Does Anyone Think Church Gatherings are ‘Essential’? Who’s Speaking Up?
I shared a link to my commentary and connected editorial (by Matt Walsh) on Facebook last night — but I know how quickly posts run through a person’s feed and quickly disappear. So I am sending this out as a post because I, like Walsh, am deeply concerned that no specific conversation has occurred regarding the benefit and Constitutional legality of continuing church assemblage — despite the risks — during this coronavirus pandemic.
I had assumed that churches would be considered an “essential social service” and that any mandatory shut down would be resisted. Necessarily, “crowd considerations” would have been evaluated, with churches likely needing to be creative and/or take measures to accommodate the different situations that were arising.
But it never occurred to me that, based on numbers alone, church assemblage would be shuttered as if it were of no benefit to our neighbors, our rich and poor alike, our now-unemployed co-workers, our very society.
Opinion Writer Matt Walsh declares in this article, “As far as I know, no government at any level, anywhere in the nation, has deigned to label churches essential. Our Founding Fathers, who gave the right to assemble and the right to practice religion pride of place in the Bill of Rights seemed to have disagreed.”
This is actually a discussion that SHOULD have been broached at the start of “shelter at home” orders, in my opinion. I am guessing that the original “two-week” duration of time to Shelter-at-home during March was considered “short,” and clearly temporary, therefore becoming a significant factor in the deafening silence regarding this issue. However, that length of time has now been extended for an additional 30 days. And there is no clear statement that it will not, in some fashion, continue to be enforced for an additional and unspecified amount of time.
In a society which considers physical food an essential for physical and mental well being — appropriately so — it is nonetheless truly unfortunate that ‘spiritual food’ is not given equal consideration as to how churches and fellowships might continue to reach out and offer comfort, support and stability to frightened and insecure people in this time of crisis. Actually, I think it is beyond “unfortunate.” I think it is a serious gap through which millions of people are falling with limited or no safety net, below.
Yes, online connection options are definitely “better than nothing.” I give kudos, appreciation, and accolades to those church leaders who have worked diligently to create and maintain contact/support with their people through social media and online opportunities. Yes, Romans 13:1 states, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God , and those which exist are established by God.” (NASB)
Authority established by God: consider that phrase, for just a moment. I propose that our houses of worship — FAR more than any government agency — have been ordained for this very purpose of bearing His authority in the lives of people, and for times just like these. If I may say so, it is each one of us AND our houses of worship who have been bestowed with the mantle of spiritual governorship to address the necessary task at hand with the power, compassion, and efficiency needed.
We all — loudly, as Americans, whether personally involved in spiritual gatherings or not — really should be discussing if stay-at-home orders from state/federal officials should supersede a Constitutional guarantee of freedom in religious assembly (especially since such orders are currently apart from any specific guidelines as to whether or not a stay-at-home order is justified). We should be discussing if this is contrary to the Scriptural admonition for us to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together.” (Heb. 10:24-25, NASB)
There is a purpose and a point in our “assembling together”…and it is not necessarily for US. We are NOT called to live for ourselves. WE have been tasked to be bringers of Light in dark situations; WE have been tasked to share Living Water with those whom the world has wrung dry.
Matt Walsh states in this article, “This is not ‘health and safety.’ This is tyranny.” Walsh subsequently asks the question, “Can the government simply declare all churches non-essential, close them indefinitely, and thus circumvent the First Amendment with so much ease as to render it effectively nullified from here on out?”
THIS is the discussion that we-the-people and we-the-children-of-God need to decide within our congregations and bring to the doors of our local, county, state and federal levels of government.
4-2-20 UPDATE: After Hillsborough County arrested Pastor Howard-Browne of Revival International Ministries, the local government has done a 180-turnaround. According to lc.com (site of Liberty Council), “The council voted to recognize churches as ‘essential,'” reversing an earlier decision which resulted in Pastor Howard-Browne’s arrest. In addition, “Any future guidance the county may issue will be recommendations and not enforceable.” The site also reports that Florida Ron DeSantis amended his April 1 executive order for shelter-in-place to recognize that “‘religious services conducted in churches, synagogues, and houses of worship” are “Essential activities.” Liberty Council was in the process of filing a federal lawsuit against Hillsborough County.