Over 2,000 years ago, the great Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
As a rabbi in Westlake Village (a suburb of Los Angeles), I am proud to call Pastor Rob McCoy, the pastor of Godspeak Church in Newbury Park, not only a colleague in the area but a dear friend. We have spoken at each other’s houses of worship, attended each other’s social events, and have a deep mutual respect and caring. As of Friday, August 7, my friend and his congregants have been attacked. It is time for us all to come together and take a stand.
If I am only for myself, what am I?
Like our synagogue (which is much smaller, and always does its summer services outdoors in a park to enjoy nature), Pastor McCoy’s church has been open. Their community has stayed available to service congregants in any way, and to provide a home for prayer and pastoral care. But the Governor of California has made it more and more difficult for any of us to observe our faith traditions by first making it illegal to sing during prayer services, and then making it illegal to even have indoor religious services. Now, after many weeks of holding live services, the Ventura County Supervisors led by Linda Park have attacked and targeted Pastor McCoy’s church, obtaining an “emergency temporary restraining order” to prevent the congregation from worship. This is an attack not just on the church, but on all houses of worship and communities.
And if not now, when?
Pastor McCoy, with the unanimous approval of his church’s board, is choosing to keep the church open in defiance of the county orders. His community will gather together in prayer this Sunday, aware that they may each receive infraction citations which would include fines and go on their records; and ultimately could lead to jail. But the pastor, like all people of faith, knows that we all answer to a higher law, and every person of every faith tradition needs to support him and all clergy who are choosing to place worshipping God above all else.
Is the “law of the land” always the real law?
Judaism has an ancient concept of “dina d’malchuta dina,” “the law of the land is the law.” This concept is that as people of faith, we are to respect and abide by the secular law of the land in which we inhabit. But the concept is a specific one: this is only when the local law and government are “righteous” (“malchucha tzadika”), which thank God, America has always been. It is profoundly sad, but Governor Newsome’s draconian orders; the continual attacks on faith from the government in violation of the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause; and this latest “emergency order” from the Ventura Supervisors has now thoroughly established that Ventura County and California are no longer “righteous,” and it is the religious obligation of every person of faith to follow Pastor McCoy’s example by rejecting them in favor of God’s law.
Pastor McCoy and his community are doing what all people of faith need to do at this time: practicing their religion despite what the local laws may currently say. I cannot express how sad I am that it has gotten to this point, but all Jews and Christians of all denominations must now take a stand for religious liberty and the protection of all people of faith.
Like Pastor McCoy, I and other clergy have been attempting to fight Gov. Newsome’s authoritarian orders through the courts with the guidance and help of The Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a non-profit law firm that represents religious communities and schools pro bono (see more on this supporter of religious rights). But while we continue with this process through the courts, we must also all take action.
I pray that each of us of whatever religion goes to our clergy and asks them to fight for the protection of religious rights in all states of this nation. This attack on religion under the guise of Covid-19 protection started many months ago in the city of San Francisco and has extended throughout the States of California and New York into an attack that exists throughout the nation. All people of faith must unite with one another at this time, support each other in whatever way needed, and work together towards making the Establishment Clause a reality once again.
No longer can we ignore the words of Rabbi Hillel, and separate ourselves from others from different faiths. We must stand together, realizing that all people of faith have more in common with each other than they do with politicians attempting to destroy religious practice.
When a Jewish community finishes reading a Book of the Bible, we collectively say “Be Strong, Be Strong, and We Will be Strengthened.” May we all go from strength to strength as we choose to act together as people of faith; supporting the journey of all clergy and houses of worship of any and every faith who are acting in harmony with the law of God, even if it is currently in contradiction with the laws of man.
Rabbi Michael Barclay is the Spiritual Leader of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, CA. (www.NerSimcha.org) and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together”. He can be reached directly at [email protected], and followed on Facebook at facebook.com/Rabbi.Michael.Barclay