Richardson has not faced the dire consequence of some of his fellow pastors in Canada who have also taken principled stands under their respective circumstances. Three of them—particularly James Coates, Artur Pawlowski, and Tim Stephens—have been jailed for their opposition to the public health guidelines.
The Rev. Steve Richardson, formerly a pastor in the Canadian Presbytery of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) is being persecuted for his principled stance against the lockdowns in Canada because of Covid-19. Richardson and his former congregation, Faith Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Tillsonburg, Ontario, continued to meet for worship services in numbers larger than the state mandated maximum allowable (10 total persons). In fact, there were regularly well over 100 people in attendance at these services.
Richardson informed his former presbytery in 2020 of his convictions and his intentions to continue to worship openly. Presbytery strongly counseled him to submit to the government mandates and counseled him that to do otherwise would be wrong. Richardson, like other Canadian and American pastors, believes “we must obey God rather than men.”
In December of 2020, a Canadian government official showed up at an ARP church and asked if that church was following the Covid-19 mandates. The pastor assured them that his congregation was doing so, but told the official where they could find an ARP pastor who was not following the health mandates (I have copies of the emails from that particular pastor wherein he told Richardson that he had informed the officials about him). That began a chain of events that resulted in Richardson being fined $200,000 (Canadian) and threatened in January of 2021 with two-years imprisonment. Those fines have since increased to $600,000 (Canadian) and the potential of six-years imprisonment because his church continued to meet for services after the first fines were levied. Richardson has hired an attorney to represent him. I believe that he and the other Canadian pastors facing similar fines and threats of imprisonment will eventually win their cases.
In one sense, Richardson has not faced the dire consequence of some of his fellow pastors in Canada who have also taken principled stands under their respective circumstances. Three of them—particularly James Coates, Artur Pawlowski, and Tim Stephens—have been jailed for their opposition to the public health guidelines. These men believe that the guidelines are not constitutional law and have stood against them. There is a good possibility that those fines and threats of imprisonment will be overturned when their appeals reach Canada’s highest judicatory, the Supreme Court of Canada.
In another sense, Richardson’s situation is worse than the other Canadian pastors. He did not have the support of his presbytery. He received thinly veiled threats of being brought under discipline for conducting worship services during the Covid-19 lockdown. As the pressure from his presbytery grew, Richardson realized that he would most likely be censured by the court at some point. He tried to lead his congregation out of the ARP, but the vote on June 18, 2021 fell a few votes short of the 2/3 majority required to do so. At that point, he resigned from his pastorate and announced his resignation on June 20, 2021. The congregation recently voted to receive his resignation.
Following the vote of the congregation, the ARP Canadian Presbytery met by Zoom with Richardson on June 28, 2021. In that meeting, there was a motion to censure Richardson for violating his ordination vows. When Richardson asked the maker of that motion what vow he had broken, the man paused and then stated that he was sorry but he did not want to say. At that point, Richardson informed the court that he had taken the pre-emptive step to affiliate with Vanguard Presbytery and had already been received by them. The motion to censure him was then dropped, but the court later excommunicated him (even though he was no longer under their jurisdiction).
Moreover, both the motions to censure and to excommunicate are judicial actions that cannot be taken without a trial being conducted. And a trial cannot be conducted unless there are formal charges presented to the presbytery. Under such a case, Richardson would then have had the opportunity to defend himself against the charges. It is clear that an ARP court cannot move to excommunicate a member without some form of due process.
Richardson, unlike the other Canadian pastors who were jailed for their stance, has lost his church and has to start over. He has been oppressed by government officials and renounced by those members of his former presbytery whom he still esteems as brothers in the Lord. That makes his situation more dire than the other courageous Canadian pastors. He has not yet been jailed, but he has been oppressed and abandoned by his presbytery. He has also lost his livelihood. He has a family to support. He needs our financial support. I ask you to consider assisting Richardson and his family by sending him any financial support to his PayPal account: [email protected].
Dewey Roberts is Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL.