Stacey Shiflett — pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, Maryland — on Tuesday read from an "intimidating" cease-and-desist letter he said he received from Baltimore County's Department of Health and Human Services, warning that the church "could be subject to a fine of up to $5,000" if further in-person services were held in violation of executive orders.
Shiflett asked those watching the video to pray for him and the church in light of the developments, saying that he and other church members have had it with not being able to gather.
"We're not satisfied with teleconferencing and Zoom services," he said. "We want to go back to church the way God intended, the way our Constitution intended."
What happened next?
Well, Shiflett went right ahead and not only held a Wednesday night service for 100 attendees in the 600-capacity sanctuary, Fox News reported — but also he tore up the cease-and-desist letter in the middle of his sermon.
"Pharaoh doesn't get to dictate to God's people how they worship their God," Shiflett said with a raised voice. "God's the one that defines the parameters, God's the one that communicates his will and his plan for his church — not Egypt."
Image source: Twitter video screenshot
He then told the congregation that "the Bible says to the New Testament church 'not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, but so much the more as you see the day approaching,' and the closer we get to Jesus coming back, the more church we ought to be having, not less church!"
Then holding the letter aloft, Shiflett told the powers that be — in a manner of speaking — to let his people go.
Image source: Twitter video screenshot
"So I'm tearing up this cease-and-desist order right here," he said, "and I'm telling you right now, we're gonna do it God's way! ... God tells us how to worship him — nobody else gets to do that!"
https://t.co/klOrD2Bgn7— Stacey Shiflett 🇺🇸 (@Stacey Shiflett 🇺🇸)1590060140.0
What's the background?
Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan last Friday moved from a statewide stay-at-home order to a safer-at-home public health advisory in the continuing fight against the coronavirus, noting that churches and houses of worship "may begin to safely hold religious services, at up to 50 percent capacity, with outdoor services strongly encouraged."
But the reopening plan also "empowers individual jurisdictions to make decisions regarding the timing of reopenings" — and that spelled bad news for Calvary Baptist, as well as Friendship Baptist Church in Baltimore City, both of which are located in jurisdictions where officials are still adhering to a stay-at-home order that limits indoor services to just 10 people.
But both churches held services Sunday anyway under Hogan's directive — 50% capacity — and troubles soon commenced. While Shiflett was served notice by county officials, the Rev. Alvin Gwynn, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, pointed to a police car parked in front of his church that he said was meant to intimidate him and service attendees.
Image source: YouTube screenshot
"The city has no legal standing," Gwynn told WBAL-TV. "What are they going to do? Have officers come and take body cameras and record you and then go back and talk to their attorneys to see what they can do with them or not? That's nothing but intimidation."
Baltimore pastor again defies stay-home order youtu.be
'If we settle for permission, we will never have liberty again'
"Either we have liberty to worship, or we have permission to worship," Shiflett told Fox News in the aftermath. "It has become abundantly clear that if we settle for permission, we will never have liberty again."
He added to the cable network that other Maryland churches plan on reopening this Sunday over Memorial Day weekend and that organizers of a ReOpen Maryland freedom rally invited him to offer a prayer at the Friday event.
"We're challenging our local officials to render the church essential so we can get our doors back open," he told Fox News.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced Thursday morning that he would allow retail stores and some personal services to reopen Friday morning, WJZ-TV said, but the story doesn't mention churches.