The congregation of GraceLife Church met in a secret location for its April 11 service after Canadian authorities blocked off the Edmonton church property with 10-foot-high fencing days earlier, effectively closing off the church from its own members to punish them for defying the government.
In a statement, Alberta Health Services said the church, which is ignoring COVID-19 restrictions, was being blocked off until church members can “demonstrate the ability to comply with Alberta’s chief medical officer of health’s restrictions.”
Albert has a population of 4.4 million, where the latest coronavirus statistics show the virus has infected fewer than five percent of Albertans and fatalities there are below one percent. Approximately a year after the virus hit, Alberta is still restricting churches to 15% capacity and requiring face masks, but Pastor James Coates (pictured below) and church leaders have been defying those orders for months. The church was fined last December for defying the 15% limit and Coates, who would surrender to police and go to jail a month later, was fined $1,200 but still refused to comply.
Reacting to GraceLife’s underground service, Brian Rushfeldt of Canada Family Action says Canada’s authoritarian tactics deserve to be compared to China, where churches meet in secret to avoid the Communist government and its raids, arrests, forced confessions, and even torture.
“It’s getting to that point,” Rushfeldt says, “that if we as Christians have to meet underground or in secret locations it very much is similar to what’s happening with the Red Chinese regime.”
Rushfeldt, who lives in Alberta, has told One News Now that Canadians’ legal rights to freely associate are guaranteed by the Charter of Rights, and Alberta’s health authorities are violating that charter.
Much like a Communist regime, Coates likely angered government officials when he attracted media attention and sympathetic admirers while sitting in a jail cell and being compared to a martyr and a political prisoner.
“This is definitely not the nation that I grew up in,” the pastor’s wife, Erin Coates, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson while her husband remained in jail. “For a while, I think our freedoms have just been slowly stripped from us, and so slowly over time that we didn’t even realize it.”
California pastor John MacArthur, who himself has fought his own state’s covid restrictions, praised the Canadian pastor who is a former member of Grace Community Church and graduated from its affiliated seminary.
Coates is sitting in jail “because he was faithful to preach the Word of God on a Sunday,” MacArthur told his congregation in a March sermon.
Praise for the jailed pastor likely grew even larger when the public learned a judge offered to let him go if he promised to abide by the health agency’s restrictions. Coates refused to do so, however, and back to the jail cell he went.
The charges against Pastor Coates were dropped in mid-March only for the police to show up with their fences three weeks later.
“Our liberal Red regime hasn’t started killing Christians yet,” Rushfeldt observes, “but certainly when they’re forced to meet in secret places it’s certainly moving towards the very same thing that’s happening in Red China.”