The governor of California is recommending that churches not sing when they worship together.

And this has caused much controversy among conservative Christians in that state, who do not wish to have the government tell them how they may and may not worship.

I don’t think this is unique to California — a symptom, maybe, of the political polarities that have shaped so much of our collective Christian experience in the last few years.

Can I be honest? I’m so tired of it. So bone tired. Tired enough to say what I really am thinking, God forgive me. 

I’ve spent a lot of time in churches, in the CRC in particular, talking about political issues and the moral limits of political power. These conversations have mostly been shaped by immigration policy — educating churches about how very inaccurate their perceptions of the immigration system are, and how very real the push-factors that (used to) push people to immigrate to the U.S., whether legally or another way.

Inevitably I would have people ask me my perspective on Romans 13. They’d ask whether Christians are obligated to obey the governing authority. They were implicitly asking how a Christian person could immigrate if they had to do so illegally. Maybe if they really were Christians they would have stayed home. (And died.) 

In those moments, I smiled and did my best to explain about our calling, as people with power, is to steward that power through advocacy for better laws, so that we no longer knowingly put people in such impossible situations. What I meant was that I wanted them to vote for less racist legislators who might actually do something about the decades-old entrapment scheme that is our immigration system.

But it probably was clear to everyone in the room in those moments that the question really irked me. What I was really thinking is that the question betrayed the truth of our myopic, opportunistic read of Scripture in American churches. The question willfully ignored the vast canon of Scripture and its clarity about the dignity of human life (and God’s particular focus on vulnerable human life), and the all-too-common corruption of political leaders (hello, Pharoah; hello, Rome). I thought it showed too clearly that these Christians had no knowledge of, or perhaps no interest in, wrestling with Romans 13 in its actual biblical context, which is enveloped on all sides by Paul’s calling to love sacrificially and selflessly.

But now, I’m just too tired to smile. Or maybe I read Beth Carroll’s piece about Nice Girls and it stirred something within me. 

Someone, please tell me, because I’m confused. Why is it the same people who argued with me in those churches about the Christian duty to uphold the rule of law, who today proclaim that only God, not government, can tell them what to do? Yesterday, it was so important that those desperate brown people obey the law, however illogical and inhumane said law was, instead of saving their child from death. But today they don’t love the 80-year old saint three pews down enough to sing in their own homes for a few more months. Yesterday, it made total sense that a Christian activist was going to go to prison for putting water in the desert dying migrants. But today, it is the suggestion that one should wear a mask at Walgreens that is violating one’s inalienable rights. 

And what are the pastors supposed to do now? How is a pastor supposed to shepherd these folks, who are clearly unwilling to consider that their life is not the only life, that a disciple who refuses to be humble and loving is simply not a disciple, and that America has become their golden calf (whatever it is that they believe America means anyway)? Their pastor’s kid needs braces. Their pastor’s wife needs groceries. Their pastor is afraid. If I was their pastor I could completely see myself simply letting them sing, and praying that no one dies.

This is such a colossal failure of Christian discipleship, generations long. I’m so tired. And, frankly, so afraid for the church.

We have struggled for so long to find empathy for the world’s most obvious neighbor in need. And today we cannot sacrifice the world’s smallest joy for our vulnerable neighbor. So we have no right to claim that we are following Jesus. 

We are not.

Photo by Haley Rivera on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

36 Comments

  • Cory Van Sloten says:

    Sometimes, grace and truth confronts and convicts. Thanks Kate.

  • mstair says:

    Love your title. Love the following (truncated for reference):

    “Yesterday, it was so important that those desperate brown people obey the law, however illogical … But today they don’t love the 80-year old saint three pews down enough to sing in their own homes for a few more months. “

    Many of us have been asking in prayer for a change in these viral conditions. Thus far, God’s answer was a mutation to a more contagious strain. I’m agreeing with you that we should join God’s fatigue with His people’s empty vocalizations (anyway) and spend the next year (in fear and trembling) just being still and knowing Him again …

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    My Dad always said that whenever someone quotes Romans 13 tell then to Read Revelations 13 as well where the same Romans authorities Paul told us to submit to is now the Anti-Christ, the Beast, numbering 666 (the Roman Emperor). As Rev 13:8 says, this calls for wisdom. Different times call for a different response. When the governing authorities are obeying their mandate, we submit. When they are doing the wrong things, we must resist!

    • Marcella says:

      Thank you Rowland good response. Times have changed, indeed. Buy may our love not grow cold, wax, or wane. Patience for those who are not awake, and listening to Jesus’s words. Pray for them

  • Susan DeYoung says:

    All I needed to read was your title to know I agree with everything you have to say. I’ll shut up now.

  • Jon Lunderberg says:

    Thank you. Love your neighbor. Is it that difficult?

  • Mary Dracht says:

    Amen!

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Kate, for your take on immigration, once again. We realize this is a political issue that you are passionate about. But such passion should not discount all other perspectives on immigration. The great American dream of “I can be anything and can achieve great success,” has historically been based on a capitalistic political system rather than a socialist welfare state. Sure capitalists believe in welfare. Our American society has done as much as, or more than, any other nation in providing aid to other nations in need, and in promoting just democratic governments for its citizens.

    I remember immigrating to Canada in 2003, as a college graduate with a job waiting for me. But I was told very clearly that Canada didn’t want me unless I could meet its one hundred point grading system of being able to contribute more to Canadian society than I would be taking. The job that was waiting for me could be met by a Canadian rather than an American trying to steal it away from their citizens. At that time, Canada, as well as the U.S., was very protective of its borders. It was not to be considered primarily as a welfare state. Welfare should be provided first for its own citizens who are living below the poverty level than for those standing at our borders with an open hand. We have an abundance of need within our own borders. And as a nation (Canadian or American), we don’t want to lose sight of the great American dream perspective by becoming a welfare state. Welfare can best be accomplished from a position of wealth rather than from a position of poverty, as capitalism has proved many times over. You may think Christians are confused when it comes to immigration, but I see some confusion on your side, as well. Thanks, once again, for your take on the issue.

    • Kate says:

      RLG: this comment shows me you don’t understand how immigration to the US works. Do a little more reading and learning, then I’m happy to engage your opinion.

  • Rev David J Jones says:

    Thank you for this. I am bone tired too.

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Thanks, Kate. I needed that!

  • Jim Payton says:

    BOOM! Well said, Kate! You’ve given forthright expression to real frustrations so many of us have felt building for so long. Your article was cathartic this morning. Thank you.

  • George Vink says:

    Thanks, you’ve put it well. Bone tired = Sick of it for me….

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    The “Bingo!” moment in this fine piece, Kate, was when you pegged the glaring inconsistency: tell others (the ones who don’t look like me) to obey the governing authorities but when those same authorities infringe on me (and people who look like me), I will immediately claim a higher authority and flout the law, common sense, good medical advice. Everything. Bingo. Hoist on their own petard and all that. Naturally, then, those same folks will have no idea what you are talking about. To quote John Coffey, the Christ-like figure in Stephen King’s “The Green Mile” who bears the burdens of all who suffer: “I’m dog tired now, boss. Dog tired.” You are too, Kate, and I get it.

  • Dawn Tillema says:

    Thank you Kate for giving voice and eloquence to what I have been thinking and feeling. Submitting to our Teacher, as disciples, isn’t easy , but it is necessary if we call ourselves disciples.

  • Chris Rea says:

    Amos 5:21-24 has been rolling around in my head: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Is it possible that the “no singing” command was handed down from the highest Authority after all, and the government is simply implementing it? Perhaps God is bone tired, too.

    That “Nice Girls” post let something loose in me, too, Kate!

  • Carol Westphal says:

    Amen and Amen! Thank you!

  • Pam Adams says:

    Kate, I read your posting with joy. I am sure the Lord wants us to think of the immigrant, the disabled, the poor, and the ones not wanted. Please let us open our hearts. Thank you.

  • Amen! And “so tired” is a reason to ask God for supernatural energy, not to give up. Luke 18.

  • Keith Mannes says:

    Kate…thank God for you. Yep…made me cry.
    Keith Mannes

  • Thank you for this. You said it and said it well. I hope everyone takes heed.

  • Heather Wilson says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I am struggling to show grace and love to folks I know and love who are behaving in exactly the way you describe here. For the good of all, so long as it’s always for my good – that’s how I see so many people behaving in such a time of need and pain.

    I’m so sorry that so many of us are tired. I pray that we all find fighting strength, fighting love, and fighting grace. We surely need it.

  • Some wise person once said something about how any of us should recognize that we have constructed a false god when that god agrees with everything we say and hates all the people we hate. Funny how that’s exactly where we are at now.

    As a hymnwriter, as somebody who loves participatory liturgy and works to enliven congregational singing and feels that having somebody else sing for us on a recording is not the same thing at all, the reality we face in our worshiping communities is killing me. I wonder what happens when people decide they prefer worship to be completely passive and without singing or speaking, or what happens if I never again get to baptize or anoint or lay hands or hold anybody. I worry that, in a year or two or three, I will find myself in a church where my gifts have no place anymore.

    But those are my fears, not the call of God. The call of God is to care for God’s people through this pandemic with whatever pitiful, negligible gifts I have left. The call of God is to listen to the science and keep my flock as safe as I can and follow. All the rest is selfishness and hubris and has no place in the church. Even if the government said it was safe to go back to in-person, indoor worship, that wouldn’t make it so. I have to be sure we are not creating an additional danger while recognizing that what we do was never entirely safe. This is discipleship. Thank you for putting it so well.

  • Theresa Postma says:

    Thank you Kate, I have always appreciated you. I’m bone tired also.

  • Carol Van Klompenburg says:

    Me too.

  • Dan Walcott says:

    Thanks Kate, great writing. I know I beat this drum a bit much for some, my thoughts immediately went with Rowland, what about Revelation 13? For too long the church has embraced proof texting at the expense of listening to the whole counsel of God. And loved the clear example of cherry picking when to obey God.

  • Sheryl Beerens says:

    Thank you so much, Kate! Spot on and so well-articulated. Also, even though I love worshipping through leading a congregation in singing, I couldn’t agree more with your title. For the love of our God and our neighbors, we must do this.

  • Rick Theule says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  • Kyle Rietema says:

    Kate,
    I disagree. Respectfully.

    Why is it not an option for Christians to not wear a mask?

    Up until about June the “experts” were telling us to not wear masks and then they changed their minds. It’s very confusing. These same “experts” shutdown the economy and churches because the virus in CA was going to infect 2 million people in 8 weeks. That never happened. We have government officials running our lives and shutting things down based on projections that they have been wrong about since March.

    What about all the heavy breathing and coughing and other things that happen inside a mask? Are we in fact loving our neighbor if we look down upon them for not wanting to endure that for the sake of “slowing the spread”? Cases are up because of more testing. The death rate is steadily declining. The survival rate is 99.5 percent!

    I don’t have a problem if other Christians want to wear a mask, because that is their freedom to do so. If they think thats what they should do. But I’m not wearing one unless I have to. Where’s the science? Where’s the peer reviewed study?

    I see it as government overreach.

    It’s ok to protest the government and likewise it should be ok to protest wearing masks.

    There is a double standard ,however, in this country right now: If you are rioting for 3 weeks and burning communities to the ground you don’t have to wear a mask or social distance. But if you’re a Christian you can’t go to church, if you do ;you need a mask. Now we are told we can’t even sing.

    In my humble opinion the more loving thing to do is to go out and live my life without a mask. And when people freak out about it, I can tell them with confidence that my hope is not in my health or a vaccine but in the Lord Jesus Christ! Come on Church! Where is your hope? We talk about evangelizing and we do these mission trips to Mexico and Guatemala, but we forget that there are scared people at Lowes and at the hardware store just down the street who need GOOD NEWS! The world is desperately seeking good news. If we wear masks we are closing the door to sharing the gospel because we aren’t “causing waves” as some would say. We are letting people walk right by us who have no hope and we are hiding it under a bushel. NO! Let it shine!

    Mask. No Mask. That is your freedom to choose and I will love you just the same. Might raise my eyebrow at ya but thats ok. All I know is when I sing to the Lord, I want to sing with gusto!

    ” Jesus, the name that charms our fears and bids our sorrows cease,
    Tis music in the sinners ears,
    tis life and health, and peace”

    Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

    • Karen says:

      Why should you wear a mask? Because it’s a way to show love for others. (If you don’t know why you should love others, I’m sure someone could suggest a Good Book for you to read.) Your masks protect others; their masks protect you. It’s great to hear that things are going so well in California and only 7000 people (as of today) have died there. No doubt they died because of all that silly, unnecessary testing, right?
      The conclusions and judgments of science do change as scientists learn more. It would be a shame if they didn’t. New evidence reveals new insights. That’s how science works. I’m grateful that health professionals have changed their recommendations as more is learned about how the virus is transmitted. I pray that everyone around you wears a mask to protect you, and I pray that you’ll wear yours to protect them.

  • Mark VanDyke says:

    I affirm your experience of frustration with people who use Romans 13 to wiggle their way out of loving their neighbor. It certainly exists and is too common in the CRC.

    However, I believe one can legitimately appeal to Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, or Titus 3 when forming her opinion on immigration (hopefully seasoned with an encouragement to increase legal immigration, support refugees, and welcome strangers into a church), while also disobeying the state by singing while wearing a mask during worship.

  • Karen Schuitema says:

    Ahhh…yes! I So appreciate you, Kate.

  • Dick DeYoung says:

    Paraphrasing from something else I encountered this morning: “I love you more than evolution required.” So, my niece, I want to encourage strength in you, even as your words have given me strength. We are in this together. I’m so proud of your courage and wisdom. Keep on keepin’.

    “…with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and …”

  • Ken Baker says:

    Kate, yours is a godly exasperation. Thank you for expressing it so clearly and passionately.

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