Evangelicals Confronting QAnon

On today’s NYT opinion page, Sarah Posner brings attention to the growing presence of QAnon among evangelicals. Posner makes several important points in this piece. One is that the QAnon conspiracies are recycled stories floating around evangelical circles for many years.  As an old-timer, I recall one world government worries and the satanic cult fears going back to high school days. The Clintons have lived rent free in evangelical heads since they came on the scene out of Arkansas.

With the advent of Trump, the various stories have morphed to form Trump as the Savior archetype in the QAnon narratives. Only he can save us. Furthermore, Trump is the bridge between the delusional and the deceived. He is the gateway drug for many from irrational support of a man to a world of make believe.

As I say in the article, those not quite yet in the QAnon snare will latch on to QAnon messaging if it helps make Trump correspond to the archetype of savior president. It doesn’t matter where it comes from or who spreads it. Christians appear to be some terrible offenders since, for many of them, Trump is the one defending their faith. Since there is only one Defender of our faith, this is a significant problem for Christianity. The Christian nationalist heresy in combination with the QAnon delusion is a powerful drug.

Go read Sarah’s op-ed and engage in the discussion in the comments.

 

John MacArthur Plans to Hold Church in Defiance of Court Injunction; Keeps Using Wrong COVID-19 Stats

On Fox News Thursday night, John MacArthur said he is planning to have church on Sunday despite the California Superior Court preliminary injunction barring indoor church. Watch:

In addition to appearing to promise to defy the court order, he again said only .01% of Californians have had COVID-19.

A statistic: One one hundredth of one percent of Californians have COVID, that’s the number and yet no one in the entire state of California is allowed to go inside a church. Doesn’t make sense.

As of September 11, California has 755,714 COVID-19 cases. With a population of just under 40-million, 1.9% of Californians have COVID-19. I have twice asked the public relations firm representing Grace for the source of MacArthur’s misinformation but with no reply.

Click here for all posts on L.A. County v. Grace Community Church

 

California Superior Court Prohibits Indoor Worship at Grace Community Church (UPDATED)

KNX 1070 Radio is reporting that Judge Mitchell Beckloff issued an injunction today that prevents Grace Community Church from engaging in indoor worship services.

Read Judge Beckloff’s Injunction

Read Judge Beckloff’s Ruling on the Injunction

L.A. County had sought an injunction against the church for refusing to abide by the County’s Health Order banning indoor worship services. Grace Community Church had been having such services without following masking and social distancing guidelines for over a month.

L.A. County issued this statement to me:

We are grateful that the Court has granted the County’s request for a preliminary injunction and upheld the County’s Health Officer Orders temporarily prohibiting indoor religious services during this time of widespread community transmission of COVID-19. Religious services are central to many of our residents’ lives, especially in these trying times, and services have been allowed to be held online and outdoors with physical distancing and the use of face coverings, and they may continue to do so. The issue is a reminder that we must all work together and modify our activities to contain and slow this virus, which has caused the death of more than 6,000 Los Angeles County residents and has made thousands of others gravely ill.

We went to court only after significant efforts to work with the leaders of Grace Community Church to protect public health. We now look forward to working with church leaders on a plan to move services outdoors with physical distancing and the use of face coverings, which will allow worshipers to gather for religious observances in a manner that is lower risk and consistent with public health directives. This protects worshipers and the entire County community.

On August 30, MacArthur told his congregation that there is no pandemic and doubled down on that claim the following Sunday. Then, he falsely claimed that only “one hundredth of one percent” CA residents had COVID. The percentage as of now is 1.8%.

Grace Church issued a press release after I published this post. Here is most of it with comments from the attorneys and John MacArthur.

Special Counsel Charles LiMandri said, “We are disappointed in the ruling on the preliminary injunction as the court did not apply the strict scrutiny analysis to the government order that we believe is required by the California Constitution and legal precedent. The court also did not properly consider the medical and scientific evidence that the current number of people with serious COVID-19 symptoms no longer justifies a shuttering of the churches. Nor do we believe that the court gave adequate consideration to the fact that churches have been treated as second-class citizens compared to the tens of thousands of protestors. More than ever, California’s churches are essential. Therefore, we plan to appeal this ruling to ultimately vindicate our clients’ constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.”

Special Counsel Jenna Ellis said, “Although this is a temporary setback, we will continue to fight for Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s constitutionally protected right to hold church. While the judge did go out of his way to repeatedly state that he is not ruling on the merits, only a ruling at this very preliminary stage, Pastor MacArthur is still harmed because he has every right to hold church. Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely. The County’s argument was basically ‘because we can,’ which is the very definition of tyranny. Without limiting government’s power in favor of freedom and protected rights, we have no liberty. We will fight for religious freedom, as our founders did when they wrote the First Amendment.”

Pastor John MacArthur said, “In an inexplicable ruling, the judge said the ‘scale tipped in favor of the county.’ 1/100th of 1% of Californians with a virus apparently wins over the U.S. Constitution and religious freedom for all? That is not what our founders said. Nor is that what God says, who gave us our rights that our government—including the judicial branch—is supposed to protect. The scale should always tip in favor of liberty, especially for churches.”

It is baffling to me where MacArthur is getting his “1/100th of 1%” figure. If he was accurate, CA would only have 4,000 cases. Instead, CA has just over 749,000 cases for about 1.9% of the population. He has yet to respond to my requests about this claim or others he made this past Sunday.

While there is no hint in these statements about what MacArthur and Grace will do Sunday, there is no indication he will back off. The next scheduled hearing is October 22.

See all posts on L.A. County v. Grace Community Church here. 

New COVID Cases in States Where Masks Are Required Versus States Where Masks Aren’t Required

My Grove City College colleague Gary Welton wanted to know more about the association of mask requirements with number of new cases of COVID-19. One way to examine this is to look at states where masks are required compared to states where they aren’t. In this scenario, the actual mask wearing can’t be controlled. However, this analysis examines the policy and the association with number of cases per 100,000 in population. Here are Gary’s findings when he examined new cases in the 35 states where mask mandates are in place compared to states where maskes are not required for the week from 9/2 to 9/8/20.

About the findings, Gary said, “In fact, for the recent week, states that have mandated masks show about half the number of infections per 100,000 people. Given the current data, it is prudent to wear a mask.”

I realize that even in states where masks are required, not everybody wears them. However, if I am a policy maker, I would have to look at this at least twice and wonder what is going on. Ideally, Gary will continue this analysis as the pandemic continues to see if the relationship continues. For now, this adds one more point of support for wearing masks as a means of reducing, though not eliminating, the spread.

 

L.A. County Fines Grace Community Church for Signage Infraction

Claiming the church’s signs were misplaced, L.A. County fined Grace Community Church $1000.

Grace Community posted signs warning people not to enter if they have symptoms of disease and claiming the church has no responsibility if sickness occurs. Here is what church attorney Jenna Ellis showed on Twitter.

The sign says:

By entering the Grace Community Church campus, you assume the risk of contracting COVID-19, and you agree that the church cannot be held responsible if that happens. Please do not enter if you have an elevated temperature, a cough, or any flu-like symptoms.

Strange, I thought John MacArthur preached that worry over COVID-19 was a part of a plot to deceive the church.

In any case, the signs are up around the church but they must not be where the Health Order prescribes them to be. It appears that L.A. County is working up to a more strict enforcement of the Health Order, perhaps hoping that MacArthur will see the light. Given his recent stance that there is no pandemic, I doubt he is going to change his position.

John MacArthur Doubles Down on No Pandemic Claim

In his sermon today at Grace Community Church, pastor John MacArthur told his congregation that his claim last week that there is no COVID-19 pandemic was not made off the cuff. He said again that by the CDC definition of a pandemic there is no pandemic. Watch:

MacArthur is making yet another common mistake by referring to the number of COVID-19 cases as compared to the population of California. This is not how epidemiologists think about the lethality of a disease. You compare the number of deaths to the number of cases to get the mortality rate.

MacArthur said that the definition of a pandemic is that “1 to 3% of the people die.” By his definition of a pandemic (1 to 3% of the population), the Spanish Flu epidemic would not have counted as such because less than one percent of the American population died. According to the CDC website, 675,000 Americans died during the 1918-1919 season. With a population of 104.5-million in 1919, well under 1% died (.65%).

MacArthur also said the number of people who have COVID in California is “one hundredth of one percent out of 40 million. That’s not a death statistic, that’s a COVID statistic.” Currently, the number of cases in CA stands at 735,742. Given the population of just less than 40-million people in CA, the percentage of the population with a positive COVID diagnosis is a little over 1.8%. Even if the calculation used active cases (373,175), the percentage is .94% or almost 1%.

I need to research this a bit more but so far the only definition on the CDC website of a pandemic I found is this one:

Pandemic refers to an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people. Epidemics occur when an agent and susceptible hosts are present in adequate numbers, and the agent can be effectively conveyed from a source to the susceptible hosts.

MacArthur also said that Grace is the only church in CA allowed to meet indoors. I question that interpretation. The court has declined to issue a court order to require Grace to comply with L.A. County’s Health Order but has told L.A. County that the County may enforce the Health Order forbidding indoor meeting. L.A. County has chosen not to enforce the order.

In any case, the court is set to rule this week on the injunction with L.A. County as the plaintiff  in the case.

L.A. County and Grace Community Church Continue Dispute in Court Today

Today, L.A. County and Grace Community Church met in court today in the courtroom of Judge Mitchell Beckloff in their dispute over indoor worship services. The L.A. Country Health Order forbids indoor worship but is finding it difficult to enforce since Grace will not abide by it.

According to an article in today’s LA Daily News, a decision may not come for several days. According to the report, the arguments pertained to a compelling state interest to regulate religion versus the freedom of religious bodies to control their practices.

 

About Punching a Protestor, Eric Metaxas Says “It Just Happened”

Well, he didn’t want his story to come out but thanks to a fellow named Paul Glader writing on a website called Religion Unplugged, we now have it confirmed that Eric Metaxas punched Portland activist Anthony P. Harrington after Trump’s acceptance speech last Thurday night. (See this post for background)

Metaxas emailed Glader with the information. Metaxas asked him not to disclose it but Glader treated the communication as on the record. Metaxas said he thought Harrington was menacing and the punch “just happened.” For his part, Harrington denies being threatening, pointing to the fact that Metaxas punched him from behind.

In the Glader article, I am identified as “left leaning” and on the other end of Rod Dreher. I am probably on the other end of Rod Dreher, but that just makes me right of center.

Weird Christian Twitter got a cameo in the piece with the Metaxas Backward Shuffle meme featured prominently. I feel sure #WCT will get a lot of mileage out of that.

See this post from John Fea for more on Metaxas’ response to the punch and run.

WORLD magazine has a bit of a disclosure from Metaxas as well along with an update from Harrington.

L.A. County Terminates Parking Lease Agreement with Grace Community Church

In a letter dated August 28 2020, the L.A. County Flood Control District informed John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church that it is terminating a lease agreement on three lots Grace uses for church parking. According to the church, they have used the lots continuously since 1975. The letter begins:

In accordance with General Provision C of Rental Agreement No. 01-18 (“Agreement,” copy enclosed) between the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and Grace Community Church (Grace), the District is exercising its right to terminate the Agreement by giving a minimum of 30-day written notice of intention to terminate. Please be advised that by this notice, the District will hereby terminate the Agreement effective October 1, 2020. Accordingly, pursuant to the Agreement, Grace shall vacate and remove all of its improvements and personal property placed on the premises (as defined in  the Agreement) on or before October 1, 2020. If Grace fails to vacate the premise as required, the District may enter the premises and remove Grace’s personal property in accordance with the Agreement and applicable law, and Grace will be responsible for any resultant expenses incurred by the District. Any improvements, including fencing, that are not removed will become the property of the District at its option. Effective October 2, 2020, or thereafter, the District will secure the premises.

Read the letter from the L.A. County Flood Control District

The church has until October 1. The next hearing on L.A. County v. Grace Community Church is September 4. The county’s actions appear to be a response  to Grace’s violation of their Health Order banning indoor worship. However, there may be time for movement on both sides before the lease agreement runs out. The outcome of the September 4 hearing may have some influence on this matter as well.

For all of the posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church, click here.

For my ongoing tally of churches who are associated with COVID-19 outbreaks, click here.

 

About that Quiet CDC Report of Deaths from COVID

Yesterday before his sermon, John MacArthur gained loud applause from his congregation when he announced the following news:

In truth, 6% of the deaths that have occurred can be directly attributable to COVID, 94% cannot. Of the 160,000 people that have died, 9,210 actually died from COVID.

There is no pandemic.

MacArthur may have gotten this news from his attorney Jenna Ellis, who in turn may have gotten it from Gateway Pundit.

I normally would not link to Gateway Pundit since he appears to have gone full QAnon but I will in this case because I want to demonstrate how misinformation works.  Joe Hoft cites a QAnon source who claims that the CDC “quietly updated the COVID number to admit that only 6% of all the 153,504 deaths recorded actually died from COVID. That’s 9,210 deaths.”

Hoft calls his post a “Shock Report” and says the CDC “silently updated their numbers this week” implying there was something to hide or that there was something new about this week’s report. Before MacArthur told his congregation that only 6% of deaths were due to COVID, he said: “A rather telling report came out this week and for the first time, we heard the truth.”

The First Time?

In fact, there was nothing new about the findings in this report.

Via the Wayback Machine, I went back to May and found that 7% of deaths had COVID alone listed as a cause of death.

Here is the CDC comorbidity report summary for June 20 showing COVID as the only cause mentioned for 7% of the deaths.

How about July?

By July 18, the percent had dipped down to 6%. That took place the week ending July 4.  That is the percent today and has been since July.

There was No Quiet CDC Admission but There is a Pandemic

Looking back over the CDC reports, these breathless QAnon reports look silly. There was no new revelation, change, or admission. Throughout the pandemic, people with underlying health vulnerabilities have died because they became infected with COVID-19.  Without COVID, those people would be alive or at least would have lived longer then they did.

So much of the conspiratorial thinking is focused on the U.S. What about the rest of the world? Have all other countries been taken in by our “deep state?” Is Dr. Fauci so powerful that he can manipulate every nation on Earth to shutdown?

There is a pandemic. It is irresponsible to say otherwise. When you read the next “shock report,” remember this one, check the sources and get a second and third opinion from people who have some knowledge in research.

Watch MacArthur’s announcement:

As of September 1, Youtube removed this video. I have a copy of it hosted here.

For a great summary of the death data, read this from Bob Anderson at the CDC.

I was quoted in this Religion News Service article on this topic.

For all of the posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church, click here.

For my ongoing tally of churches who are associated with COVID-19 outbreaks, click here.