Reopening churches cannot become a threat to public health

California Christians should love their neighbors by obeying the law.

Photo+by+Gregory+Hayes+on+Unsplash

Photo by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

Evana Upshaw, Staff Writer

A major cultural shift has happened since the coronavirus pandemic: churches across the nation are empty on Sunday mornings. 

The state of California released amended guidelines in July for how places of worship should function in light of the coronavirus, stating, “Places of worship should continue to provide services through alternative methods… whenever possible.” 

If churches desire to meet in person, it is suggested that they shorten their services, invest in good ventilation, meet outdoors and keep a distance of six feet, designate workers to enforce rules, wear masks and install hand-sanitizing stations.

However, Christians across California are fighting back against safety policies by deliberately breaking the law and putting themselves and others in danger.

NOT AN ATTACK 

“Governor [Gavin] Newsom is not the head of the Church,” prominent pastor and theologian, John MacArthur said on Fox News. MacArthur said he had been threatened with arrest and fines, but his church, Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, is defying the government’s mandates by meeting in person. He argues that government officials do not have the power legally or spiritually to dictate what churches are allowed to do. This point of view is misguided.

Being told that your church cannot gather together because of a global pandemic is not persecution. No one is telling you not to worship or that your faith is illegal, and churches, whether they be Christian or not, are not being singled out by the government. All places of worship from all religious groups have to make adjustments for these new guidelines.

Many have asserted that crowded church meetings are condemned by government officials, but large-scale racial justice protests that have broken out recently have been encouraged by these same officials. The difference between these two circumstances are clear: stuffing hundreds of maskless people in a room without proper ventilation is not the same as hundreds of mask-wearers gathering outside. Also, per the California guidelines, churches can hold meetings indoors so long as they take specific precautions. 

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR

This pandemic is an opportunity to love one another in new ways. Some of the most vulnerable among us include the elderly, those with preexisting health conditions, people of color, the poor and young children. Each of these groups has proven to be uniquely impacted by COVID-19, and if we are called to care for the least of these and love our neighbor, then we need to modify how we do church. 

These acts of defiance also hurt our witness to the world. Jesus said that we would be known by our love for one another (John 13:34-35). Right now, showing love looks like doing everything in our power to stop the spread of the virus. This kind of “civil disobedience” puts people’s lives at risk.

DO NOT FORSAKE MEETING TOGETHER

Hebrews 10:25 says that we cannot forsake meeting together. God designed us to be in community. There are countless creative ways that the Church can still gather because “church” is not relegated to a building. The Church is the people. We have become too comfortable associating church solely with a building, and that is proven by the magnitude of the outcry against safety guidelines. 

No one is stopping us from gathering in masks and socially distanced groups outdoors to worship. No one is stopping us from bringing small, masked and socially distanced, groups into our homes to worship and pray. You can join any number of church services online, and get involved in small groups or Bible studies. The body of Christ is strong and the opportunities are endless. If we want to meet badly enough, we can find a way to do so legally. 

CONCLUSION

Naturally, we long for things to be the way they were before COVID-19, and corporate worship is a key part of the Christian faith. But right now the Church has an unprecedented opportunity to spread the love of Christ. We can care for the elderly, people of color, the poor, the sick and young children by getting creative with how we do church. 

Above all, during this pandemic, we cannot neglect the greatest commandments: love God and love people.

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