“We open the doors because that’s what we are.”
To hear Pastor John MacArthur tell it, all Grace Community Church did was open its doors and the people came, like the animals to Noah’s Ark.
The megachurch in suburban Los Angeles had closed its doors in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. It announced plans to re-open in May, but a federal court upheld the state’s ban on indoor services. The church reopened in late July.
“People started slowly coming back,” MacArthur told CNN on Tuesday, “and they just kept coming until there were six or seven thousand.”
That’s several thousand more people than California allows at indoor worship services. According to an order issued July 29, houses of worship in Los Angeles County must limit indoor gatherings to 100 people or 25% of the building’s capacity, whichever is lower.
“I’m so happy to welcome you to the Grace Community Church peaceful protest,” MacArthur said from the pulpit last Sunday, as his congregation, few of whom appeared to be wearing masks or social distancing, erupted into applause.
The pastor has said his church offers an outdoor tent for worshipers, but photos and videos posted on social media by church officials show indoor services and tightly packed rows of congregants, most if not all of whom are maskless.
On Thursday, the church’s lawyers announced they had filed suit on behalf of the church challenging California’s restrictions on indoor services.
In holding church, MacArthur is betting on divine protection in a pandemic hotspot. Los Angeles County is reporting 1,500-2,000 new Covid-19 infections a day.
The pastor told CNN on Tuesday that no members of his megachurch have contracted the virus. MacArthur also said he doubted the accuracy of California’s coronavirus numbers.
“We open the doors because that’s what we are,” he said. “We’re a church, and we’re going to trust those people to make adult decisions about the reality of their physical and spiritual health.”