Churches, synagogues, and other places of worship faced extraordinary challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in liberal states such as California.
Rob McCoy, senior pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks in California, joins a bonus episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about how he kept his church open during COVID-19 amid the restraints imposed by the state government led by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat.
“When COVID came out, and the governor declared that the church is not essential and wouldn’t allow us to do Communion during our Holy Week, [from] Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, I refused to adhere to that,” says McCoy, also a former mayor of Thousand Oaks and a member of the City Council, adding:
So we followed [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] standards, we did Communion service, and I resigned from my council seat because I knew they’d have to censure me and they weren’t going to uphold their oath of office to the Constitution.
Listen to this bonus episode of the podcast or read the lightly edited transcript below to find out what happened next.
Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks in California. Pastor McCoy, thank you for being with us.
Rob McCoy: Thanks, Rachel. And I, unlike you, I have a face for radio, but you don’t. You should be on television.
Del Guidice: Oh, my. You are kind. I want to talk about what happened at your church during COVID-19. You had a situation [in California] where churches could be shut down and you did something a little bit different to address that. Can you tell us about what happened?
McCoy: In April of 2020, I was a sitting [Thousand Oaks] City Council member. I just finished my term as mayor. We’d had the Borderline [Bar and Grill] shooting where 12 of our young people were killed in a country-western dance hall. Two of them were from my congregation. So I love my city. And when COVID came out, and the governor [Gavin Newsom] declared that the church is not essential and wouldn’t allow us to do Communion during our Holy Week, Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, I refused to adhere to that.
So we followed CDC standards, we did Communion service, and I resigned from my council seat because I knew they’d have to censure me and they weren’t going to uphold their oath of office to the Constitution. And we did Communion. And then when the riots happened in LA, where 75% of the businesses that were burned and looted were Jewish-owned and targeted. And the governor embraced it, shoulder to shoulder, no masks. We realized then, now knowing the data, [and] we opened the church wide on May 31. And then in August, we didn’t have a single case of COVID.
In August, they set an emergency temporary restraining order on us, citing me and a thousand congregants or visitors to our church. And they got a judge who is political and predictive to give them the restraining order. It was a 3-2vote on the supervisory board. And we opened [the church], we violated the restraining order. I was brought to court and went before the judge and they gave us fines.
Every Sunday, we were open and we accrued hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. And I just told [the judge], I said, “I’ll see the inside of a jail cell before you’ll see a penny of that money.” And we stood in opposition, and then finally they dropped their suit because they knew they had no grounds. We have a 99-plus percent [COVID-19] survival rate in our county. And when I stood before the judge, [there were] a little over a hundred deaths, tragically, in our county, but only two of them of all the victims, only two died from COVID. The rest died with over three comorbidities per patient.
You know, folks say that I don’t love my neighbor because I’m subjecting them to this virus. And the reality is the virus doesn’t merit what the governor did, nor would our supervisors did. I do love my neighbor. I love those who’ve been … the abused who’ve been quarantined with their abuser. The elderly who’ve had to die alone. The children whose schools have been shuttered when more kids have drowned in bathtubs than died from COVID. And the 65% of the businesses in our county that will never reopen because of this tyranny from our governor and our supervisory board.
And we did a cross-complaint. They tried to pay us off this month to make us go away. And we said, “No, we’re still pursuing it. We want to see the documentation, how they can justify what they did to our citizenry.” I love my neighbor. I’m contending on their behalf, and it’s coming at a cost.
Del Guidice: So what is the next step forward in that situation? What do you expect to happen next? And what will that look like?
McCoy: Well, tyranny will take whatever you give them. And liberty is not man’s idea. It’s God’s idea. And unless the church awakens and realizes that we are the force to contend with tyranny that seeks to enslave people. Matthew 16:18, when Jesus says to Peter, “Upon this rock, I’ll build my church.” Everyone says “church,” [but] the word was translated by Tyndale [in the Bible] as “assembly” because Jesus coopted a secular term that existed hundreds of years before he invoked it. … He didn’t say synagogue or temple. He didn’t use a religious term. The word translated as ecclesia or ecclesia existed hundreds of years before that.
In the Greek world, it was where the citizens of the city-state would gather to contend for the welfare of their community. It’s the public square, and the gates of hell will not prevail. So when they see to enslave the citizenry of the freest nation on the face of the earth, it’s the church that has to stand in opposition because liberty is not man’s idea. It’s God’s idea. And he’s come to set the captives free. And finally, the Apostle Paul said in Galatians: “Stand fast for the liberty for which Christ has set you free.” He wrote that in prison. If you don’t contend for liberty, you won’t have freedom. Freedom’s having choices, liberty’s doing what’s right.
Del Guidice: Speaking of freedom and tyranny, what is your perspective, big picture, on the state of religious freedom in this country?
McCoy: It’s under attack. We have the First Amendment. And if you look at Canada, their religious freedom is outlined in their documentation, it’s just as strong as ours. And we’re watching their pastors being in prison and put in solitary confinement. If [you] think that’s not coming to America, you’re sorely mistaken. It will.
And unless God’s people stand, this is going to be a revolution of ideas. It need not go to what we had for a War of Independence against tyranny. We can stop it with ideas and contend for it. But if the church, at least 25%, don’t wake up and push back, we’re going to lose it. It’s not going to happen in my lifetime. I’m not going to let it happen. I’m willing to give up everything for the sake of my kids and my grandkids.
I’m 56. I’m on the downhill side of life. I’m not going to live to 112, I don’t think. But I look at you, you’re young and vibrant and you have this heart for the nation. I’m contending for your generation. We have to leave it better than we found it. And that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. There’s nothing you can take from me [that] I haven’t already given. Take my house, take my church, imprison me. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to stand for liberty because that’s essential for mankind.
Del Guidice: What we’re seeing as you mentioned in other countries, we look at Canada and pastors … I mean, at least [some] churches have been closed, I think some pastors have been put in jail or at least called into … law enforcement offices. Given that Canada is so close to us, so much is going on there, really no one’s reporting on that. What does that say about where we could be headed?
McCoy: We had [Polish-Canadian Protestant street preacher] Artur Pawlowski [pastor of the Cave of Adullam congregation in Calgary] come and speak at our church. He’s the pastor that contended. He’s the one saying, “You Nazis, get out.” And he [has] that Polish accent. He experienced tyranny in Poland. He emigrated for freedom. He’s in Canada, proclaiming the gospel and they’re shutting them down.
They have [in Canada] actually a higher survival rate than we have in the United States. And they’re using this as weaponry for domination, to silence truth. And the only way that can do that is through censorship, because a lie can’t contend with the truth. So first you have to silence truth, and then you bring in your propaganda.
The church has to be the beacon of truth. We stand upon that. You’ll know the truth. The truth will set you free. Pastors have to be the bravest in the country to contend for their neighbors. If they truly love them, they’ll fight for freedom.
Del Guidice: We see people in leadership going through [this], especially pastors, where maybe they’re afraid to speak out because they’re afraid of what the repercussions will be, or they’re having trouble finding [a] voice. What would your message be to pastors who are facing this tyranny, to find that voice?
McCoy: I understand that pastors are peace-loving, but they misunderstand that peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of Christ in the midst of the conflict. We must contend for truth. Jesus said, “I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.” The sword of Scripture, the word of truth, is sharper than a two-edged sword, able to divide the thoughts and the intents of the heart.
[Pastors] have got to stand upon these truths, no matter what the cost. And [they’re mistaken] if they think that they can comply and bow to tyranny, and [tyrants are in] some way going to yield and give them their freedoms. They’re here to take everything we have. They don’t care about your church. They don’t care about the word of God. They want you removed from the equation so they can have whatever utopia they think they can create.
But anywhere that socialism’s gone, it creates poverty and enslavement. And Jesus has come to set the captives free. And by the way, the constitutional republic we now enjoy, it was designed in the wilderness with 3 to 5 million Jews who were enslaved in Egypt, crying out to God for delivery. He sends Moses. Pharaoh contends, doubles the brick output, reduces the materials. All the people complain to Moses, want to kill him.
People want liberty. They just don’t want to fight for it. God still showed himself strong, vanquished Pharaoh’s army, got [the Jews] into the wilderness, [with] manna, water, all that stuff provided for. Clothes didn’t wear out. But Moses goes up on Mount Sinai, gets a downloaded moral app. He comes back down, implements it, teaches the children and puts it in the center of the community. And here’s the greatest miracle of all that I’ve listed: 3 to 5 million people live together for 40 years without a police force or a standing army, because from moral law comes civil law.
And you had the constitutional republic when Jethro said to Moses, “You need godly men who love the law over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens”—federal, state, county, local. And then the Constitution, that’s the republic. The Constitution comes when he gives the moral law. That’s the written documentation, the Ten Commandments. Shows us how to live together. Government is God’s idea. In the covenant, our responsibility as the imago dei, the image of God, is to allow people freedom to pursue excellence. And when we subject them to a government that takes their choices away, we got problems.
And in the United States of America—Romans 13, where it says “submit to authority.” Romans 13 is about submitting to authority. Let me tell you who the authority is in America. It’s the first three words of the preamble of the Constitution, “we the people.” They govern by our consent, and they are bound by the seven articles of the Constitution. And when they fail to honor that, it is our right and our duty to push back. And if we’re not doing that, we’re not good citizens. And we’re violating Romans 13.
Del Guidice: I know that some on the left, and maybe even some on the right, think: “Well, we don’t really face the threat to religious freedom in this country [and] we’re not going to be thrown in jail for our faith.” …
McCoy: We’ve already had pastors thrown in jail in Louisiana and Florida. In addition, not only did they subject us to only broadcasting via YouTube, now they censor us. If we don’t say what they want us to say, they take us off of YouTube. They’ve relegated us to video, and going to church on a video screen is like watching a fireplace on the internet. You can hear it and you can see it, but you can’t feel the warm. God says, “Do not forsake fellowshipping with the saints.” People need community. Immunity by community.
This is a gimmick. We know it’s a gimmick. Quit playing by their game and stand up and push back for the sake of your neighbor. If you love your neighbor, you’ll fight for their freedom.
Del Guidice: Let’s talk a little bit about the freedom to worship versus freedom of religion. Some people say, well, you can go in your church and you can worship behind closed doors. But once you’re out in the public square, you need to put that away and you need to just do what is dictated to you. Why is it important that we see this distinction?
McCoy: Show me in the Constitution where any governing authority has the right to tell [people that]. They don’t have that right. … And if they want to use an emergency order to do it, they’ve got to justify it. They don’t have the numbers to justify that. We are not going to be relegated [to inside a church].
It’s like in the scriptures, [about] a wife submitting to her husband. She’s not under obligation to submit to an abusive husband. She does that willingly by her own choice, just as a church submits to a government willingly. … They’re there for our good. When they cease to do good, they cease to be the authority in accordance with what [the Bible says].
And that’s what started the [American] Revolution. That’s what gave us a nation [with] 245 years of unprecedented freedom, because it was pastors who contended. When you look at [18th-century clergyman] John Peter Muhlenberg, whose brother was also a Lutheran minister and said, “Listen, you’re not submitting to authority.” [John Peter] says, “Why should we bow to King George?” His brother gave him grief until [the king] burned down Frederick Muhlenberg’s church. And then he joined his brother, John Peter. And Frederick Muhlenberg became the first speaker of the [U.S.] House.
So, yeah, ministers need to contend for liberty. And the government doesn’t have the right to subject us to being ostracized and alienated and quarantined. They don’t have that right. And you don’t have any of the data to prove that. The masks don’t prove it. The social distancing doesn’t prove it. There’s no science involved in that. The governor [Newsom] did a lockdown from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Are you telling me that the virus knows when 10 p.m. hits? Where’s the science in that stupidity?
And we’re looking at the numbers. They don’t add up. And now they’re enforcing the vaccination. Seriously. Their authority ends where my skin begins. They don’t have that right. And by the way, before God, I can do as I please and you want to inject me? Look, I’ve already had COVID and it was like a bad cold. … It’s dangerous to [those] 65 and older with co-morbidities, but to shut our schools and to quarantine the abused with their abusers, all the things that I share, it’s criminal what they’re doing.
We better wake up and realize this is a game and they’re using it to cause us to submit. And now in LA County, they’re forcing masks again. There is no data, no data out there at all, that justifies what they’re doing. They just want to muzzle us and distance us. That’s the whole job.
Del Guidice: You had mentioned the rate of suicides, people passing away because of COVID, all of the restrictions, and people not being able to go to school, so forth and so on. Are there any personal stories or things you’ve heard from others about hthe mental impact of the shutdowns on people? Can you share some of that?
McCoy: Absolutely. First of all, we’ve had the highest number of opioid overdose deaths in recorded American history in the last 12 months. That alone should be enough. What they’re not addressing is the emotional and spiritual consequences of these lockdowns. The depression is going through the roof.
What we’re seeing with child abuse cases already, a 300% increase in Ventura County alone. This is criminal what they’re doing, criminal. They need to be held accountable. Our children are paralyzed by fear and they’ve lost a year and a half of schooling for something that doesn’t merit what [government officials] have done. They have ruined our schools. They’re indoctrinating our children, and they’re using it to enforce whatever it is their utopia seems to be.
We’re not paying our tax money to be abused like that. They’re governing by our consent. We no longer give them consent. … We’re tired and America, listen, California’s waking up. Most people have written us off. We’re not done yet. We’re fighting back. The church is going to rise to this occasion.
Del Guidice: Big picture and as we wrap up, what would you say needs to be done to strengthen religious freedom in this country?
McCoy: Well, I’ll tell you right now, anyone who’s going to a church that’s not open, submitting to the masks and the social distancing, it’s time to find a new church. If your church is using their parking lot or their facility for vaccinations, find a new church. It’s time to vote with your feet.
Find churches that are contending against the tyranny. Support them because otherwise you’re complicit. Silence in the face of evil is complicit with evil itself. You can’t sit by and be a spectator. … This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And it will not perish from the face of the earth, as Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address. Folks, it’s time to take back the republic, and it’s time that churches realize that they are on the tip of the spear.
And if your church isn’t participating in that, find a new church. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the reality at this point.
Del Guidice: All right. We got a bonus question because you’re don’t probably align with most pastors in California, let alone just citizens, given that it’s a very liberal state. What kind of pushback personally do you get, and how do you stay true to your values given all the pressures you’ve likely faced?
McCoy: Well, the pushback obviously occurred early on when they’re saying, ‘Please don’t do this,” or “You’re outside the will of God,” or “You’re not submitting to Romans 13.” I’ve contended with all of that scripturally. I’ll take on any one of them, any day of the week. But here’s the kicker. They are being provoked to jealousy because the churches that have contended with tyranny have had exponential growth. Our church has grown 400% in six months. We’ve baptized more people in six months than the population of the church was six months ago.
All their churches: Last one out, turn off the lights. They’re done. And if they want to hear a message, the message is “Get a backbone and start doing what God’s called you to do.” Set the captives free, help these citizens, contend for your neighbor, love the citizenry and care about them, and do what’s necessary no matter what the cost. Because God hasn’t given you a spirit of fear, but the power of love and a sound mind. And you’re more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus. We’re not victims, we’re conquerors.
Del Guidice: We don’t have a better note to end on. That’s great. Pastor McCoy, thank you for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.“
McCoy: Thanks, Rachel. Hey, great questions. … I’m so grateful for what you do. Do not tire and grow weary in well-doing. You guys are lightning it up. God bless you guys. And thank you to all who are listening.
Del Guidice: Thank you.
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