By Jim Poling Sr.
The differences between being religious and being spiritual were never more evident than what’s been happening at Trinity Bible Chapel in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.
The church has held three inside Sunday services in defiance of Covid-19, Ontario law and a court order. Its leaders say that banning large inside gatherings during the pandemic is against the right to practice religion. Attending church is an essential service, they say.
So, protecting the right to attend church is more important than protecting the health of your fellow citizens. Which is fine if the Trinity Bible Chapel church-goers, most of them unmasked and not socially distanced in three recent indoors services, stayed inside for the next six months instead of going out into the community, heightening the risk of spreading COVID-19.
The church asserts on its website that restrictions on religious gatherings during a pandemic are an infringement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Pastor Jacob Reaume has said people fear COVID-19 because they don’t know “the love of Christ” who already has defeated death,
“The worst thing that can happen to me is that I die and go to heaven,” the Kitchener-Waterloo Record reported him telling an outdoor drive-in service this past Sunday.
Supporting Trinity Chapel is maverick politician Randy Hillier, a civil disobedience advocate banished from the Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus. He attended a Jan. 24 Trinity Bible Chapel service and proudly Tweeted about it.
He posted a photo showing dozens of unmasked people in the pews and commented that it was “a wonderful service this morning in Waterloo. It was a top shelf day.”
The selfishness of the Trinity Bible Chapel folks is more sad and more alarming to me because of a special anniversary this week.
This week marks the 78th anniversary of The Four Chaplains who went down with the U.S. troop ship Dorchester, torpedoed and sank by the German navy off Newfoundland, Feb. 3. 1943.
The chaplains, a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Methodist minister and a Dutch Reformed minister, gave their life jackets to soldiers who did not have them, then joined arms, prayed and sang hymns as the ship sank.
Their deaths were not acts of religion. They were acts of spiritualism.
Religion is belief and worship. Basic religion is about looking after yourself faithfully to gain God’s reward. Spiritualism is about looking after others.
Spiritualism is meaningful because its first priority is loving and caring about other people, all living things and the planet itself. It does not require being inside a religious building to understand and practice it.
The first people of North America understood this long before the rest of us arrived. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) creation story exemplifies the giving nature of spiritualism.
It tells of people who lived in the sky above the clouds because there was no earth below, just water. A hole appeared in the clouds and a young lady named Sky Woman fell through it, clutching a handful of seeds as she plunged downward.
Her fall was cushioned by water animals, who helped her onto the back of a giant turtle. Then a muskrat dived to the ocean floor and returned with a handful of mud, which Sky Woman spread on the turtle’s back and saw it grow into our planet.
The muskrat gave its life getting that handful of mud. Its dive to the ocean floor was so deep that when it returned to the surface, it tossed up the mud then, exhausted and out of oxygen, sank and drowned.
Sky Woman spread her seeds across the mud, then offered the fruits of her plantings to all creatures.
Both the Iroquois story of Sky Woman, and the heroism of The Four Chaplains are about giving and looking after each other. They are stories that should be told at Trinity Bible Chapel, and other churches serving extreme right wing religious groups.
How these people can defy Ontario law and pooh-pooh the health of their fellow beings is beyond my comprehension. Especially this week, the anniversary of The Four Chaplains.
And, especially because one of those chaplains – the Dutch Reformed minister – was the Rev. Clark Poling, my dad’s distant cousin, who was the last of a line of seven unbroken generations of seven Poling evangelical ministers.