A Manitoba pastor is sharing his views after accumulating more than $21,000 in fines pertaining to COVID-19.

The Church of God Restoration, located along Highway 12 just south of Steinbach, has received significant backlash in recent months for defying emergency public health orders.

During the pandemic, $15,000 in fines against the church and another $6,480 against pastor Tobais Tissen have been levied.

Many in the Steinbach region have wondered why the church leader continues to behave as he is. Tissen offered the following responses to Steinbach Online:

Are you planning on paying these fines, or are you planning on fighting these tickets in court?
“Basically all of these tickets I have gotten are in direct contradiction of our rights and yes, I will be challenging them.”

Why is taking a stand against the government and COVID-19 enforcement officers so important to you?
“All along we can see that these restrictions are not just based on Covid, I view them as restrictions on our God-given rights. By them making a decision a month ago that drive-in services were not allowed but going shopping for essential items and having hundreds of vehicles in store parking lots is fine they, at that point, sent a very clear message that this is not about Covid. It is about government overreach control. I view that personally as an attack on religious freedoms.”

Drive-in services are allowed right now whereas in-person services are not allowed. Does the Church of God Restoration plan on holding drive-in services until the government loosens their restrictions or do you have other plans?
“People have been saying online that the government has backed down for me and I agree, yes they did, but what would they have done if I hadn’t stood up? Drive-in services would still not be legal. Yes, it is a good step in the right direction but it is not the ultimate victory I am hoping for. At this point, we’re doing drive-in services but I will not comment right now as to what we will be doing in the future.”

You have received a lot of negative feedback from other churches in the region who disagree with your tactics and feel you are misrepresenting their faith, how does it feel to be in the middle of this religious controversy?
“Everybody who has some knowledge of scripture seems to be quoting Romans 13 and I actually don’t mind dealing with Romans 13. The chapter starts out by calling on Christians to pray for their leaders and governments because God has placed them there. I agree one hundred per cent, we need to pray for them and we need to respect them. But, if you keep reading, in verse three or four it says ‘rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong’… there isn’t a more good work than going to church and if the government flips around and is now a terror to good works, then they break that bond of deserving our obedience. When they blocked our drive-in services, at that point they made it very obvious, at least to me, that it is not about Covid, it is about control. So once they are a terror to our good works, their contract with our obedience is no longer binding.”

Do you think other churches are doing the wrong thing by continuing to hold online services remotely?
“The Bible tells us very clearly in Hebrews 10 not to forsake assembling and that is not talking about online, it is talking about assembling which means coming together. Christianity has always been persecuted and I frankly rejoice in my opportunity of face criticism for my faith and so should other church leaders. I don’t understand why they are backing down and hiding.”

There are many who are accusing the Church of God Restoration for diverging from the Christian faith and embracing cult-like tendencies, how do you respond to those criticisms?
“We are absolutely not, though I don’t feel like I am qualified to speak on those details. That is a tough question and I would rather have Pastor Henry Hildebrandt (the denomination’s overseer) speak on that.”

Do you believe the government is intentionally trying to squash religious freedom?
"Yes. Because we see a lot of socialist ideas being pushed from up top and communism and socialism has always been strongly anti-Christian and anti-God. If we, as humanity, are not going to stand up now while we still have our rights, very soon they will be taken away and then we will be in bad shape. All of these people that are throwing negative comments around right now are going to be sorry they didn’t support those few people who were standing up."

Assuming it is exhausting to be constantly fighting government regulations, how are you feeling personally?
“I am actually feeling pretty good. I am encouraged. I have said before that there are not enough fines in the world to stop me and I am still feeling the same.”