By Dr. Donnie Lovette
Christian Action League
April 17, 2020
North Carolina is my home. I was born here, raised here, and except for 3 years of my life I have spent 58 years here. This state is important to me. I could live other places, but to me, North Carolina is the best place to live. From the mountains to the coast, God has blessed us with a beautiful array of nature.
The best part of North Carolina, however, is its people. North Carolina natives are generally cordial, often protective, but always willing to help others. When disaster comes, North Carolina churches always respond. That’s why I am so disturbed by the recent orders which have impacted the people.
The Covid-19 pandemic is certainly real. We are learning more about its origin, but the fact that it had caused deaths in many other countries made this a very serious threat to our country. The question that drove state executives to action was this: “How much of a threat is the virus to the US?”
First projections were that the virus could kill more than 2 million Americans. From that model health care experts recommended a national shut-down. Governors throughout the country immediately began signing Executive Orders limiting mass gatherings and shutting down all but essential businesses. Then, more restrictions came, not just from governors but from mayors and county commissions. These orders began to strangle our country, including our beloved state.
My first reaction was based upon the Governor’s order to limit the number of people in worship to 100. I told my church family, “This is a sad day in America. For the first time in our history it has become unlawful to worship if more than 100 gather.” That was bad enough, but it empowered the Chairperson of the County Commission to limit the number to 10, which shut down churches in our county. The Governor soon followed suit, and ordered the closure of many businesses deemed “Non-essential”.
I had a lot of questions. Who could call one business essential and another not essential? To that owner who had invested his life in building his business in NC that business was essential. To those workers who provided for their families through that business, it was essential.
Next, what happened to the Bill of Rights? The Constitution which guarantees our right to worship which includes gathering for worship was being ignored by state and local leaders. I wondered where my fellow pastors and religious leaders stood on this and the word I got was “Let’s just go along with this so that we don’t cause more harm than good.”
I wondered, “How many people in my state and area are dying from this disease?” I watched the numbers from the CDC and the NCDHHS. I asked them to give us the numbers of how many had recovered, and was told “that’s too difficult to tell.” But the New Hanover County Health Department could tell. They posted accurate information and showed that people were recovering. So, why were the numbers from the CDC and NCDHHS continuing to rise and not decrease as people recovered?
I still don’t know the answer, but I began to see that most counties in NC had relatively few positive cases. People were very afraid, but what was driving this fear? These numbers did not warrant the extreme measures taken.
I have never been one to write my politicians very often, but I began to call and send many messages to the President, Vice President, Attorney General, Governor, Senators, Mayors and Commissioners about the dangerous precedent which was being set.
I have nothing against anyone, but when one man in a state can order millions of people to stay at home, that’s too much power. When one man can stop churches from meeting, that’s too much power. When one man can close down some businesses and leave others open, that’s too much power. When one man in a state can throw away our rights guaranteed by the Constitution, that is way too much power.
Even if my NC Constitution gives the Governor the power to unilaterally act in this manner, it still violates rights guaranteed to ALL citizens of the United States. We should not forget what happens when Civil Rights are trampled. These rights were gained and have been defended by the blood of patriots, and they must not be disregarded, not even in time of crisis.
After destroying our thriving economy, we now see that the Cure was worse than the Disease. But it is too late. Our Government has learned that if it can call anything a “Health Crisis”, it can suspend our constitutional rights.
I submit that it is one thing to declare a state of emergency for a few days to fix roads and electrical lines during a natural disaster, but this has gone way too far. The wording of the law seems to be too broad. These orders, coupled with the constant media cry of “death, death, death” that we see in New York, has frightened so many of our people.
I minister to people who are afraid to step out of their homes. I am saddened by the people who are not even allowed to visit their dying loved ones in the hospital when the hospital has little or NO cases of the virus. It doesn’t make sense why a beach has to close when what people need more than anything is some fresh air and sunshine. Why would any leader who encourages exercise close parks? Fear has brought down our great state to the place of mourning and depression and I say we must never let this happen again.
God does not want His people to live in fear of anything. He said in His Word, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7 NKJV).
There is more at stake here than the physical threat of a coronavirus; there is a genuine threat to our emotional, economical and spiritual health. Most of all, there is a threat to the liberty which has made us the great nation we are today. It is a threat to individual liberty, as we have been divided from one another and from our Constitutional Rights as Americans.
I love North Carolina, but I do not love what has been done to us. I do not doubt that our leaders had good motives and were trying to protect us, but we cannot destroy some lives to protect other lives. What our leaders have shown is that they do not trust the people they serve. They do not believe we care enough to protect each other from harm.
Only two counties in NC have more than five Covid-19 related deaths, and 67 counties have 1 or less, yet we are under the same restrictions as some of the hardest hit areas of our country. Upon threat of prosecution we are forced to surrender our liberties because of the problem in other states.
I wonder what our nation’s founders would say if they saw us today. I wonder what Patrick Henry would say if he were in Raleigh for a protest against a governor’s order and he were told, “You are under arrest because protesting is not an essential activity.” I wonder if Patrick Henry would still respond, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Or perhaps Thomas Jefferson would remind us, “The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution.”
To protect Americans from any form of tyranny, the founders began the Bill of Rights with these words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This right has been ignored by the very people we have elected, and it must be regained, through legal and peaceable means, but regained none the less.
In a recent Statement of Interest our US Attorney General William Barr said, “There is no pandemic exception, however, to the fundamental liberties the Constitution safeguards. Indeed, “individual rights secured by the Constitution do not disappear during a public health crisis.” In re Abbott, — F.3d —, 2020 WL 1685929, at *6 (5th Cir. Apr. 7, 2020). These individual rights, including the protections in the Bill of Rights made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, are always in force and restrain government action.”
I am certainly not challenging the need for personal wisdom and restraint during this time. Washing hands and maintaining social distancing are common sense measures. If we are sick or prone to get sick we should stay at home. Our government should warn us, inform us, educate us, and provide resources through which we can protect ourselves, but not force us.
What I am challenging is the unilateral removing of our First Amendment rights. Can God work through a time such as this and through the mistakes that have been made? Of course He can, and I pray each day for President Trump, Governor Cooper, and other leaders that they will open our country and state and allow us, the citizens, to seek God’s wisdom and use our judgment in helping to rebuild. I also pray that the church will rise up and stand up for the rights we have seen trampled.
Perhaps it is time for a lot of God’s people to start communicating with their leaders just how they feel. I did, and although I may not have been heard, I at least tried.
So, today, I hope our NC General Assembly will take up this matter and do what is necessary to assure that no leader in our state can again close down churches and businesses and devastate families through orders that are more than temporary and cause suffering for millions of our fellow North Carolinians.
Dr. Donnie Lovette is currently the senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C. Prior to coming to Calvary he served as Senior Pastor at Parkdale Baptist Church in Salisbury, North Carolina, Southside Baptist in Abbeville, South Carolina, First Baptist of Oakboro in Oakboro, North Carolina and Hartis Grove Baptist in Indian Trail, North Carolina.