This Isn’t a Culture War, It’s a Pandemic

This Isn’t a Culture War, It’s a Pandemic May 28, 2020

Last week, Trump threatened to force states to reopen churches:

Yesterday, during a press conference, Donald Trump announced that states must allow churches to open this weekend — and that if they don’t, he will “override” them and force them to anyway. Because he’s such a big fan of state’s rights and all.

Here’s the thing, though—I don’t think most churches are as interested in being allowed to open as they are in figuring out how to open safely.

I know someone who works in the music ministry at a church; her church is considering reopening without singing. Why? Because singing accelerates the spread of droplets and has been linked with multiple clusters of infection—and her church leaders don’t want their parishioners to get sick and die.

As Ed Stetzer put it in Christianity Today:

In a press conference today President Trump called churches, synagogues, and mosques all “essential services” and called on governors to reopen them “right now.” Where I live, Illinois Governor Pritzker has already said that churches are essential, and I agree with them both.

That’s not really the question.

The question people are asking is how and when can churches (and other religions congregations) gather together in groups larger than 10 or larger than 50?

That. Exactly that.

I’m reminded of Pence’s visit to Iowa some weeks ago, when he told a group of religious leaders that he was committed to doing anything they could to getting them reopened as quickly as possible, only to be told by a rabbi that they are not ready to reopen—that it’s simply not safe for his congregation.

This feels like pandering. That’s what it feels like. Talking ad nauseam about getting churches reopened (and simultaneously portraying those who want to keep churches closed as somehow anti-Christian) without actually taking steps to make it safe for churches to reopen isn’t actually showing support for churches. It’s pandering.

Are there some pastors who think COVID-19 is a hoax, or that it is being overplayed? Sure. Are there some pastors who want to reopen the way things were before, and trust to God to protect their parishioners? Probably. But I’m going to hazard a guess that the number of churches in this category is very very small. I’m also going to hazard a guess, though, that these are the churches that most have Trump’s ear.

In the same way, many businesses closed before stay at home orders went into place, because they cared. This isn’t a story about Democratic governors forcing businesses and churches to close. It’s a story of a community grappling with a novel pandemic. But Trump doesn’t know how to govern. Talking brashly and demonizing his opponents is the only thing Trump knows how to do. He’s a one-trick pony.

And so here we are—with a president threatening states whose stay at home orders are keeping churches closed even as pastors struggle to figure out how they can open without losing their parishioners to a dangerous virus. And here we are—with a White House press secretary accusing reporters of “desperately” wanting to keep churches closed only to have those same reporters fire back:

“I object to that. I go to church. I’m dying to go back to church. The question that we’re asking you and would like to have asked the president and Dr. Birx is, ‘Is it safe?’ And if it’s not safe, is the president trying to encourage that or does the president agree with Dr. Birx that people should wait?”

Turning the question of how churches can reopen safely in the middle of the pandemic into some sort of culture wars battle is absurd.

Everyone suffers. Everyone loses.

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