No fewer than three thousand California churches promise to throw caution to the wind at the end of the month. To the pastors who run them, being open on Pentecost Sunday — May 31 — is more important than keeping fellow citizens safe from COVID-19.
Matt Brown, who pastors Sandals Church in Riverside [California], blasted the governor’s decision to deem churches nonessential, …[saying], “He needs to step back and he needs to declare that the church is an essential part of what we do as Americans.”
Heckuva job, Brownie, but could we please dial back the assertion about the supposed universality of churchgoing in America?
I did the numbers. Less than a quarter of Americans say they visit a house of worship weekly, and roughly two-fifths say they wander in from time to time. This is based on self-reporting, and we know that respondents exaggerate their rate of attendance by half on average. So weekly churchgoers in the U.S. number about 40 million. If we say charitably that 50 percent of the infrequent visitors go twice a month, and the other half 10 times a year, and we then correct for their approximately 50 percent exaggeration, that puts about 63 million real butts in America’s church pews on a random Sunday. That’s generous; in 2018, a Christian publication put the weekly attendance numbers at roughly 52 million Americans.
That’s a huge crowd either way, but on a population of 330 million, it’s less than one in five. Ergo, church is not “an essential part of what we do as Americans” for over 80 percent of us.
But I digress. My point was that Matt Brown is proud he isn’t one of those sheeple who just does what lawful authorities decree. His God is bigger than that! Brown says he isn’t going to take Governor Gavin Newsom‘s slight lying down. Come Pentecost Sunday, his church will be one of the 3,000 defiant ones.
For his part, Newsom explained his apprehension to a reporter last weekend, saying
“Congregations of people from far and wide coming together in a closed space at a large scale remains a point of concern and anxiety for us. We are working on guidelines for physical distancing and working with faith leaders talking about unique conditions in their own facilities. Nothing is etched in stone.”
The governor’s team has indicated that churches should be be in the third or fourth phases of reopening, which are still a few weeks and a couple of months away, respectively.
Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills says he and his colleagues have been flexible, and he’d like to live by Romans 13 (“whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted”), but he’s past that now. True,
“The Christian ought to be the wisest, ought to be the best, the most resourceful citizen in any community,”
… explains Hibbs,
“So by no means do we desire to resist the authorities.” But, he adds, “We have been extremely compliant for over two months.”
That ends on May 31 — at the latest.
The Christian Post reports that
Hibbs believes that many pastors are fasting and praying, doing their best to … [discern] God’s heart in the midst of uncertain times. As he prayed, he felt a strong impression from the Lord that he should restart services on May 31, realizing later that the date happened to be Pentecost Sunday.
It’s amazing how, when you pray, God tells you the things you were already predisposed toward.
Hibbs says he knows that Christians’ ultimate fate is to be “despised.” He and his 2,999 colleagues sure seem to be working hard at making that a reality.
(Image via Shutterstock)