A lot of ink has been spilled on this page about the September 2020 misdemeanor arrest of three Christ Church members for flouting a mask order in the early days of the pandemic. They allege their civil rights were violated and are pushing ahead with a lawsuit against the City of Moscow.
Maybe they will prevail, and the city will have to pay damages for the, uh, injury they suffered. Or maybe they will be laughed out of court.
Regardless of the outcome, no one should lionize them as champions of the First Amendment who stood firm in the face of tyranny. In fact they — along with many other Christ Church members — stuck their thumbs in the eye of civil society by standing shoulder to shoulder, unmasked, to sing in front of Moscow City Hall.
Never mind that the pandemic was new and little understood. Never mind that it was killing thousands of Americans every week. Never mind that funeral homes across the country were storing dead bodies in rented refrigerator trucks because their cremation ovens couldn’t incinerate them fast enough.
Never mind that many of us, on this side of the fragile line between life and death, were terrified the virus would kill us, too. (To date, COVID-19 has killed more than 1.12 million Americans.)
Never mind all that, because the warbling songbirds of Christ Church just had to stage their super-spreader psalm fest in front of city hall. Right then and there. Couldn’t hold God’s love inside any longer.
Talk about tone deaf.
Like many other cities across America, Moscow was trying to err on the side of caution by imposing mask and social distancing orders. Though extraordinary, those were small concessions to seek in the face of an enormous and fast-moving threat to public health.
The plaintiffs may prevail in their lawsuit and collect a fistful of public dollars, but they are not victims. Their intent was to provoke, so they selfishly exercised their rights as individuals while ignoring their responsibilities as citizens in a larger community.
We can pussyfoot around the issue, but there’s no hiding from the fact that an ambidextrous culture clash is simmering in Moscow. On the one hand, it is a classic college town that has attracted free-thinking progressives for generations. On the other hand, it is the locus of a burgeoning and repressive church that is steadily increasing its footprint.
Before anyone starts squawking about the word “repressive,” just consider the church’s retrograde stance toward the LGBT community. Want proof? Even a cursory Google search yields photos of the church’s leader standing, quite smugly, on a gay pride flag. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find other, similarly troubling revelations.
No one can dispute that Christ Church and its subsidiaries are burgeoning. A casual stroll through the parking lots near New Saint Andrews College reveals license plates from around the country, mute testimony that Moscow is becoming a preferred destination for the Religious Right. Inspired by a wily and well-spoken leader, Christ Church is building a powerful brand that’s drawing adherents at an accelerating rate.
All of which makes Moscow a community that cleaves along increasingly sharp sectarian lines: “Us” and “Them.”
Where does it lead? Will the church cast an increasingly long shadow of intolerance over a vibrant university town?
And what’s ahead for the University of Idaho, anyway? Will it continue to attract quality faculty despite Moscow’s growing reputation as a religious redoubt? Or will that reputation have a chilling effect on the willingness of nonbelievers to buy homes, pursue careers, and raise their families here?
Like plate tectonics deep beneath the surface, social change is afoot in Moscow. It’s not always visible, but the strain is increasing as the church and its subsidiaries snap up downtown buildings, thus removing them from the tax rolls without lessening the demand for public services.
In fairness, Christ Church is merely a symptom of a larger malady that’s afflicting Idaho. The state, as a whole, has become a magnet for far right, mostly white, Christian soldiers who were born beneath an angry star.
In their theology, God loves all the little children — but he loves the white, heterosexual ones best.
Brock has been a Daily News columnist for more than 20 years. He has lived on the Palouse even longer.