Two megachurches in California have decided to remain open for Sunday services with some safe-for-work joke stripteases, in a cheeky protest against the state's lockdown order, calling for the closing down of churches to stain the further spread of Covid-19 infections, while letting strip clubs and adult establishments stay open.
Pastor Jurgen Matthesius of Awaken Church in San Diego posted a video on Instagram of him taking off his tie in front of his congregation earlier this week.
"STRIP CLUBS (Not Churches) are exempt from the COVID lockdowns, and are deemed essential by our governor!" said Matthesius in his post.
"Soooooo... we decided we are NOW AWAKEN FAMILY FRIENDLY STRIP CLUB! (Where we strip the devil of his hold, power & authority over people's lives!)," the post added.
Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks had a similar "striptease" where he removed his tie in a November 22 service before blasting the government and calling Christians to preach the Gospel by defying government "tyranny" and contending for their neighbours' livelihoods in the public square.
"You're contending for the welfare and the concerns and the livelihood of your neighbors," said McCoy.
"Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Those that are abused are being quarantined with their abusers. The elderly are lonely and isolated for no reason. No one gets to attend the funerals of their loved ones ... it's our responsibility to support folks. We are finished with your tyranny," he added.
The 'temporary' strip club
McCoy and his church have faced numerous penalties for ignoring government orders in recent months.
In a ruling dated November 6, San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil granted a temporary restraining order on the state's cease-and-desist orders that banned strip clubs from providing live entertainment while churches were forced to remain closed.
In response to the decision, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said on Fox News that churches should reopen as a "temporary strip club."
"[Churches should] announce their pastor will remove his tie during the sermon, and therefore he will take off an article of clothing making it a temporary strip club so that people will be able to go to church," said Huckabee.
The tongue-in-cheek stripteases at the Awaken Church and Godspeak Calvary Chapel came after the San Diego Superior Court's November 6 decision, which allowed for strip clubs to reopen while churches remained closed.
Live entertainment is a constitutionally protected right
California Christians have been up in arms about the ban on in-person church services for months.
"There is a desperate need for the church with the brokenness within our community," senior pastor Matthesius told Good Morning San Diego earlier this month.
Under the county public health order, strip clubs are not allowed to operate.
In October, San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten issued cease-and-desist orders to such establishments to curtail the spread of COVID-19, saying such a measure is in line with the executive order from Governor Gavin Newsom.
However, two strip club owners brought the case to court. They filed lawsuits against the county's public health orders and accused the government of violating constitutional rights and equal protection under the law.
They argued that live entertainment is a form of constitutionally protected speech. They also stated they complied with the social distancing requirements as implemented by the California authorities. The business owners said they will suffer financial ruin if they face another shutdown.
The court sided with the business owners and ordered that Wooten's order be lifted temporarily.
California's covid-19 surge
The ruling was given even as San Diego went back to the most restrictive purple tier of lockdown amid increasing COVID-19 cases. California now has seven new coronavirus cases per day, and eight percent among those tested are positive. Once a county goes up to the purple tier level of COVID-19 cases severity, many non-essential businesses have to close.
Among the most affected by the closure are schools, where in-person classes are restricted, and churches, where in-person services are not allowed. Indoor restaurants are required to move their services outdoors. The government also instructed retail businesses to limit their capacities.