Pastor Artur Pawlowski from Calgary, Canada, has been arrested by a SWAT team on a busy highway for failing to close his church under Alberta’s strict Covid-19 health order.
Enduring rough treatment during his arrest, Pastor Artur is now in jail, where he has been deprived of contact with his lawyers. According to Rebel News, the pastor has been forced to endure a sleepless night while lights remained on in his cell throughout the night.
Pastor Artur has not been accused of any crimes, but he has continued to run church services at The Fortress (Cave) of Adullam congregation. Within just kilometres of his parish, hundreds of customers can still freely browse stores like Costco and Walmart under the same health order.
This is not Pastor Artur’s first brush with the Canadian authorities since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. In April 2020, he was issued a $1,200 fine for feeding the homeless outside in the snow, instead of remaining indoors. Artur has been presented with various awards for his civil liberties and humanitarian work.
Pastor Artur also made headlines in April of this year, when armed Calgary Police entered his church to shut down an Easter service.
A video went viral of him calling the police ‘Nazis’ and ‘Gestapo’, demanding they leave the church property and only return once they had obtained a warrant. “This is a place for worship and no place for weapons,” Artur told reporters. “We have people praying here. They were scaring the kids. This was Passover. This is Easter.”
Artur Pawlowski grew up in Poland under communism. His grandparents lived under the Nazis. “My family escaped the communists in Poland and first went to Greece and then to Canada to get away from it,” he explained to reporters after that incident. “There were millions of Jewish people murdered in Poland, including at Auschwitz.” Pawlowski became a Canadian citizen in 2004.
During a jailhouse interview following his recent arrest, Pastor Artur said,
I’m in good spirits, I’m not going to quit. They will not silence me. I will keep doing what I’m doing, because if I don’t have freedom, then I have nothing else. If we don’t have freedom to worship our God, then what else do we have?
The Fortress (Cave) of Adullam is not the only church to have been impacted by Canada’s inconsistently severe health orders. GraceLife Church, also located in Alberta, is now meeting in an undisclosed location, after its facilities were barricaded by officials and its pastor spent over a month in a maximum-security prison.
I'm aware of 6+ churches first hand that now meet underground in Canada.
— Colin Lundstrom (@ColinLundstrom) May 9, 2021
Christians will react differently on hearing of pastors arrested and churches forced underground in a Western nation like Canada. Some may instinctively fear that “the end is nigh” and that widespread persecution is just around the corner. Others will dismiss these stories as a measured response from authorities against congregations and spiritual leaders who refuse to cooperate with temporary measures for the “common good”.
Both reactions miss the mark in different ways. In all likelihood, once Western governments no longer have Covid-19 as an occasion for these health orders, church life will return to something approaching normality. I will of course happily eat my words if this is not the case.
But on the other hand, the Bible does command us to sing God’s praises “in the assembly of the faithful” (Psalm 149:1), and to “not neglect our meeting together” as believers (Hebrews 10:25). Nowhere does Scripture provide an exception to this — whether due to political persecution or public health orders.
Indeed, if the will of God and the will of man come into conflict, we are told to “obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). In all of this, we are still commanded by God to love our neighbour and our enemy—which includes taking sensible precautions not to inflict harm on anyone.
What many Westerners do not have access to is the experience of life under totalitarian rule, like Pastor Artur Pawlowski and his family have endured. Countless people who escaped the authoritarian regimes of the 20th century testify that it was far easier to “go along to get along” under those regimes than it was to resist and stand up for righteousness, no matter the cost.
As this unfolds, it will be tempting to dismiss early dissenters as quacks and belligerents who deserved what was coming to them. In every such case, there will be reasons aplenty we could provide for why authorities got it right and Christians could have done better.
We saw this with Israel Folau, when too many Christians lined up to criticise him for his tone or delivery, but failed to stand up for his fundamental and hard-won freedoms. This dishonours our fellow man — and God Himself, in whose image we’ve all been made.
Freedom — whether freedom of speech, conscience, assembly, or religion — is not something provided to us by the powers that be. No government can give us our freedom or take it away: the government’s role is merely to protect our God-given freedoms.
In the words of the American sage Benjamin Franklin,
“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”
From a civil perspective, humans are born free, regardless of what any person or parliament decides.
Unless we want to see history repeat itself, we must remember and guard this truth wholeheartedly.