Honorable Governor Walz,
While I do not align with your political party, I have been intentional to give you the benefit of the doubt in the extremely difficult decisions that you have had to make in response to the COVID-19 crisis. I can deeply appreciate what these times have demanded of you personally, including few hours of sleep and the stress of making hard decisions under the sharp critique of the public eye. I applaud you for all the life-saving measures that you have implemented for Minnesotans.
On May 20th, however, your non-response to the question regarding the inconsistent treatment of churches in the upcoming phases communicated a devaluing of public worship that requires a public response. The plans put forward by your administration communicate that it would be better for someone to go to a bar to get intoxicated than for worshipers to gather socially distant to pray corporately for the resolve of this crisis (as of June 1st, restaurants and bars can open outdoors, but churches are not allowed to hold outdoor services). Personally, I am confident that sober, prayerful people will do a better job upholding social distancing sensitivities than one who’s had a little too much to drink.
I realize you may prioritize the reopening of business establishments over churches out of concern to save jobs in this catastrophic time. While churches do not produce tax revenue for the state, I would like to remind you that churches are filled with tax-paying individuals who continue to place a high value on the essential nature of public worship in their spiritual lives.
Your May 20th plans also indicate that entertainment has a higher value in public life than worship to the living God (e.g. phase 3, allowing up to 250 people to gather outdoors for a concert or movie while limiting church services outdoors to 100). What many in the public may not know, was that your non-responsiveness to opening churches at the same rate as businesses was magnified by the fact that ten evangelical, denominational leaders across the state (Transform Minnesota, The Evangelical Network) sent you a unified proposal for the safe opening of churches. These leaders, representing more than a thousand churches and nearly 500,000 worshipers (not to mention leaders of non-evangelical churches that have reached out to you), were not even acknowledged in response to a direct question about the safe opening of churches.
Governor Walz, I can deeply appreciate your focus on safety and life-saving measures for Minnesotans. We too care deeply about loving our neighbors at this level. However, we recognize that spiritual life and well-being supersedes even physical life. We are ready to fully support you in life-saving measures—I applaud you for helping keep Minnesotans healthy and alive—but do not discourage the ministry of church leaders to offer the hope of eternal life beyond physical death. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
I firmly believe that Christians should do everything they can to serve, honor, and obey those in governing authority and only disobey (respectfully so) when obedience to human authority would compromise their obedience to God (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-20; Acts 4:19; 5:29). The indefinite suspension of public worship has put Christians in Minnesota in the difficult position of having to determine where the line must be drawn between obedience to civil leaders and loyalty to God’s commands.
Governor Walz, I call on you to trust faith leaders to do whatever they can to help people safely gather for worship in their context, and I am calling on you to honor the autonomy of individuals to decide the level of risk they are willing to take to gather for worship within the safety parameters that churches can provide. Please act now so that churches can open in cooperation with your administration.
Pastor Ty Spenst, Plainview, MN