Ignoring the warnings of medical experts, Christian author David Gushee penned an ill-advised article for Baptist News all about why we must reopen churches:
In short, he believes spiritual needs should take precedent over public health.
Despite surging COVID-19 case numbers in many states, I believe it is time for progressive, mainline and Baptist churches to reopen for worship services. I make this suggestion quite tentatively and with full awareness that it might seem counterintuitive. But I believe there are good reasons even now for churches to open, so long as we require rigorous health precautions that are being used in other settings.
When people’s lives are at stake, there are literally no good reasons to reopen. Especially churches, where pastors can deliver sermons over the internet while also taking in donations. Meeting in-person is a desire, not a necessity.
But he won’t admit that. Instead he offers a series of reasons to open the church doors wide open.
Because Christians need to gather in community and worship God. This extended period away from the gathered church in worship has offered something of a test.
No one ever stopped Christians from gathering (online) and worshiping (online). Just say God gave you Zoom and Skype and proceed as usual. No one will stop you.
Gushee, however, doesn’t believe those are viable alternatives.
Because virtual church can only carry us so far.
I can say that Zoom has been successful in helping us keep our little community intact and in providing a safe space for Bible study and shared prayer. Still, Zoom fatigue is real, and we ache to see each other again in the flesh. I do not believe Zoom Church can carry us indefinitely.
I get that; I do. I miss my friends and my own worship community. Countless teenagers have missed out on rites of passage; many high school graduates are considering gap years rather than take college courses online. But my health outweighs my eagerness to socialize.
Because the situation is not likely to get better any time soon, so if we wait for dramatic progress, it could be months or years until we can gather again. Once we thought there would be a “first wave,” then with “social distancing” we would be able to “flatten the curve” and then get back to a “new normal” — you know, all this language that for months has become our way of life. For various reasons, it ain’t happenin’.
It ain’t happening in large part because too many people — churchgoers included — decided socializing needed to happen far sooner than scientists said would be safe. You can’t create a problem, then point to it as justification for doing it even more.
Social distancing is important. Wearing masks is important. Not being around other people in enclosed spaces if it’s preventable is important. And, eventually, getting a vaccine will be important.
Gushee just doesn’t care.
Because remaining closed when so many businesses, museums, parks and other entities are finding ways to open sends the wrong signal about how much we ourselves value the gathered church experience.
They are open because they need to be to survive and because they believe they provide a service people want and/or need badly enough to undertake some level of risk. If our churches remain closed long after these other entities are open, I fear this sends the wrong message to members and a watching world. I also fear some of our more fragile churches will die.
What a horrible message it would send: We care about your health, and worshiping at all is still preferable to worshiping in person and getting people sick.
While there’s a legitimate concern about how churches will make money (because they have a staff to support and because online giving isn’t as lucrative), museums and parks make it easier for people to spread out, especially when they’re outdoors. Gushee’s analogy is fatally flawed. Church rituals practically require people to be close to each other. The singing may spread the virus. Being around friends will create a temptation to embrace and converse at close distances. That’s why churches are still considered unsafe.
This is not difficult to understand. But people like Gushee are going out of their way to ignore the obvious.
There are ways for churches to get around some of these restrictions. At the very least, they could host outdoor services as the weather permits, with mandatory masks and social distancing. But religious people have to make sacrifices and concessions. We all do in order to ensure that everyone can be safe and healthy.
Honestly, people writing articles like these don’t seem to know anybody who’s been affected by this virus. Unfortunately, it may take someone close to them getting sick before they stop trivializing the very real risks.
(Image via Shutterstock)