Sunday, April 5, 2020

Today's Guardian on Growing Backlash to Appeals to Cease Religious Gatherings, Fueled by Top GOP Leaders

Since it appears some people just do not intend to get what's going on with some communities of faith — churches, notably — in the US during the pandemic, and the serious dangers some behaviors are posing to all of us, I'm glad the media keep hammering away at the backlash movement to keep churches open where they are now open and hosting meetings, or to reopen them where they have been closed. This is a largely American phenomenon, and it speaks volumes about the kind of American Christianity, especially "pro-life" white Christianity, that placed Donald Trump in the White House.

When Catholic churches were encouraged across Europe to cease holding public Masses, I understood that this move had the strong support of bishops across Europe except in Poland, where a proposal was made — astonishingly — to hold more Masses, on the ground that more Masses would result in thinned-out gatherings, and this would prevent the spread of the coronavirus. I'm also aware that the American cardinal Burke tried to rattle his sword about the shutting down of public Masses, but not aware that he has actually led — by his own example — any movement to reopen churches and hold public Masses, though I have no doubt whatsoever he is one of the main movers and shakers behind the current move of Catholic "Easter People" in the US to try to force the re-opening of churches. (You do see what this group is doing by calling itself an "Easter People" group after the man in the White House said he wanted churches packed at Easter, right?)

It has been said by some folks who want to deny what's going on and the dangers it poses to all of us that, oh, well, almost all Americans are in lockdown right now and hardly any churches are holding services (and Catholics would, of course, never be so anti-social), but, as the article I'm now going to excerpt by Richard Luscombe in today's Guardian clearly notes, in almost every state with the highest number of infections now, where stay-at-home orders are in place, there are also exemptions for religious gatherings. Nor do all states have lockdown orders. Nor are those orders being observed in some states that do have lockdown orders, when religious groups want to defy them and keep holding gatherings.

All of this is playing with fire when, as Harvard epidemiologist Bill Hanage states, gatherings of any size pose dangers during this pandemic, and churches pose particular dangers given their habit of encouraging people to gather close to one another, to hug, shake hands, and sing together, etc. As Hanage states, church gatherings of any sort have the capability to be "super-spreading" events, and we know for a fact that some serious clusters of coronavirus infection have spread right from churches into surrounding communities. 

As Jim McManus explains, a highly contagious virus like the coronavirus can be spread easily in churches that host gatherings of any sort because we know that it is spread by droplets that can end up on surfaces in churches and then be transmitted to those coming to church gatherings. Those spreading infection in church gatherings are often asymptomatic carriers of this highly contagious disease, and it's in this way that churches have become perfect petri dishes of infection — which is then carried into the wider community — during this pandemic.

The belligerence of many white US Christians who have for some years now wanted to imagine they are under assault, especially from the government, in the face of appeals to show concern for the wider community, is proving to be a thing to behold, given the professed "pro-life" stance of these same Christians. It is a belligerence now being actively encouraged by top leaders of the Republican party, which depends on the sense of grievance of many white Christian nationalists in the US to drive them to polls and pull the Republican lever.

In an article entitled "The US churches and pastors ignoring 'stay-at-home' orders" in today's Guardian, Richard Luscombe writes:

In almost all of the states that lead the nation in numbers of cases, and which have issued blanket stay-at-home orders, there are specific exemptions for religious gatherings or acts of worship, a survey by the Guardian of published regulations and media coverage found. 
In others with definitive lists of non-essential businesses or activities ordered to close, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other houses of faith are not among them. 
What isn't clear is how many people are still attending services, or how many are taking place. Leaders of many of the largest religions by followers in the US, including Mormonism, Catholicism, Islam and various denominations of Judaism, have closed houses of worship and are urging services take place online. 
"This decision comes out of sacrificial love, not from habitual or casual disregard for worship," the leaders of Christianity Today and the National Association of Evangelicals said in a joint statement. 
"We will not be passing the peace with hugs, but rather with texts and phone calls. Are these modes inferior? Yes. Will they be acceptable to the Lord? We also believe, yes." 
But there is a growing backlash, likely to be fuelled by the intervention of political leaders such as DeSantis, and Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, who this week signed his own executive order designating religious services as "essential" and leaving houses of worship to make their own decisions while urging them to work remotely. 
An open letter to Catholic bishops calling for public mass and access to the holy sacraments is gaining traction online, pushed by a newly-formed group of theologians and ministers calling itself the Easter People. 
"Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship," the group said. 
Other than Texas and Florida, states that have issued exemptions for religious events and with large numbers of coronavirus cases or significant populations of older people include Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Tennessee and West Virginia. The homepage for executive orders signed by the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, includes the words: "A place of religious worship is not subject to penalty." 
The Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy research group, published its own study of states it found to have enacted exemptions to stay-at-home orders on religious grounds, describing it as "an alarming trend". 
According to the group, Pennsylvania was the first to move, on 19 March when it enacted a clause that exempts the "operations of religious institutions" from its closure order on physical premises of "non-life sustaining businesses". 
Over the next five days, five more states – New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Louisiana, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, West Virginia and Kansas – acted by including religious exemptions to varying degrees. For example, New Mexico banned gatherings of more than five people anywhere, with "churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship" among the exceptions. West Virginia's order, meanwhile, adds specific wording to assure citizens that travel to and from a place of worship would also not be considered a violation.

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