Deciding Whether to Gather for Thanksgiving

Note: After posting the article below, the Sacramento County Health Department made a comment similar in spirit to that of Sheriff Scott: “Sacramento County has continued to take an education over enforcement stance with the local public health order.” You can read that here:

In light of the Governor’s (now densely hypocritical) limiting of holiday festivities, Christians have a decision to make: whether or not to gather with loved ones next week. You might have already made that decision. If so, then this article may simply give you a greater measure of comfort and cover.

The decision, for Christians, is not straightforward. We must consider how to “build a parapet” (Deut. 22:8) – in other words, how to prepare in advance for a known danger and take precautions. One must consider the risks, and those involved, especially in his immediate family. Let’s call this the “wise love” part.

But is it sin?

But there is another question – simply of whether gathering would be sin. After all, the government said so, right? Romans 13, right?

Yes, and no. Indeed, the governor is the top governing authority in our state. And regardless of his thick hypocrisy on the matter – like we tell our kids – another’s log in the eye does not justify one in mine. What to do?

Clarity came today in the form of an announcement by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones that his office will not be responding to any complaints regarding masks, occupancy, etc., related to governing authorities’ orders. On the one hand, he does not denounce those orders. On the other, he and his officers are not enforcing them.

The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate

Where does that leave you and the turkey and the extended fam? Thankfully, our Christian forefathers thought this through a long time ago. At the beginning of the Reformation, in 1530, there were a number of situations where the governing authorities responded to the new movement abusively and murderously. The question became, “How do we obey Romans 13, while at the same time not allowing ourselves, you know, to be killed and ravaged?”

Enter Martin Luther, and what became known as the doctrine of the lesser magistrate. While there is more to it than what can be said here, the doctrine essentially says that us common folk have the right to resist governing authorities’ abuses if a lesser magistrate – a lower governing authority, like Sheriff Scott – leads that resistance. That way, those resisting are still under a governing authority, and the resistance will not itself turn into chaos and anarchy.

We’ve had enough of that on our streets this year, thank you. Christians reject every kind of rioting, looting and violence in the name of social change, no matter how bad it gets. But we do use every kind of channel that God gives us to effect good change. And praise God, in this republic, we have many channels. One is lesser magistrates with courage enough to draw a line and give cover to their citizens’ groans. More than that, if you’re grateful for this decision, you can drop the Sheriff a thank you. If you hate it, you can express your displeasure the same way.

Regardless, if you want to gather with family next week, and you’ve “built your parapet”, you will also pass the “submitting to governing authorities” test. So then, if your conscience is clear on all other points, love God and do what you want.

And save me some pie.