Should churches be holding worship services in the midst of the pandemic?
I don’t think it’s a hard question.
But it has apparently become difficult to answer.
My goal here is to hopefully bring some clarity to the issue and clear away some of what obfuscates providing an answer.
Let me start by saying if you believe the pandemic is not real but the result of a conspiracy between Anthony Fauci and Trump-hating Democrats, or that the 98,000 American deaths from COVID-19 are grossly exaggerated because of a secret agreement to miscode them, or that COVID-19 is no more deadly or contagious than the flu, you need not read any further.
Here are some facts I think are generally undisputed. The rush to reopen the economy is driven by economics not health care professionals saying it’s safe to do so. COVID-19 is at least three times more contagious than the flu and ten times more deadly. It is spread by aerosols, tiny particles propelled into the air around us when we breath, speak, cough or sneeze. It is also spread by touching other people and surfaces that contain the virus and then touching our face, where it can enter the body through the mouth, nose, or eyes.
Singing is akin to sneezing with regard to spread of aerosols. That is why one church that decided to hold choir practice during the early days of the pandemic ended up having dozens infected and two deaths among their members as a result.
Those states allowing businesses to reopen are doing so to maintain the viability of the business and keep people employed, and even then they are being require to work in shifts, or at partial capacity to maintain social distancing. My law firm still has almost all of its 700 people working from home because it does not believe it is safe for them to return yet.
So, why would any church hold church services yet? I think there a three primary reasons.
First, some pastors who are holding services have probably weighed the cost of possible infection against the benefits of providing community and the opportunity to hear the gospel and believe the benefits outweigh the cost. The problem with this justification is a lack of appreciation of the true risk involved, and while a concern about lack of community and the ability to receive ministry might have been a concern in the past, the presence of telecommunications and video conferencing greatly mitigates those concerns today.
Other pastors have declared reopening an act of faith, believing the Lord will show the world how He protects those who trust Him. Such a belief may be sincere, but I believe it is sincerely misguided. While the Lord undoubtedly protects us at times in our ignorance, there is a difference between trusting God and testing God.
History has shown plagues do not prefer pagans over Christians. Bishop Cyprian made this point during the third century plague named after him. It was not Christians’ immunity to the plague that set them apart but their response in mitigating the effects of it by helping those infected. Pastors who are calling their people back to worship services now are doing the opposite.
I also suspect some pastors have decided to hold church services for financial reasons. I hope this is not true, but I’ve got to believe it is happening. Tithes and offerings are almost certainly down as a result of not having in-person services, but is that a reason to lure people back to church and subject them to possible infection? Instead, this is an opportunity to trust God by doing the hard thing, which, as is so often the case, also happens to be the right thing.
This is an opportunity for pastors to lead by demonstrating to the world that people are more important than money and that they will trust in God rather than risking the former for the latter. GS