Much ado has been made over the past couple of days that President Trump has "opened up" the churches.
"The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now -- for this weekend. If they don't do it, I will override the governors."
"In America, we need more prayer not less."
"Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential. But have left out churches and other houses of worship. It's not right. So I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential."
These are really nice sounding words that are essentially meaningless. They accomplish nothing but pandering to his base. It's unclear that he has any authority to accomplish any of this, but it makes for a good sound byte.
On a grander scale, these comments get to the root of some fundamental misunderstandings regarding the whole issue.
- That's Not How Federalism Works - One of the issues that has dogged us through the entire Covid-19 pandemic is the United States of America is not one monolithic whole. We are, for better and worse, a collection of differences. Different races, different religions, different regions, different geographies, different proximities, and different states. Our government is a republic comprised of 50 very different states, and we have generally preferred a reservation of a lot of key issues to the state level. That has included how to handle emergency situations. In this pandemic, stay-at-home orders, emergency declarations, lockdowns, etc. have all been handled at the state and local level. Trump forcing states to open back up would be as gross an overreach of federal power as it would have been to institute a national lockdown. Of course, that's the hypocrisy of the Republican Party. It preaches limited federal government, so long as it accomplishes their purposes. If it needs the big federal government to step in for its goals, well then, all is fair.
- That's Not How Our Rights Work in America - The loudest voices raised surrounding this issue have alleged that our absolute rights to freedom of assembly and free exercise of worship have been infringed. That the government should do nothing to stand in our way, under absolutely no circumstances can or should they interfere, and that this has all been a gross overreach of power in opposition to the Constitution. Plus, that it's likely a trial run for shutting down churches in the future. Have to throw in a good conspiracy into there. All of this presumes that the government does not add limitations to any of the rights we have under the Bill of Rights. That is false. The government places limitations on all of our rights in that document. You can't yell fire in a crowded theater. There are limitations on who can own guns. Your worship cannot include human sacrifice. The tests has never been whether or not government action places any limitation on our rights. The test has always been whether it has been reasonable. (That's a gross simplification, as there are different standards for the different rights, but reasonableness covers a lot of it). The test for free exercise is a compelling interest. If the government places a burden on the practice of religion, does it have a compelling interest in doing so? Public health and safety has been found to be a compelling interest. Plus, the shut downs had the benefit of being limited in durations, neutrally applied (they didn't single out churches, the rules applied to everyone), and never actually required the churches to be closed. That's right - the shut down orders didn't require them to close, they just put limitations on the numbers that could be present. Ten or fewer still could have gathered. This point is the one that makes me so frustrated when people share the false claim that mosques were open in New York City but not churches. It was a purposefully misleading headline that fooled a lot of people. The mosques had less than ten people in at a time praying. Christian churches had the ability to do the same thing. But that's an inconvenient point.
I'll shout it a little louder for those in the back.
IF YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN, YOUR RIGHT TO FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION HAS NOT BEEN INFRINGED.
And that's because of point number 3 -
- That's Not How Worship Works - If you believe that your right to worship has been infringed, I would offer that you fundamentally do not understand what worship is. Worship has nothing to do with being in the building on Sunday morning. It does not need a pastor. It does not need a worship leader/music minister/song leader/whatever you want to call them. It does not need other people around you.
Worship is not a service you attend.
Worship is a way of life. It's something you should be doing every day. Every hour, every second.
It's why Stonepoint always ended with "Have a Great Week of Worship." It was a recognition that what happened on Sunday morning was only a brief blip in the worship of a believer.
And even if your entire focus was on Sunday morning, there were still so many options available to you to create that experience. Worship music is available on every radio and all over the net. Biblical teaching can be found online or on the radio or television from so many sources. Full sermons and worship services can be streamed from a plethora of great churches across this country. Even small little country town churches began sending messages and devotionals out online.
Even if all that was not accessible, you still had the option of family worship. For where two or three gather in His name, there He is. That can be church.
If we are going to complain about missing some key point of Christian living, let's at least use the right terminology. We're missing fellowship, not worship. And I get it, fellowship is important. I'm missing it too. But there have been ways to accomplish this virtually to help slow and stop the spread of this virus. To not do more harm than good.
Further, fellowship is not something that should be limited to Sunday either. The early church continually met in the homes of each other. Our Christian fellowship may have been impacted, but it should not have stopped during this time.
Let's remember why this restriction was imposed on church buildings in the first place. Churches generally have larger populations of older people. Those that are more at risk. There are some churches that may be primarily serving elderly populations. Or your church may be one where the elderly come into close contact with the very young - those that may be carriers but not at risk for the deadly effects of the virus.
There have been a couple of examples that have displayed the risk very well. In Arkansas, a pastor and his wife attended church related events on March 6 through March 8. At the time, they didn't have symptoms. They later developed respiratory symptoms and fever on March 10 and 11, later confirmed to be Covid-19. During the church related events, the pastor and wife came in contact with 92 people. At least 35 of the 92 people they came in contact with acquired Covid-19. That's 38%. Three of those people died. Further, those 35 infected people were confirmed to infect 26 other people. One of which died.
Likewise, in Washington, in late March 60 people attended a choir rehearsal. No one was exhibiting symptoms. No one appeared to be sick. And yet, 45 attendees contracted Covid-19 from the rehearsal. Two died.
These stories could happen at any church across America right now. We still have a virus that has no cure or no vaccine. A virus that we know little about that is highly contagious. And while it is mild for the vast majority of people that contract it, for those that do get sick from it, it is lethal. Lethal without any known ways to manage it.
I don't know, I suppose I'm just punchy. Getting tired of armchair Constitutional scholars. The one that really got me was someone indignant at the thought that churches were impacted, but yet self-admitting that they do not attend anywhere, nor are they in a hurry to do so. The coopting of "religion" for political gain.
This should have been a point where we were different. Where we stuck out because of how well the Church adapted. How well it went to work aiding those around them, like I have seen so many churches do.
Not just standing around griping and complaining, waiting for things to be exactly as they were before, as I've seen far to many do.