Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Washington Post Reports on Arkansas Church with COVID Infections as Warning for Other Churches: My Response

KFSM News Arkansas, "Coronavirus live updates: 236 confirmed cases in Arkansas, 1,050 negative tests thus far"

In an article entitled "'Take it very seriously': Pastor at Arkansas church where 34 people came down with coronavirus sends a warning," Julie Zauzmer reports on the story about which I shared information yesterday, about a church in Arkansas 34 of whose members now have COVID. She reports that the pastor of the church, Mark Palenske, is urging other churches to learn from his church's experience, and take the coronavirus pandemic seriously.

I'm grateful for Rev. Palenske's caution to other churches. I applaud him for trying to reach other church communities, some of whom have indicated that they are ready to lick the floor to prove the pandemic is a Democratic hoax, who have brushed off this pandemic and are still refusing to do the socially responsible thing and stop services and meetings. 

At the same time, I do have critical questions about Julie Zauzmer's framing of her report. She opens with the statement that "just like other churches across the country," Rev. Palenske's church, First Assembly of God church in Greer's Ferry, Arkansas, continued to host events into the first week of March. 

But as my report yesterday stated (links are provided in that posting), by early March, when the Greer's Ferry church held its "kids' crusade" at which 34 church members were infected, the world had already learned in February that patient zero in South Korea had infected 40 something folks in one church, when she refused to do what medical officials told her to do and self-quarantine.

By the first week in March, as we were told to prepare for the pandemic in the US by learning from the experience of South Korea and elsewhere, CNN was citing the South Korean experience to encourage churches to stop holding services and gatherings.

By March 8, Italy had ordered that all church services stop, and on March 12, churches in Rome were shut down — the very same day that a pastor in Arkansas is reported to have said that coronavirus is a Democratic hoax and his congregation would lick the floor to prove this.

I'm sorry, to note that "churches across the country" kept gathering and hosting events right into the middle of March is just not good enough — now that we know from concrete information of one church that managed to spread viral infection around both inside and outside the church. Churches should not have a special dispensation to wallow in malicious, anti-social ignorance that creates hazards for the rest of us. Many US churches clearly have not wanted to learn about the dangers of this virus and the pandemic, because of an ideology that discounts what medical authorities say and because of an animus against information that comes from any source other than Donald Trump's mouth or Fox News.

It is tragic that a member of this church has just died of viral infection from within the church community. I think it would be reprehensible to speak of blame at a time of suffering due to a viral pandemic.

At the same time, I think we should profit from lessons the experience of this pandemic is teaching us. One is that the exaggerated independence American culture affords churches and other communities of faith has a decided negative side, when the choice of communities of faith to ignore facts established by science, to flout sound medical advice, and to spread toxic political lies ("Coronavirus is a Democratic hoax, and I'll lick the floor to prove it") poses hazards for all the rest of us. Churches should not be afforded special dispensations to engage in anti-social, anti-communitarian behavior.

The map at the head of this posting is from a report yesterday by KFSM News. The three counties in dark blue, with the highest rates of COVID cases, are Cleburne, Pulaski, and Jefferson. Cleburne is the northernmost of the dark blue counties on the map. It's where Greer's Ferry First Assembly of God church is located. Its population is 25,970.

The central blue county is Pulaski, the urban center of central Arkansas, where the capital city, Little Rock, is located. Its population is 382,748. The contiguous county just southeast of Pulaski is Jefferson, with another large town, Pine Bluff. That county's population is 77,435.

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