At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches were some of the hardest-hit institutions in terms of crowd controls. Men and women were forced out of their places of worship by onerous government-imposed shutdowns, and it seemed like they were subject to additional restrictions that secular operations like liquor stores and massage parlors weren’t.

In a nation that finds itself increasingly separating from the biblical principles that were the basis of its founding, those church shutdowns were devastating.

Grace Church, in Maryland Heights, Missouri, is one church that has decided to take a stand against COVID-19 restrictions—and against the drift away from biblical values.

Marty Haas, a biblical counseling pastor at Grace Church, joins the show to discuss the efforts his church is making to steer America back on track.

We also cover these stories:

  • During a U.N. Security Council meeting, Russia accuses the U.S. of “whipping up hysteria” over Ukraine.
  • Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., criticize former President Donald Trump for suggesting that then-Vice President Mike Pence should have overturned the 2020 presidential election results.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom, attending the 49ers-Rams NFL playoff game, is photographed not wearing a mask.

Listen to the podcast below:

Douglas Blair: My guest today is Pastor Marty Haas, a biblical counseling pastor at Grace Church in Maryland Heights, Missouri. Pastor, welcome to the show.

Marty Haas: Oh, thank you. Glad to be here.

Blair: Of course. I want to talk to you today about how your church has been affected by the pandemic, both the virus itself and the response. So, to start out, how did the early days of the pandemic affect your church?

Haas: Well, at the very beginning before there was any talk about government-enforced lockdowns, we actually discussed whether we would want to close down the church and not have services for like two weeks because that’s what they were initially talking about: “It’s going to take two weeks. If everybody just stays home.” And there were no mandates, but we said, “Let’s look at that.”

And we were debating that and talking to other churches, seeing what they were going to do. And then all of a sudden, before we could move forward with what we were going to decide, they instituted the first lockdown in our area. So, that was really odd for us.

Now, we were already having our services broadcasted online, so that didn’t catch us by surprise. We were prepared there. But we had no idea it was going to go so long and that it was going to become such a divisive issue.

Blair: How did your parishioners respond to the initial pandemic? Were they scared? Were they saying, “We need to keep going in person”? Were they wanting to shift to virtual?

Haas: I don’t think anyone had a big problem with going virtual for a short term, but what became a problem for us and so many other churches is that the lockdowns were getting to be so long and people were getting so scared that everybody’s wanting to do just virtual. And then it became hard to come back together again.

A lot of us were eager to get back. A lot of us came back right away as soon as we could, but others were like, “Oh, this is nice.” They don’t have to get dressed in the morning. And that’s becoming a problem because church is about more than simply hearing worship and hearing the teaching. It’s about the relationships and the interactions, the encouragement that we can give to one another. And that doesn’t happen through online church.

Blair: That sounds like you’re still having that issue.

Haas: Well, yeah, our attendance has not come back up to what it used to be. We’re doing pretty well. I’m not going to complain about it. We’re doing pretty well, but we want to reach everybody. We want to get the people who used to be here back and we want to reach more people. And the fear is an issue there.

Blair: At the outset of the pandemic, houses of worship were often specifically targeted by government officials as being nonessential. And a lot of these restrictions that we saw on nonessential businesses, like very heavy capacity restrictions, or inability to open at all, were being very specifically targeted toward churches. How did it make you feel that the government didn’t view worship services as essential?

Haas: Well, I think it’s very telling about the attitudes of those who are in power and making those calls. They are very focused on economics and they’re very focused on very specific economics, aren’t they? It’s amazing that they would have liquor stores open, “Oh, that’s essential,” but churches are not.

And what we have quickly seen happen and seen verified by others outside the church itself is that we were much more essential than they were willing to admit.

Having everybody locked down at home, we started seeing the problems with suicide and the problems with depression and other mental illnesses just skyrocketing.

So, places like church—where we not only get to interact in fellowship, but to encourage one another and give each other hope and build each other up and comfort one another—are critical and the government needs to recognize that. But it comes down to individuals who are in the government, individuals who are in power. And so, we want to pay more attention to who we’re electing.

Blair: And government wasn’t the only entity that seems to be targeting religious institutions, specifically your religious institution. In November of 2021, the church’s 11 a.m. message was taken down by YouTube for supposedly going against community guidelines around vaccine misinformation. Could you tell us about this incident and kind of what happened?

Haas: Yeah. There’s this longstanding belief that there’s a wall of separation between church and state that is designed in such a way by our Constitution to keep the church from getting involved in the state, but historically, that was never the case. That was not the intent.

If you go back and you look at it, the whole purpose of that was to keep the state from trying to tell the church what to do. If you read the works of our Founding Fathers, they actually were counting on the church being involved in government. They said that a government like ours could not exist without a moral people and a moral people could not exist without the church.

What’s happened is, as a whole in our country, most churches have backed off from ever touching anything that seems to involve politics. And we were guilty of that as well. But over recent years, we’ve been looking at what the government has been doing. And it’s clear that the government is the one that has stepped across that boundary and has moved into the realm of what is the church.

So when the government is promoting immorality, when the government is going against the biblical standards and trying to get people to go against biblical standards, it becomes the responsibility of the church. Not just the organization, but the individual members of the church as well to speak up and let the world know.

So we’ve been doing that and we’ve been talking about how so much of what’s happening with COVID, so much of what’s happening in our government right now is anti-biblical. And we just knew it was just a matter of time until we’d get censored and YouTube shut us down, as you pointed out. And I was surprised that they didn’t do it sooner and I’m surprised that they haven’t done it since.

But we’ve seen it, not just with our churches. There’ve been some other churches, a lot of nonprofit organizations who are on the conservative side are being silenced by the social media outlets. Just look at what Facebook is doing to individuals on a regular basis, putting up all these warnings on their posts. There is a concerted effort to silence the conservative voice, which arises out of Christianity.

Blair: Did YouTube ever end up putting the video back up or is it still down?

Haas: That’s a good question. Quite honestly, I haven’t gone back and looked to see. As far as I know, they’ve not put it back up.

Blair: I’m curious because you mentioned in your last response that one of the things that we’re dealing with right now is a culture that is contrary to biblical principles, that there’s a lot of stuff going on in our state right now that runs contrary to the founding principles that are based in biblical principles.

Would you be able to elaborate on some of those aspects of our culture and of our state that are, in your opinion, contrary to biblical principles?

Haas: OK, let’s go back to one of the oldest ones that we’ve seen as a political force, and that’s the abortion issue.

Abortion is clearly murder. If you look at the science of it as it exists today, we now know that the moment the sperm enters the egg we have a new human life. It is not simply tissue. It is a separate life, indistinct or very distinct, I should say, from the mother.

So when the state is promoting abortion and when they’re fighting and trying to label it “reproductive rights,” it’s not about reproduction. It’s against reproduction. It’s a killing of a human life. That’s immoral and that’s unbiblical. The Bible’s very strong on being pro-life.

Then what’s much more recent is what we’ve seen happening in terms of sexuality. When I was growing up, you would never have expected that people would come out of the closet like they have on homosexuality. That was considered by the vast, vast majority of Americans to be a perversion. They saw it as a mental illness. The American Psychological Association considered it a mental illness.

But not only has homosexuality come out of the closet, now it’s a pride thing where they’re trying to force us, who believe it is a sin, to not only say it’s not a sin, but to celebrate it and promote it as equal to heterosexuality, to take away from it all the stigma and the moral issues regarding it.

Then from there, they’ve moved into the transvestite thing. Notice how it went from homosexuality, just one word, to LGBQ+A. I mean, it just keeps expanding.

And now they’re trying to go into the schools and they’re trying to tell our grade school children, not only that homosexuality is OK and that it’s a good thing, “And maybe you’re homosexual, you little 5- or 6-year-old kid.” And now they’re trying to tell him, “Oh, maybe you’re not even a boy. Maybe you’re a girl. Don’t look at what your biology tells you.”

And this is very, very sacred to God, the way he’s made us. And this is obviously a parent’s domain. This is their right to interact with their child on these issues. Not the right of the state.

You’ve probably heard about what’s happened recently in one school, I believe it was in California, where the teachers were working with a little girl who was under the age of 10, I believe. And they were telling her, “Oh, you’re really a boy.”

And they’re doing all this secretly, without telling the parents what’s going on, until they finally bring the little girl’s mother in and try to tell her that, “Your daughter’s really a boy.” And that has become a problem, not just there, but that soon we’re going to be seeing that everywhere.

Blair: Now, Pastor, we just had the March for Life here in D.C., and there was a massive crowd. So on abortion, it seems like there is movement in the other direction. It seems like a lot of parents who are becoming aware of these gender ideologues in schools are coming out and saying that it’s not acceptable for schools to be teaching this type of content.

With all of this in mind, do you see that our culture is going in the right direction? Or do you think we need to do more? How do you view our culture as moving back toward biblical principles?

Haas: I think it would be wonderful if we did, but quite frankly, I’m not sure that that’s happening. I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

On the issue of abortion, we have spent how many decades now working to move the culture on that? And we’re succeeding somewhat there. Although, I’ve heard young people tell me, “Why don’t you drop that? That’s a done deal. That’s already over. That fight is already lost.” And it shocks me to hear people say that.

But there’s a young man in his early 30s who was saying that to me a few years ago when he was like 28, 29 years old. He was saying, “That issue’s over.” And I’m like, “No, it’s not.”

But these other issues are brand new and we are moving in the wrong direction. And it’s the youth because they’ve moved into the grade school, high school, and college campuses. And they’ve been indoctrinating our kids at those ages when they’re the most vulnerable, when they’re the most malleable. And so, they’re getting them to think this way.

And I think it could take quite a while before those young people have been around long enough to start seeing the fruit and to really recognize and admit to the fruit of these doctrines that they’ve been taught.

Blair: I want to return to the topic of censorship. Obviously, we talked about your video that was censored by YouTube, but this is clearly not just happening with your church. Other organizations have also been censored for “COVID-19 misinformation.” Have you had the opportunity to talk with other faith-based organizations that have been censored?

Haas: Honestly, I have not. I’ve read about them online. I do a lot of reading and try to keep up with it there, but I haven’t spoken with any.

But yeah, the censorship issue is really fascinating because what you’ll see happening is they’ll actually censor somebody and call it misinformation when the person is quoting directly from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] itself.

When they find that the CDC has made statements that are going against the current COVID dialogue or narrative, then they’re being silenced. Doctors have been silenced. Nurses have been silenced. Some of the best experts in the fields are being silenced. And so, it’s not just churches that are facing this.

Blair: Right. One of the things that’s really interesting about Grace Church is that it has two campuses. There are two separate buildings that are in two separate states. One, the main building, is in Maryland Heights, Missouri, and the other one is in Illinois.

Have you noticed that there is a difference in how those two churches have been treated vis-a-vis the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of restrictions, in terms of attendance, in terms of sort of the other aspects of in-person worship?

Haas: Oh, absolutely. Illinois is much stricter than Missouri is. Illinois was really clamping down hard. So we know that the churches over on that side have had a harder go of it.

What’s interesting, though, to me too is we are in St. Louis. We’ve got the Missouri River next to us and we’re in St. Louis County. But if you cross the river, now you’re in St. Charles County, both in Missouri.

And in St. Charles County, it’s very, very free. It’s very open. No restrictions. No mask requirements. In St. Louis County, you cross that river and suddenly you’re entering COVID territories. Somehow it’s super dangerous to be on this side of the river. And then if you cross the next river into Illinois, it’s even worse.

So it really is going to vary from one political area to the next.

Blair: What exactly are some of the restrictions on your church right now?

Haas: That’s a great question because, quite frankly, we have just come through a political thing in St. Louis where we had the governor saying that the local governments cannot impose mask restrictions and all this. And Sam Page, who is the executive director of St. Louis County, was doing it anyway. And it became a legal battle and the courts just sided with Sam Page.

So there is a mask requirement right now in St. Louis County, but I don’t know if anybody’s really imposing it. I can walk into stores and they’re ignoring it and we’re ignoring it here at the church.

There was a very strong restriction on the number of people we could have in. We were only allowed to have 20—and this is interesting, we can have 25% of our auditorium capacity. That’s what we were allowed to have in a while back, but that was lifted and has not been re-imposed.

I think people are so burned out on these restrictions that the politicians are going to find it harder and harder to impose new ones.

Blair: Have you visited the church in Illinois and found there are similarities in how the restrictions are sort of harsh there as well?

Haas: They are harsh there, but quite frankly, they’re ignoring them. So we haven’t been busted for it. Now that you’re asking me this on air, maybe we’ll be. But we have just kept our heads low and been going about business as usual.

Blair: What has been the response from parishioners to some of the more assertive political messaging that you’ve had on these topics like abortion, gender ideology, and of course, COVID-19?

Haas: And let me throw another one in there for you, and that’s the whole race issue. The Black Lives Matter movement and the critical race theory. That critical race theory thing is what really got us going because we are a very interracial church.

The racial makeup of our community is actually lower than what the racial of makeup of our church has been. We’ve had other pastors who’ve come to visit us and they’ve always been amazed at how much of a great interracial mix-up we had here. And they ask us, “How did you do it?” And we tell them, “We didn’t. God just did this.”

We’ve had people tell us, “You need to have an African American on your pastoral staff since you have so many African Americans.” And our response is “No, we will have on our staff whomever God calls.” And it doesn’t matter to us if everyone in our staff is African American or if no one is. And so sometimes we have, sometimes we haven’t.

But when this critical race theory stuff came out, at first we were blindsided by it. And then when we started finding out what it really was teaching, we spoke out against it and we had a huge, huge backlash in our church and we’ve lost a lot of members over it because a lot of them don’t understand that this isn’t about racism. In fact, it is using racism to push Marxism. And what it’s really doing is trying to increase the conflict over race rather than to bring peace.

And so, we have lost a lot of members. We’ve also gained a whole lot of members. There are a lot of people who’ve gotten tired of going to churches where the pastors will never speak out on these moral issues. So they’ve started coming to Grace because they heard we were.

Blair: And none of the parishioners that left have realized that it’s not about racism and have come back? It’s kind of a done deal?

Haas: Oh, no. Some of them are coming back. Some of them are, absolutely.

And a good friend of mine who is a black man here at the church who is, oh, such a man of God, he’s been a leader in our prison ministry and he’s been faithfully serving here for decades. And he got on the phone and started calling some of his friends and saying, “Get back here.” He’s like, “What are you doing?”

And it’s not just African Americans who’ve left the church. It’s a lot of Caucasians as well because nobody wants to be a racist. And nobody wants to feel like they’re being a part of an organization that’s racist.

And until we can get them to recognize that this isn’t racism, until we can get them to actually stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute. Be objective. Just be objective. Have you ever witnessed racism here? Have you ever experienced it here? Have you seen anything but love here and acceptance and unity?”, until they start to recognize that, they’re buying into what our culture has been selling.

That’s something we just have to keep pushing forward and praying and educating people about. And so that’s what we’re doing.

Blair: You’ve given quite a few examples of how these New Age sort of ideologies like critical race theory, for example, are very divisive. I want to take a look at the sort of larger picture here. What are the stakes if our culture doesn’t shift back toward traditional morality?

Haas: We are going to see, first of all, a wider and wider gap. We talk about how polarized our government is, how much division there is between the left and the right. That’s not going to go away. That’s going to increase.

Obviously, there have been some radical voices out there talking about civil war, and I’m not pushing that, but I am saying that we’re not going to be united as a country anymore.

We’re going to see more and more of a push by the individuals who do not believe in tolerance. They’ve redefined tolerance. Tolerance no longer means that you accept somebody else’s differences. It’s, “No, you have to be believe what we tell you to believe or you’re not tolerant.” Well, those people are going to be pushing to change the Constitution. I’ve heard talk about that.

They’ve done interviews with some young people and asked them what they feel about the First Amendment. And we’re hearing more and more people saying that they don’t agree with the First Amendment anymore. They believe that speech should be controlled, that there should be more controls on that.

And that sounds great when you are the one who gets to control it. But when you’re not the one in control, “Oh, well, wait a minute, wait a minute. I didn’t mean that. You shouldn’t be able to control my speech.” And we’re going to be seeing that happening if we’re not careful as a country.

Blair: So, given that this is a huge issue and this has massive consequences for the country at large, what do we do?

Haas: Well, as Christians, we need to do several things. No. 1, we need to be praying. There is power in prayer. No. 2, we need to be speaking up with our family and friends in a very soft, gentle, but informed way. We need to be courageous enough to tell them that we don’t agree with them on some issues, even if we don’t feel like we can win arguments.

My wife taught me this. She is one of my greatest teachers. When it came to raising our kids, she said, “You don’t have to sit there and argue and argue with them. Just tell them what you think, give them your best explanation why, and then let it go, and know that they heard you.”

And sometimes you’ll do that and your kid will just kind of roll their eyes at you and tell you how stupid you are. And a week later, they’re making your argument with their friends. And it’s not just for parenting. It’s not just with kids. It’s with our neighbors. It’s with our Facebook friends.

I often hear people say, “You never win an argument, Facebook is no place to make these arguments. You don’t win them. Blah, blah, blah.” I don’t disagree with people and have debates with people on Facebook because I’m trying to win them. It’s all the people who are reading the back and forth who haven’t made up their minds that you’re influencing. And if you just stay silent, then they just assume that you agree with the people who are on the other side.

We need to be involved as voters, especially in local races, especially school board races. Those are the kinds of races that we have always ignored because we don’t know who these people are. It’s just the school board, but that’s where it begins. That’s where the indoctrination begins. And so, we need to start getting involved.

Blair: All right, well, as we wrap-up this interview, I want to give you a chance to maybe give our listeners a place to find your church and what the church is doing. So is there a website that they can visit?

Haas: Sure. They can find us at GraceSTL, that’s short for St. Louis, .org.

Blair: Excellent. That was Pastor Marty Haas, a biblical counseling pastor at Grace Church in Maryland Heights, Missouri. Pastor, I really appreciate your time.

Haas: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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