Sunday, April 5, 2020

Don’t Go To Church Today. Don’t Go Anywhere.

sually, I write Sunday articles and post memes encouraging people to get up and go to church. Not this week. This week I’m telling you not to go to church. In fact, don’t go anywhere.
It seems that stay-at-home orders and bans on large crowds over the past few weeks have angered many would-be churchgoers. I’m not sure how many of them would normally be in church if no one had told them to stay home but I digress. Anyway, many people seem to feel that the fate of religious liberty in our Republic depends on whether they can go to church in the middle of a pandemic.
I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t.
The people raising Cain (to use a Southern expression) about closing churches make a couple of bad assumptions. Some believe that closing churches in the face of the virus shows a lack of faith. Others don’t believe that the government has the authority to close churches. Neither is true.
First of all, even the ancient Israelites understood that people infected with contagious diseases needed to be isolated from others to prevent a larger outbreak. Both Jewish and Christian sources agree that it is Biblical to separate people to prevent the transmission of disease.
Closing churches to prevent the spread of a communicable disease is not cowardice or lack of faith. It is an example of using our God-given brains and knowledge to help save lives. In this case, the lives that church members save by not meeting together may be their own as well as those of their families.
Second, quarantines have a long history in the US as well. Even before the US was a nation, colonial governments instituted quarantines for diseases such as yellow fever and smallpox. The practice continued after independence by state and local governments. In 1878, Congress passed the National Quarantine Act to give the federal government a role in quarantines under the Commerce Clause. Even today, state governments retain most of the control on the handling of public health crises. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a handy chart that describes different state laws.
There is well-established legal precedent that the government has the power to suspend public gatherings in the midst of a public health crisis. That does not mean, however, that governments can declare an emergency without an actual crisis to gain access to emergency powers. For example, in 1900 courts struck down a San Francisco quarantine of Chinese residents on the grounds that it was not justified.   
As the American Constitution Society points out, COVID-19 is lethal and can be spread by asymptomatic carriers in public places. Further, the restrictions were not enacted out of religious bias since they apply to secular gatherings as well. You can’t go to church but schools and bars are also closed.
Recent history has shown that church gatherings in a pandemic can be deadly. Sixty percent of known Korean cases of Coronavirus cases in March were traced to large church gatherings. On this side of the Pacific, an East Georgia church was the focal point for the spread of a cluster of cases near Augusta. Across the state in Albany, an infected person attending a funeral led to more than 500 cases and at least 29 deaths. Across the country, a California church that defied orders to close now has 71 cases and one death. The Sacramento Bee reported that members continued to meet in homes after the church canceled its formal services.
Finally, I must add a third unfortunate reason that some Christians insist on holding church services without interruption. Some Christians have been deceived by fake news and conspiracy theories to believe that what they are doing is a form of righteous resistance to some sort of new world order. The Florida pastor arrested last week for defying a legal and constitutional order to temporarily stop holding services fits right in among the “pandemic deniers” that I wrote about a few days ago.
“I have to do this to protect the congregation—not from the virus but from a tyrannical government,” Rodney Howard-Browne said on his internet radio show. “The World Health Organization has come in and is using a pandemic to take over not just America but the whole of the world.”
Crazy talk. And not the slightest bit Christian.
Right now, the way for Christians to show the love of Christ is to stay home. While God does want believers to meet and worship together, meeting under current circumstances is both dangerous and prideful. In fact, insisting that we must continue to meet when a temporary hiatus would save lives smacks of works righteousness, not faith. From a practical standpoint, after the pandemic is over, other members of the community are more likely to be willing to hear the Gospel from churches that didn’t actively try to kill them during the emergency.
If you want to worship – and I think prayer and worship is a great idea right now – it is well-established by now that many churches are using the internet to livestream services to their own congregations and beyond. One option is to watch the service at my church at 11:00 am Eastern time on its Facebook page (or you can go back and watch it later). We’d love to have you join us. I can promise the sermon won’t involve conspiracy theories about WHO.
For the next few weeks, one of the best ways to show your love for God and your fellow man is to stay home on Sunday. In a few weeks, it will be safe to return to church. Make sure you take your family then like you say you want to now.
Originally published on The Resurgent

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