Open Houses of Worship, or Keep Them Closed? The Pros and Cons
COVID 19 has many side effects, not all of them medical. Many parts of life have been put on hold and only essential services have been allowed to continue to function, albeit usually with social distancing, masks and other measures meant to protect the public from contagion.
Surprisingly, in many states and localities, “Essential services” include gas stations, grocery stores, and – with take-out or curbside delivery – even toy stores, bookstores, and hardware stores. Missing from the list are houses of worship. What? Who decided that? The First Amendment to the Constitution states that government may not prohibit the free exercise of religion or peaceable assemblies. And yet states and localities have decreed that houses of worship shall remain shuttered in most cases. While most faiths have followed the rules, some have not, and have even sued jurisdictions who seek to limit their gatherings.
Here are opposing arguments for opening houses of worship and for keeping them closed.
A CALL FOR THE CHURCH TO LEAD OUR RECOVERY: If not us, who? If not now, when? If not…why not? By Michael Sipe
I’m flipping the pages of the May 4, 2020 Time Magazine, which offers up the opinions of Time’s selection of 100 thought leaders, all of whom were tasked to share their perspectives on how we are to find hope in this season of health concerns and economic devastation. Included in the roster of wise messengers are Angelina Jolie, Shawn Mendez, Misty Copeland and Lil Nas X.
Although I don’t know any of the 100 notable contributors personally and have nothing against any of them, I was struck by the sheer hopelessness of the submissions purportedly offered to produce hope. Somehow a recommendation to watch the Great British Bake Off as a welcome distraction during these difficult times, seems uncompelling. Obviously, Time Magazine is a secular publication, but I looked in vain for the voice of hope available through Jesus’ Church. His voice was absent. As are we, His disciples.
The voice of spiritual leadership across the country is strangely missing from the public dialog. Unfortunately, that’s consistent with the observation my non-Christian friends make, that the Church is invisible, irrelevant and impotent. Enough. It’s time to change all that. How, you ask?
Here’s my answer. It’s time, and past time, that we open the local churches.
I know this is controversial. I expect pushback. I know the arguments against opening the churches. Some come from government. Some from cultural sources. But most of them we made up ourselves out of fear of man, or fear of a bug, neither of which are Biblical.
“It’s hopeless. Mainstream and Social Media control the messages and are biased against Christianity.”
Forget it. The early Church did not have media. It was grievously opposed. The message of the Gospel spread person-to-person. At the time of his death, Jesus had a few followers. Four hundred years later, approximately half the Roman Empire was Christian. That’s 30 million Christians in 400 years. The Good News spreads faster than any virus … assuming people are exposed.
“Turn the other cheek. Submit to rulers and authorities.”
I’m sure that there are learned theologians that can make a case that Christians are to not make waves, not antagonize the government and should simply stay quietly in our prayer closets waiting on God to make all things new. I don’t buy it. Passively ceding the power and authority given to us by Christ to the world is not the message of the Bible.
“It’s not loving or Christian to willfully infect people with the virus.”
That’s a false construct and strawman. It’s a trick question. Jesus got asked trick questions. When asked if it was right to pay taxes, He responded, “Give Caesar what is his and give God what is His.” In the last few weeks, we gave what is God’s to Caesar. Opening the doors of the churches for people to choose to enter, or not (the same as always), is not willfully infecting people with the virus. And who says that a virus is more powerful than the Spirit and Presence of God? Certainly, not us. Let each person prayerfully take responsibility for their own life. Attend or don’t attend. The doors should always be open for those who need us and want to come.
“If we open up against a governor’s orders, we might get arrested. We might lose a tax-exemption or our church.”
Those things might happen. They might not. But if they do, then let’s stand on our state and federal constitutional rights of speech, press, religion, assembly, equal treatment under the law, and due process. We must retake the ground we gave up. We will prevail. As we should. It might get uncomfortable for those of us in the battle, but it’s a fight worth fighting. The reason that churches are closed right now is because we closed them. If they were open, people would come.
“The Church is not a building.”
This is another smoke screen and cop-out. There is enormous value in gathering together to worship and pray in person. Online TV church is not the same as real community, any more than video calls with my 90-year-old mom substitute for a real hug.
Bottom line – we’ve been duped, fooled, and distracted.
The enemy’s most insidious and effective arguments contain just enough elements of plausibility to twist the Word of God slightly, and plant the seed of doubt: “Did God really say…?”
It’s time to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It’s time to open the churches. It’s time for the Church to lead the recovery of our confidence, our courage, our culture and our economy. Someone must break the pervasive grip of fear. Someone must go first. That’s us.
Benefits of Leading.
There are at least four outcomes we can expect from the reopening of our churches.
1. Highlight the real battle. The battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Make no mistake, when the Church moves to reopen, the battle will rage. So, we put on the full armor of God and go to war.
2. Preserve our rights. Founding fathers established a Biblically based Constitution and Bill of Rights that we have fought hard to preserve. We must not abdicate now. If we don’t speak up and defend our rights, who will? None are better equipped to fight for freedom than the millions of Americans who remain Christ followers. They just need our leadership.
3. Do what the Church is called to do. For thousands of years, in times of plague or any other trial, the Church stepped up to serve and care for the broken and hurting, frequently at great personal risk to the people ministering. But we stepped back. It’s time to get in the ring.
4. Demonstrate our faith through action. People are watching. If our behavior is indistinguishable from non-believers, we forfeit our influence. We can model courage and faith, instead of fear. We say God has the power to protect us. Let’s trust it. We say God has the power to heal … and has given it to us. So, let’s heal. We say our destiny is secure. Let’s show it by bringing rationality to the COVID discussion. Chances are, we won’t get the virus. If we do, it’s probably not going to be a big deal. If it is serious, it’s likely we’ll recover like we have from other illness. There is, of course, a tiny chance we might die. But there’s a 100% chance we are going to die anyway in God’s timing. If we’re saved, we know we get to be with God for eternity. What’s to fear? But talk is cheap. Faith and confident assurance are revealed by our actions.
The Church is Essential. The Church has never been more essential. The people we are called to serve are hurting. They are lonely, anxious, depressed, abused, and suicidal. They’re worried, scared and downright terrified of the virus. They are living in deep fear of losing their jobs, income and businesses. They are questioning their identities and the meaning of life. They are coming face-to-face with their own mortality and the question of, “Then what?” The government can’t fix this. The private sector can’t fix this. Our country desperately needs what only the Church can lovingly deliver … the message of the peace and hope of Jesus Christ … face-to-face. In person. The fields are ripe.
Let’s reopen the churches and together do the work of the Church. It’s time.
Michael Sipe is a serial entrepreneur, mergers and acquisitions advisor, and executive coach to CEOs and business owners, many of whom are in the top 1% of income earners in the country. He is the founder of 10x Catalyst Groups (www.10xgroups.com), which helps entrepreneurs grow profitable and thriving businesses organized on a foundation of Biblical principles.
Are You Your Brother’s Keeper? Follow Public Health Guidelines by Sam Field
If one chooses to put himself or herself at risk of contracting COVID-19, then they will find no objection from me, especially if they are engaging in some activity that is essential to their survival. Not just food and income, but spiritual survival as well. After all psychiatrists are trumpeting the need for counseling for anxiety and depression under stay-at-home orders and limited contact with others, so what’s wrong with a church, synagogue, mosque or temple providing spiritual solace to worried people? Furthermore, the First Amendment says hands off religious activities and the ability to gather.
However, the nature of the COVID-19 virus is such that one can contract it, and spread it to others without knowing. That brings some new objections to the table, and ones that should be considered when advocating an open-door and unrestricted meeting policy. For one puts not only oneself at risk, but anyone contacted during the time of unknowing ability to infect others – families, friends, people you don’t even know. That takes a deeper look at responsibility to one’s fellows.
Certainly, many people believe in the power of prayer and that God will protect believers, but that doesn’t apply to those who believe otherwise and who may come in contact with you once infected. Does it serve them right for rejecting your beliefs? Of course not.
There are many objections to such closings of houses of worship. Certainly it seems unfair that liquor stores can remain open, hair salons in some places, even animal grooming while houses of worship must close. And what religious person today is not alarmed by the anti-religious activities in our society and around the world? Religious intolerance, hate crimes against religion, the pressures of LGBTQ factions to force compliance to measures contrary to religious scriptures? And perhaps a vast mistrust of the federal government (less than 20 percent of the American public trust the federal government, according to one poll) and suspicion that while the First Amendment protections are there, giving ground now may be taken as an invitation for more and future violations.
In spite of the right to worship, and the suspicions of ulterior motives in prohibiting in-person worship, take responsibility for others and how your actions might affect them. You have a right to risk yourself, especially by worshiping as you chose. However, you have no right to infect others, and despite all the reasons to insist on in-person worship, balance that with the health and happiness of others around you. Worship online, read the scriptures that mean the most to you, take responsibility for your worship and for your neighbors by following policies designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Are you your brothers’ keeper? If yes, then think twice about throwing open the doors of your mosque, church, temple or synagogue. You have a responsibility not only to yourself but to your family, the faithful, neighbors and even people you do not know. There is power in worshiping together, but until the danger is past, worship alone or with immediate family, not because it is required by government, but because you have made the decision to be your brother’s keeper.