A little over a month after the state imposed stringent “lockdown” policies in the name of combating COVID-19 — and after multiple failed attempts to get Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom to respond to requests for guidance — Pastor Jack Hibbs decided the best thing he could do in this time of national crisis was to give people in his community access to the most “essential” of institutions: the church.
On May 21, Hibbs and more than 1,200 other pastors in the state notified Newsom of their plan to reopen the doors of their churches by the end of the month. On May 31, Hibbs’ Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, along with hundreds of other churches in the deep blue state, did something that had somehow become an act of defiance — they offered people from the community a chance to worship together. The doors of Hibbs’ sizeable church have remained open since, with thousands of believers flocking to the place of worship every weekend. The outcome, Hibbs told me in a raw and revealing interview, has been the opposite of what state officials warned would occur. Reopening has resulted in countless lives saved — physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
When we first sat down for our recent hour-long discussion, it quickly became clear that Pastor Hibbs fears no question — in fact, he jumps at the chance to tackle the thorny issues, and he isn’t interested in soft-pedaling or platitudes. This is a time for direct speech and — particularly in the year of COVID-19 and widespread unrest — a time to embrace with even more vigor the biblical mandate to “cast out fear.”
The country in general and California in particular, Pastor Hibbs said, is at a “tipping point.” But rather than despair and the instinct to retreat which has overwhelmed so many, he explained, his Judeo-Christian worldview, grounded in Scripture, gives him a sense of hope. And that hope and action are being justified in real time.
Hibbs says he’s witnessed people seeking God in numbers he hasn’t seen in his community before, and he’s also seeing new levels of political engagement. “When you look around and see what I call the ‘catastrophe of everything,’ I have never seen interest like we do now,” he told me.
Asked about the accusation that it’s “anti-Christian” to hold worship services amid the pandemic, Hibbs pushed back.
“Christians will cite Romans 13; we are to obey the laws of the land. That is correct,” he explained. “If you want to read Romans carefully, it says that the authorities that are in power have been placed in power by God so that they may be ministers of what is good.”
“When Donald Trump asked for 15 days, we gave him 15 days. We submitted to the government,” he said. “We didn’t know what we had. We didn’t know what was going on. When Trump asked for another 15 days, we gave him another 15 days. For 30 days our doors were shut. When jurisdiction went to the governor, he refused to lead and would not give us the answers. We offered to even help him with the plan for the churches of California. He refused that offer.”
The various restrictions became “such a clear partisan thing” that it didn’t make any sense, said Hibbs. Meanwhile, people’s lives were on the line.
“We’re the ones dealing not with the politics but the fallout,” he said. His team couldn’t afford to miss “a single day of work — because we are the ones fielding calls from people in a panic.” Since his church has the financial means, “we kept people in their homes when they couldn’t make their payments.”
In a video he directed at the governor, Hibbs said he was inviting other churches in the state to join him in reopening “because the level of suicide, the level of counseling was higher than it’s ever been in 30 years for us.”
“Life is risky, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I’m not stupid. I love my people more than Newsom loves my people, so I want the best for them. I just know something that he doesn’t know — and that is the emotional, spiritual and mental welfare that people need.”
“We have shut down church. We’ve even debated if it’s essential or nonessential, which to me is a flawed argument because the church is transcendent,” he said. “And Jesus said, ‘Behold I’ve set before you an open door that no man can shut.’ It’s His church. So I personally believe that we’re actually saving lives because we’re preventing with hope teens from killing themselves — because that’s an epidemic right now — and people losing their families and their lives economically because we’re paying for a lot of stuff.”
“I get it. If you’re fixated on CNN’s version of Covid, you’re terrified of what we’re doing,” he said. “But if you look at the science, we’re doing the right thing.” Hibbs noted that the church has experienced “zero outbreaks.”
In pronouncing who is “essential” or “unessential,” Hibbs maintained, political leaders have done severe harm.
“Think of the psychological damage when you turn to that guy who’s built that company, and say that just because he’s only got seven employees and they polish hubcaps, Newsom doesn’t think it’s important. It’s that guy’s life. And you say, ‘You’re not essential.’ You’ve fed him a bullet to the mouth. You’ve insulted him, while all the while you’re taking the money out of his pocket, taxing him. And you tell him, ‘You’re worthless, so go home.’ I can’t think of anything more cruel — yet we’ve done it.”
Since reopening, some 10,000 congregants come to Chino Hills every weekend to gather together for its various services. The church recently held baptisms and saw an unprecedented 1,004 people publicly declaring their faith for the first time.
Church leaders have also witnessed a significant political response in the community. “We’ve never seen so many people register to vote and change their affiliation,” said Hibbs.
The reason, he suggested, is the downward trajectory of the Democrat-controlled state, which the pandemic has made only more dramatic.
“I believe California has hit rock bottom,” he said. “And people are saying, ‘This is enough.’”
The election, said Hibbs, is extremely important “because as much as the politics are important, California is going to make a decision about if it’s going to survive or not.”
“They’re already talking about inventing a COVID tax where they can recover what has been lost by the lockdowns,” he continued. “We’re fighting to protect our property tax here. And we’ve just heard from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors that their income as a county is down so much — as though they’re surprised— that they need to take emergency actions, and they’re going to be meeting to discuss what that means.”
“I’m a native Californian; I’ll tell you exactly what that means,” added Hibbs. “Under perpetual Democratic rule, it means taxes. … If there’s not a change, it will be a veiled social agenda which will result in taxing the wealthy and the middle class to death until it implodes. And the state might cry out for federal aid from time to time, but that’s going to dry up. That’s why I’m thinking we’re at the brink — it’s the tipping point.”
As an example of its failed progressive policies, Hibbs pointed to the state’s perpetual roadway problems. “The most taxed piece of content in America is California gas,” said Hibbs, yet on the freeways he finds himself dodging potholes and rubble and struggling to read decrepit signs.
“We were promised that through taxes we were going to maintain our highways — it’s never happened.”
Likewise, California’s schools are “supposed to be the best schools in the nation” due to the money flowing in from the lottery and other sources; instead, they’re forever failing. “It’s not that they underperform, they don’t perform,” he said.
“They pillage, they redirect,” he said of the state’s progressive lawmakers. “How can they do that? It’s because California is a state that’s governed by a supermajority with superpowers. Meaning they don’t have to take anything to the voter. The Democrat Party has absolute control and they can do things by fiat — and they do it, and they’ve done it. They’re passing laws and bills that make Californians cringe.”
But for those who want to see California turn around, said Hibbs, there have been some small glimmers of hope from an unexpected source: the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“There’s a strange thing that’s recently happened, where this monolith in which the deck has been so stacked against what is good or what is in any way constitutional in California, where, thank God because of Donald Trump, there has been some reappointments in the Ninth Circuit,” said Hibbs, who is a member of President Trump’s faith advisory team. “And because of that shakeup in the Ninth Circuit, there has actually been some decisions made regarding California that have been spectacular. That monolith that is California is starting to see some cracks in it; we’re seeing the opening throes, and it’s starting with the decisions of the Ninth Circuit.”
On a more national scale, Hibbs also sees several reasons for measured optimism. The polarizing nature of 2020 has made some formerly cloudy issues more clear. The oppressive instincts of many political leaders have been put on full display, as have the radical goals of some national groups, most notably Antifa and the leaders of the Black Lives Matter organization. In the process, many have come to recognize the increasingly troubling direction of the Democratic Party.
The official platform of the Democratic Party “has deliberately left God out,” said Hibbs. “I’m not picking on Biden, Harris, or anyone else. I’m talking about a document. This is their statement of faith, and they agreed that when we write this platform, we will not have God in it. Contrast that with the Republican Party, the platform of which specifically mentions God.”
The most important issue that differentiates the two platforms, he argued, is abortion. The Democratic Party is “hyper-active against the unborn child,” increasingly embracing abortion on demand and even abortion up until birth in some cases, he said.
Regarding Israel, while both parties say they support that crucial ally in the Middle East, “Which party actually does something about supporting Israel?” the pastor asked.
Perhaps most relevant to riot-torn 2020 are the two parties’ views on the nuclear family, he argued.
“The problem that plague many communities, particularly minority communities, is the dissolution of the family,” said Hibbs. “You look at anyone who has gone wayward, regardless of race, it is often the result of the absence of a father figure,” he said.
Hibbs is speaking from personal experience. He was deeply impacted by what he described as “an absence of fatherly input” in his life, which manifested early in his life “in anger.”
Both the Antifa movement and the Black Lives Matter organization are targeting all forms of traditional authority and order, including the family.
Speaking of Antifa’s anti-authority, anti-tradition message, Hibbs said he noticed “a sense of white supremacy” within the movement. “If you watch some of the police footage of the Seattle riots, you saw white males stoking the flames of black fear or black hurt or black anger. They stoked it. … Are you telling me Antifa cares about the lives of black people? Absolutely not.”
Antifa activists are taking advantage of various minorities — “almost as an insect might latch onto something as a host” — in order to push their radical agenda. “They’re being used as a slave trade operative to Antifa,” he said bluntly.
As for Black Lives Matter, Hibbs is careful to make a distinction between the general sentiment, with which everyone should of course agree, the well-meaning people who echo that sentiment, and the radical activists connected to the organization.
“Yes, black lives matter. Yes, there is an innocent group of people that have been swept up in that banner. But the actual organization behind the movement is evil,” he said. “It is an incorporated 501(c)(3) sucking hundreds of millions of dollars [in donations], and yet it is out to destroy the United States and the family and all that is good. And in the end it’s going to destroy the black family.”
“Look at the businesses that are being destroyed by this movement: it’s black businesses,” he underscored.
Fueling anger among many in the black community, Hibbs suggested, is the message promoted by those on the radical Left: that black people are bound to fail in America not just because the system is stacked against them, but because it is out to get them.
“You tell a kid you’ll never amount to anything. Well, guess what? You’re right.”
As a contrast to that hope-killing message, Hibbs cited the life story of Dr. Ben Carson, who rose out of extreme poverty and an illiterate family to become one of the greatest neurosurgeons in the world, as well as a presidential candidate.
All these cultural issues, he said, are also political. That’s why the uptick in political engagement is so crucial. We’ve all heard that we should “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and “to God what is God’s.” In the West, we interpret this as an argument for the separation of church and state, but Hibbs says we are getting exactly the wrong message from this famous passage. Jesus is saying that everything — Caesar, Rome, the government — is God’s. Christians should be more politically engaged, not less.
Asked if he thinks more Christians will vote for Trump this time around, Hibbs said, “Yes. There’s an amazing amount of people who are going to vote for him this time around in spite of his tweets because of his policies and what he has done.” Biden, said Hibbs, has simply been a “pawn to the party.”
As for the primary message he hopes to convey to people during this turbulent time, Pastor Hibbs said, “You cannot live your life fearful.”
“I’m a Christian and I know what God can do in someone’s life, and He can change your life,” he said. “I encourage everyone to look at the nature of God in the Bible. You will find out that He is literally for you. Jeremiah 29:11, God speaking: ‘I know the thoughts I think toward you, thoughts of good, not evil, to bring your life to a full and glorious completion.’ That dispels fear. People need to get their thoughts under control and throw off fear and embrace hope.”
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