 2021 Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern openly admitted Government action has created a two-tiered society where rights are based on compliance with vaccine mandates.

‘It’s really heartbreaking’

Logan Hagort, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oakland, told Fox News Digital that the past month during the pandemic has been particularly painful as a pastor.

“I lost two elderly women, one of whom had very little family. He added that he begged them to come pray with him because he has no close relatives. Last days.

Hagort said she was denied visitation by the hospital and that she died “without having anything to do with Christianity”.

“It really breaks my heart,” he said.

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Screenshot of Reverend Logan Hagort

Reverend Logan Hagort told Fox News Digital that he was unable to serve the lonely dying congregation because of government restrictions. (YouTube screenshot)

“The next week I lost another woman, a stubborn and devout Christian woman. They wouldn’t let me see her in the hospital,” Hagort said. “She was having a hard time convincing herself of her salvation. She was really suffering towards the end of her life.”

“So I had to try to minister to this sick woman by phone. Her son was holding the phone to his ear because she couldn’t hold the phone anymore.” And the hospital said, ‘No, I’m fine.'” “Come on.”

He said church funerals at the time were sparsely attended, despite the desire of many to mourn with other members of the church. He remembered people gathering at funerals and watching from a distance out of the car window, wishing he could be there.

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Chris Hipkins

The current Prime Minister of New Zealand, Chris Hipkins, was the country’s Minister of Health from July to November 2020. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

“This is abhorrent, but our government is just pretending that everything is fine,” he added. “They did it for everyone’s ‘interest’.”

“They have never admitted to hurting people through this system,” Hagort said. “People are still traumatized, myself included. I have continued.”

‘It’s much harder to be a Christian’

Regardless of the outcome of the appeal of the lawsuit, FTBC clergymen who spoke to Fox News Digital said the government’s anti-Christian stance during the pandemic has spilled over into other areas.

According to its website, the FTBC also warns of other New Zealand laws against alleged hate speech and banning “conversion therapy.” “It’s getting harder and harder to become a Christian,” he said. .

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People wearing masks outside the New Zealand Parliament Building

People wearing masks walk in front of the Beehive, the New Zealand Parliament Building, Wellington, May 10, 2022. (Guo Lei/Xinhua, via Getty Images)

Pastors said Christianity’s influence in their country had largely receded, despite its impact on the country’s history and the rapid conversion of indigenous Maori after Anglican missionaries. landed on the North Island in 1814.

According to Hagort, many of those currently in power in New Zealand see their Christian heritage as a negative legacy of colonization and use it in discussions about hate speech reform and banning conversion therapy. Some of the rhetoric heard suggests that missionaries have destroyed “peace and tranquility.” A Maori people who lived without Christian morality.

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“Such a view, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful forces moving forward in our society and perhaps one of the greatest ills to the church,” he added.

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