Why I signed a petition against closing Welsh Churches

The Welsh First Minister has announced a number of controversial measures over the past week. First of all he stated that people in Tier 2 and Tier 3 category areas from England would be banned from entering Wales. Then on Monday 19th October he announced that Wales would go into a Circuit Break and churches will be closed.

Now my view is that Welsh churches should launch an urgent legal challenge to block this. You might find that a bit unusual given that I was one of the seemingly few people to sign a recent letter to the Prime Minister and First Ministers demanding that churches should  be allowed to remain open.  You would expect me to be at the rear of the queue when it comes to taking action now.

However, I think in this situation, the Welsh Government were wrong and action needs to be taken. That’s why I have expressed my support for churches across the border by signing this petition.

So, here are my reasons.  First of all, at the Affinity Conference “Coronavirus and the Church of Jesus Christ” which was happening as the First Minister made his statement, John Stevens (FIEC National Director) helpfully suggested that there is a distinction between an obligation based on Romans 13 to submit to the authorities and a requirement to support them. This means whilst we obey the law, we are not required to agree with it. We can challenge, question and protest using all the means open to us within a democratic system.

Therefore, I think it is reasonable to challenge decisions that we believe to be wrong.  In this case, I can see no evidence, no justification for closing churches when the situation is not as serious as it was during the first lockdown and where churches have in fact introduced a number of measures in compliance with Government regulations and guidelines such as social distancing, masks, contact tracing etc. In fact, churches are likely to be one of the best means of enabling effective contact tracing giving the abject failure of government and technology to provide this. There need to be good “health grounds given” for this.

Secondly, I believe that the Welsh administration is overstepping their reach and acting is outside of the Law.  This should be subject to Judicial Review and therefore I would argue that an emergency injunction should be sought. There are a couple of strong arguments to make here about the lack of proportionality and failure to follow a fair process before reaching the decision. Further, given that the Welsh Administration have  implemented measures not deemed necessary in the rest of the UK, hence the lack of proportionality one has to ask whether these are in fact health matters.

Whatever your personal view of Welsh and Scottish independence, I would argue that constitutionally the kinds of measure being implemented in the devolved areas are matters that shouldn’t be for the devolved governments to determine. This is a matter that needs to be faced at a UK wide level.  That the measures are not seen as necessary elsewhere suggests that we are not really dealing with health matters  removing the justification for it being a devolved matter. When that is mixed in with the creation of a hard border between England and Wales, we have moved into very inflammatory territory.

Furthermore, the level of political competition tends to mean that whatever happens in one part of the UK spreads to the other parts without proper debate and consideration. There is a risk that things will gradually pick up momentum and a temporary lockdown in Wales will become a longer term lockdown with church closures across the rest of the UK.

Now, it remains my view that there shouldn’t be civil disobedience on this matter. If the churches lose any court case, they should comply. I don’t think we are at that stage yet.  However, I do think that if Christians are concerned about standing against wrongful decisions then they can’t let such a decision go through and let it pass by.

I also think it is important that any argument is made humbly and sensitively. I would therefore approach things as follows

  • Don’t present your rights in comparison to others.  In face seek to support and include other institutions with you.
  • Demonstrate the public benefit of churches opening
  • Express the challenge with humility

I hope that some believers will consider taking up this matter. I believe it is possible to make a case that shows love, compassion and solidarity with the rest of the community, which recognises the importance of good neighbourly care but also makes it clear why it is safe and vital for churches to remain open at the moment.

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