In some ways, the Canadian government isn’t persecuting James Coates—they’re guilty of much worse. By labelling local churches as unessential, they’re labelling Jesus’ bride and Jesus himself as unessential.
Therefore the government isn’t merely persecuting James Coates—they’re persecuting Jesus Christ.
Many Christians, however, disagree. Because of their misinterpretation of Romans 13, some Christians actually believe the Canadian government—not James Coates—is doing the will of God. They do not believe the government is persecuting James Coates by locking him up in jail for refusing to comply with their restrictions on corporate worship.
But when one of our brothers—when one of the faithful pastors in this country is locked in jail by an unfaithful government—it shouldn’t be controversial to say we should side with the faithful pastor, not the unfaithful government.
James Coates isn’t resisting what God has appointed, the government is. James Coates isn’t resisting faithful politicians carrying out God’s will. The government is resisting faithful pastors carrying out God’s will.
After all, politicians are not God-ordained pastors. They do not have the authority to shepherd churches. They do not have the authority to instruct James Coates how to shepherd his church. Only one person can do that. And that person isn’t the premier of Alberta, he is the preeminent person in the universe—his name isn’t Jason Kenney, his name is Jesus Christ.
So although James Coates is disobeying Jason Kenney, he isn’t disobeying Jesus Christ. So I’ll side with Jesus Christ, not Jason Kenney.
Still, some people suggest if other pastors in Alberta are able to overcome the 15% capacity restrictions by leading multiple services, why can’t James Coates simply agree to do the same so he could be freed from jail?
That question, however, incorrectly assumes James Coates doesn’t have a biblical basis for refusing to comply with the government’s restrictions. Nevertheless, does that question also apply to pastors who aren’t having any services at all?
Because of the restrictions throughout all provinces in Canada, many churches are still closed because some pastors would need to lead up to 20 or more services to accommodate all their members. Since these pastors believe leading that many services wouldn’t be in the best interest of their church, they decided to temporarily suspend their services.
However, are James Coates’ critics willing to criticize those pastors too? After all, like James Coates, they’ve decided not to emulate pastors who lead multiple services. If it’s okay for those pastors to decide what they believe is in the best interest of their church, why can’t James Coates and pastors like him do the same? That level of inconsistency is unhelpful.
Others also claim since the restrictions do not explicitly target local churches, the government isn’t discriminating against or persecuting James Coates. But as I said in a recent article, the government’s intentions are irrelevant.
For instance, if Bill C-6 (conversion therapy ban) passes, and Canadian pastors are fined or imprisoned for preaching against homosexuality—according to that reasoning, we would have to conclude they’re not victims of persecution since the bill doesn’t explicitly target Christians.
Persecutions against Christians rarely specifically target Christians. Christians in the Roman Empire were always persecuted alongside other rebellious groups. And in China today, Christians are not necessarily uniquely targeted by the Communist Party. They are suffering persecution alongside other groups who do not conform to the Chinese government’s tyrannical orders.
Interestingly, many of the people who believe churches are not being discriminated against since the restrictions do not specifically target local churches also believe black people are victims of systemic discrimination—though black people are not targeted by the government.
As James Coates suggested in sermon last Sunday before he was arrested and placed in jail the following day, we’ve developed a poor theology of persecution, politics, and history—and we’re suffering the consequences of abandoning the whole counsel of God on these issues.
Why would the government care about churches when churches haven’t cared about the government for so long?
Still, even though the government doesn’t care about churches, we should—especially those of us in Canada. It’s bittersweet to see so many American Christians supporting James Coates. It would be more sweet and less bitter if most of the (online) support for James Coates was from Canadian Christians, not American Christians.
Nevertheless, wherever we’re from—wherever we live, we should remember those who are in prison, as though we’re in prison with them.
So pray for James Coates. Pray for the Canadian government. And pray for the Church in Canada.