Churches Spreading Disease

For Christians, Holy Week is upon us. Are all the churches in your community holding services that are safe? The answer affects all of us.

According to a Religious News Service report of April 1, 12% of survey respondents in the U.S. say their church is still meeting in person. The governors of Florida and Texas have now classified religious gathers as essential services, making them exempt from the rule limiting gathering size.

The minister of a megachurch in Texas, a pastor in Florida and one in Louisiana have all been arrested for violating state orders against gatherings over a certain size. It was deliberate defiance.

Some Catholics are pressuring their Bishops to re-institute the in-person administration of the sacraments. They are claiming religious persecution from having them be suspended for public health reasons.

There are many justice issues involved in how the pandemic is being managed. Among them, is that some ministers are responding in ways that risk spreading COVID-19 while so many others are staying disciplined. And the ministers are doing this under the cover of religion. They are pressuring governors to classify worship as an essential service, like grocery stores. Some governors are doing so, putting at risk the good work so many people are doing to save lives and create the conditions for people to safely return to work.

One of the criteria for what makes a behavior pathological is that is causes harm. Drinking, shopping and exercise can all be done to an extreme where they cause harm. Then they are pathological, unhealthy. In the case of the pandemic, some religious people are recklessly risking doing harm. There can be various reasons and motives. Pastor Tony Spell claims that it is impossible for members of his congregation to get infected. He believes the virus is attracted to fear. His people are not afraid, so they are not at risk. This is really pathology expressed as religion. Some Christians may be distraught, fearful that without receiving the sacraments in person, their immortal soul is at risk. The element of religion does not make this anxiety less pathological. Some religious leaders may truly believe that the pandemic is a government hoax perpetrated to justify martial law. The cover of religion does not change that they pose a danger to their community. Some who are objecting just seem offended that religious gatherings are being officially classified and nonessential. Freedom of religion does not mean the freedom to do harm.

The vast majority of clergy in our country have worked long hours to make their services be both safe and meaningful with technologies like YouTube and Zoom. Roman Catholics are using the well-established practice of spiritual communion. While some insist it cannot be real worship if it is not done in the usual way, the proof is in the pudding. The vast majoring of clergy are proving meaningful worship safely, without physically gathering,

We are in a campaign to protect each other. We should not stand by and let people be hurt by the pathology or rigidity of a few who happen to be clergy or happen to be expressing it through religion. College students were called out for their spring break carelessness. We need to call out religious leaders as well. It is a justice issue. This is what love of neighbor looks like now.