Is it Worth Getting Coronavirus Just to Go to Church? The Faith Debate in Times of Pandemic

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Just as you don’t have to see God to believe in him, you don’t have to see a virus to know that thousands of people are dying every day from a pandemic — or so we would like to believe.

Much has been said about strategies for dealing with the confinement of large families, single mothers, roommates, and the elderly, but few of us had considered the need for millions of people to participate in religious worship.

It seems that prayers through Zoom are not as effective.

When local governments began to raise (albeit belatedly) the idea of a stay at home order for citizens, several religious leaders flatly refused.

“We feel we are being persecuted for the faith by being told to close our doors,” said Baton Rouge Pastor Tony Spell to The Washington Post early in March. “There is a real virus, but we’re not closing Planned Parenthood, where babies are being murdered,” he said. “If they close those doors today, we’d save more lives than will be taken by the coronavirus.”

In a country where the president constantly disqualifies scientists and promises that Covid-19 will disappear “like a miracle,” this kind of nonsense shouldn’t surprise us.

And yet they do.

Governments such as Florida’s tried to take action despite the absence of direct orders from the federal government, but after banning church services, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne denounced Governor Ron DeSantis as “a tyrannical government.”

Instead of following the recommendations of organizations such as the WHO and countries trying to survive the pandemic such as Italy or South Korea, the Republican governor decided last week to designate religious services as “essential activities,” according to The Guardian.

“I don’t think the government has the authority to close a church. I’m certainly not going to do that,” DeSantis said. “In Easter season, people are going to want to have access to religious services.”

While many religious groups — Mormons, Muslims, Catholics, and Jews — have turned to online services to maintain their congregations, there are those who listen only to “the word of God.”

Following DeSantis’ example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order last week designating religious services as “essential” and allowing groups to keep their houses of worship open.

With this support, a group of theologians and ministers who call themselves the Easter People have sent an open letter to several Catholic bishops urging them to keep the services open and the celebrations in person.

“Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship,” the group said.

According to The Center for American Progress, this “alarming trend” has been replicated in states that do not have coronavirus prevention protocols in place, such as Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Tennessee and West Virginia.

“Establishing religious exemptions — in this case, by freeing houses of worship from public health order compliance — will only result in more cases of COVID-19 and greater numbers of death from the disease,” explains the public policy research group. 

Consider how a large church in South Korea, early on in the pandemic, was linked to thousands of cases that eventually sprung up around the small country. Or consider how at least a dozen students at Liberty University, the private evangelical institution founded by Jerry Falwell Jr., have tested positive since the school decided to reopen its doors for students, staff, and employees against the recommendations of health officials.

And when what really matters to the president is the November election, it is not surprising that most white evangelicals feel that their response to the crisis is the right one.

“We’re opening up this incredible country. Because we have to do that. I would love to have it open by Easter,” Trump said last week. 

“I would love to have that. It’s such an important day for other reasons, but I’d love to make it an important day for this. I would love to have the country opened up, and rarin’ to go by Easter.”

In an interview with Fox last Tuesday, Trump said that “Easter’s a very special day for me.”

“Wouldn’t it be great to have all the churches full?” He asked. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country… I think it’ll be a beautiful time.”

In a country with 332,594 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 9,504 deaths, the response of the president and his fanatical followers is nothing less than irresponsibility backed by eternal religious opposition to common sense.