From America's beginnings, its citizens have questioned government leaders. It was a tyrannical government from which she broke away. But there's been a different level of trust with medical personnel who individuals want to believe were working in the best interest of public health.
It was one thing, perhaps a time-honored badge of honor even, to be suspicious of politicians. Being wary of doctors was different. It didn't feel right.
"We still had some confidence in people, and if there were any guys and gals that we tended to trust they were people in the medical world. If you were a medical doctor, [or] you were in the CDC or the World Health Organization, there was an assumption that they're truth-tellers. They're going to tell us the truth," MacArthur, noted pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, said on American Family Radio Wednesday.
Pastor John MacArthur's fight with state and local government leaders to keep Grace Church open amid COVID-19 lockdowns is a part of "The Essential Church," a feature-length documentary that traces the history of government-church relationship both ancient and modern.
The movie is produced by Grace Productions, a ministry of Grace Community Church. It appears in theatres on July 28. (See trailer below)
Grace Church became the center of controversy during the pandemic when it denied California lockdown orders and continued with in-person church services. When MacArthur realized he could not trust what he was hearing from leaders in government and medicine, he sought answers elsewhere.
His strong stance was to affirm Christ – not the government – as the Church's ultimate authority. It was a stance that was non-negotiable, but he understood the serious nature of the virus and that his leadership could impact the health of Grace members.
Ultimately, Grace received $800,000 in the settlement of a lawsuit it filed against Los Angeles County and the State of California.
No masks among the protestors
Grace's defense was built around the uneven enforcement of public health orders at the height of the pandemic.
"They have witnessed how the onerous restrictions imposed on them by public officials to allegedly fight the COVID-19 pandemic simply do not apply to certain, favored groups,'' the suit states. "When many went to the streets to engage in political protests against racism and police brutality, these protesters refused to comply with the pandemic restrictions," the lawsuit stated.
It was a David-against-Goliath type of victory, one that Grace's attorneys were not predicting as the case unfolded.
"[Our attorneys] thought we had 1% chance to win the case – 1%, and they were fighting for us. I mean they kept coming back to me in all honesty and saying, 'Well, would you concede this? Would you, would you allow this? Would you do masks? Would you do distancing? Would you just do something that we can give to the city?' I said, 'No, because that's not the issue,'" MacArthur told show host Jenna Ellis, who was also a part of Grace's legal team.
For MacArthur, the victory was never about the cash. It was about standing firm in his convictions.
"The future changes – things come, things go. I don't know specifically what the government may or may not do in the future to the church, but it really doesn't matter if my convictions are biblical," he explained.
"And that's the thing that anchored me. It didn't matter whether they said, 'We're going to take away your parking lot, or we're going to force you to shut down, or we're going to make you wear masks, or we're going to do this, or we're going to put you in jail, or we're going to fine you.' It didn't matter. The only thing that mattered to me was, on what biblical basis do I take a stand?" MacArthur said.
Who can you believe?
In the early stages of the pandemic, the problem was identifying sources for the critical information necessary in charting a path. The pastor was dealing with the safety of his people, but he felt he could no longer rely on daily White House press briefings or medical experts appearing on CNN or Fox News.
Ultimately, personal relationships won out, and MacArthur placed that trust in a close friend, "a very, very well-trained and longtime guy in the medical world who knew where the real story was. He fed me data that was legitimate, and then it began to surface in more public ways.
"I was being fed this from a very close friend who was saying, 'They're not telling the truth. This is not reality.' I was warned by that, and then it became apparent that he was giving me things that were starting to show up. That's when the transition began," MacArthur said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government spokesman, was promoting the vaccine, mask-wearing and social distancing, warning against families being together at holiday gatherings. As Americans tried to identify the cause of the virus, Fauci downplayed the theory that it was caused by a lab leak in Wuhan, China, instead pushing the idea that the virus had natural origins.
Ultimately, though, the FBI concluded the lab leak was the most likely source for the beginning of COVID-19.
Fauci's standing on masks and lockdowns and his misleading comments to Congress on U.S.-funded gain-of-function research in the Wuhan lab damaged his standing in the eyes of most of the public he sought to serve.
A culture dominated by lies
Grace Church pushed ahead with services and did, in fact, see confirmed cases of COVID-19 within its membership.
An "outbreak" at that time was defined as three confirmed cases, and Grace had three cases among its estimated attendance of 7,000 when The Los Angeles Times updated the story. Public health officials pledged to work closely with the church to help limit transmission of the virus.
MacArthur argues the pandemic widened the divide between the public and the people in charge.
"There's no really compelling reason to assume the integrity and fidelity of anybody in leadership. It doesn't matter what position they're in because the culture is dominated by lies. But I think that's sort of reached that point in the last two or three years," he said. "In this nation right now, I think we have come to the conclusion that you can't believe in your leaders."
But MacArthur hopes the film will convey the message that you can believe in Christ.
"The issue was that the government has no authority in the Church in anything. It was Christ as the head of the Church that was the basis of everything," he stated.
It was that doctrine, he concluded, that interpreted for him "anything and everything that came."