After their fearful flocks scattered months ago over COVID-19, churches by the thousands are opening their doors even if doing so violates state and local restrictions.
“This isn’t just a Christian issue. This is a First Amendment issue,” says Brian Gibson, a Kentucky pastor who has launched the “Peaceably Gather” campaign urging churches from Kentucky to California to reopen their doors.
Many churches and their pastors turned off the lights in March, even before a mayor or governor told them to do so, when models projected tens of millions sickened and two million dead if the U.S. failed to follow radical guidelines to “flatten the curve” and protect the congregations, especially the elderly.
So began the mandatory “lockdowns” and stay-at-home orders, with families adjusting to home-based education, churches moving to online services, hospitals waiting for a surge that never came, and a crashed economy that put more than 30 million Americans out of work – and millions out of their churches.
Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear lost a federal court hearing May 8 that forced him to allow in-person services. Tabernacle Baptist Church, located in Nicholasville, had sued for the right to reopen.
Responding to the judge’s order, Beshear told churches in his state they could reopen but can’t sing in their worship services – a ban he has since partially walked back.
According to a TV news story, Gibson’s nondenominational church in Owensboro held its first in-person service May 17, with congregants spaced out and generous use of hand sanitizer. Masks were optional but they were worn by ushers and church volunteers.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, declared last week that houses of worship are “essential” and urged local authorities to allow churches to reopen without punishment.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential,” Trump told reporters, “but have left out churches and other houses of worship.”
Elsewhere around the country, Fox News reported over the weekend that California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has issued “extensive” guidelines for churches that include banning singing, a maximum 100 people or 25 percent of capacity, and mandatory masks for attendees.
In hard-hit Chicago, where a stay-at-home order is in place, Mayor Lori Lightfoot (pictured above) dispatched police and a representative from her office to shut down services at Cornerstone Baptist Church, a majority-black congregation located in the city’s Southside.
Courtney Lewis, the church pastor, told radio host Todd Starnes that the authorities were kept outside because the church locks its doors, which is the standard safety precaution due to the violent area.
“All we are seeking,” he told Starnes, “is the same consideration and trust that is being tendered toward the liquor stores, abortion clinics, and Walmart.”
According to Gibson, the Kentucky pastor, church pastors should be working to bring back the flock to worship both “safely” and “sanely” regardless of the government’s orders.
Copyright American Family News. Reprinted with permission.