Conservative Church Network Launches Plan to Defy California Social Distancing Orders

Calvary Chapel Chino Hills Pastor Jack Hibbs (Image from Mar. 25, 2020 "Happening Now" broadcast)

A political network of churches dedicated to advancing conservative politics and policies in California has announced its intentions to gather for worship services on May 31 no matter what public health restrictions are in place at the time.

Church United’s founder, ex-gay pastor turned anti-gay activist Jim Domen, held a press conference last Thursday with other pastors announcing their plans. The church network, which is supported by the Family Research Council and other religious-right groups, brings pastors together with politicians who “vote in favor of a biblical worldview” to get pastors to rethink their ideas about church-state separation and energize them into greater political action to “transform” the culture.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom did not include church services in plans for the second phase of reopening, which began last Friday, but he has met with faith leaders and said he might allow churches to open earlier than expected. “Our fear is simply this,” Newsom said at a news conference last Thursday. “Congregations of people from far and wide coming together in a closed space at a large scale remains a point of concern and anxiety for us. We are working on guidelines for physical distancing and working with faith leaders talking about unique conditions in their own facilities. Nothing is etched in stone.”

Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills church is part of the Church United effort. In an online video message posted on May 5, Hibbs called on California pastors to open their doors “in unison” on May 31. It is “not my decision,” he said, explaining that the May 31 date was “deposited in my head” during prayer three weeks earlier.

May 31 is Pentecost in the Western Christian calendar this year, commemorating the day in which the Bible says the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles of Jesus of Nazareth. “I cannot think of a more biblically-sanctioned day” for churches to reopen, Hibbs told the Christian Post.

Pentecost falls 50 days after Easter; this year, a number of religious-right leaders are placing particular spiritual importance on the days between Passover, when they believe God in some way broke the power of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Pentecost, a day in which they expect an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will spark spiritual revival and a new Great Awakening and usher in a prophesied End Times “billion-soul harvest.”

Hibbs, who works with Christian nationalist political operative David Lane, is proudly defiant of restrictions on churches and other tax-exempt charitable organizations’ involvement in electoral politics and tells congregants that the church will instruct them on how to vote.

“The pandemic has made us consider: Who will be the ultimate authority? Does Christ and the Word of God answer to the government? Or ultimately, does the government answer to the Lawgiver Himself?” Hibbs told the Christian Post.

“The church transcends the governments of this world and the politics of this world because the church is a living, breathing, divine institution,” Hibbs said. “We have to remember that no matter where we might live in the world, under what government, those governments will eventually fail. The Bible makes it clear; Jesus will come and establish His kingdom.”

In her recent book “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Christian Nationalism,” Katherine Stewart devotes a chapter to Church United and its leader Domen.

“Goliath must fall in California,” Domen has written about Church United’s mission, saying that the state’s legislature is “defiling the armies of God.” Domen’s organizing strategy includes extensive outreach among Latino pastors and the distribution of voter guides.

Stewart attended a Church United organizing meeting at which speakers made “preposterous allegations” about legislators’ desire to strip Christians of their rights and lurid mischaracterizations of state sexuality education requirements. Among the speakers at that event was Hibbs, whose 15-minute speech packed “a day’s worth of whoppers,” according to Stewart.

Like Hibbs, Domen is a huge fan of President Donald Trump and sees a divine hand at work. Stewart quotes Domen saying, “I believe it’s also divine that we are powering up Church United at the same time that America is under new leadership.”