Local HIS Church pastor Brian Gibson is calling on churches across the country to “peaceably gather” with in-person services Sunday, even if it means defying orders from their governors.
Gibson said he — along with some faith leaders across the country — feels as if their First Amendment rights have been taken away with orders to close their doors during the coronavirus pandemic.
His call to reopen originally stemmed from a scenario two months ago, when Gibson said their church was told by the Green River District Health Department they had to refrain from passing out Easter eggs to children via a drive-thru event despite following safety guidelines.
Around that time, officials with the Health Department confirmed they did ask HIS Church not to distribute eggs in that manner based on Gov. Andy Beshear’s orders, which included refraining from anything being passed in or out of a vehicle during church services.
Gibson said it was especially frustrating because they could see people across the street using the drive-thrus at McDonald’s and a liquor store.
“I’m not against any of those guys, but we just want the right to do the same thing they were doing,” Gibson said. “We felt like it was religious targeting.”
He added that it doesn’t make sense that it’s OK for retailers like Walmart and Kroger to be packed with people who could be leaving germs on various items throughout the store, but it wasn’t OK for churches to hold a spaced-out service inside.
“My question is when did one hour on Sunday morning become the most deadly hour of the week?” Gibson asked. “And how is it more dangerous to sit in a seat socially distanced than to walk through a produce stand touching vegetables that other people have already touched and set back down? I mean, it’s not logical.”
He said the church was fine with the temporary closure at first when there were so many unknowns and the risk seemed high. As the weeks wore on and the number of cases and deaths didn’t get anywhere close to the predicted models, Gibson decided it was time to stand up and fight for their right to assemble in person.
“We’re not crazy,” Gibson said. “That’s why we went straight to online church at every HIS church campus, like most responsible pastors did around America. We were willing to do that. … But, it’s not what it was predicted to be. So now it looks like it’s gone past controlling a virus to controlling a people. That’s why we started speaking up.”
So, Gibson has been urging leaders of houses of worship to sign an online petition to peaceably assemble. Thus far about 100 leaders have signed, and he expects hundreds more to join next week.
As the cause has gained more traction across the country, the story has drawn attention from national media outlets including Fox News.
Gibson said May 17 was chosen because at the time, Kentucky churches were not allowed to reopen until May 20 according to Gov. Andy Beshear’s phased plan. However, a federal judge has since ruled in favor of the churches’ right to hold services.
“For us, it was an act of defiance,” Gibson said of the original plan.
While he’s fighting for the right to gather, Gibson did say HIS Church will ramp up safety measures. That includes limited capacity and social distancing, extra sanitization efforts, releasing people one pew at a time, and recommending those 65 and older don’t attend in person yet.
In addition to in-person services, HIS Church will continue to offer parking lot and online worship as well.
“It’s not about a mad dash to the church for us. It’s about a constitutional stand,” Gibson said. “We want safety, but that is our choice, not the government’s choice.”
That’s what it all boils down to, Gibson said. The decision on what to do should be left up to the churches, not the government.
“I don’t even care if my people come or not,” he said. “That’s their decision. That’s not my push. My push is the government cannot tell the people of America when we can and cannot worship or whether we can peaceably gather or not.”