COVID-19: Why Places of Worship are Essential
By: Deji Yesufu
This past Friday President Donald Trump of the United States of America made a statement that might be considered the most controversial in his tenure in office to date. Trump said that places of worship were “essential” and thus should be allowed to open in various states right across the United States. His exacts words:
“Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential… The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now – for this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”
President Trump also added that America needed more prayers and not less. For this reason, he said churches, synagogues and mosques should be given the liberties to open for worship.
Personally, I received that story with great joy and I published a link to it on my social media handle with the comment “God bless President Trump.” A number of responses to me on that thread have elicited this article. I hope you would be able to bear reading this piece with the liberty of heart with which you left scathing criticisms on my Facebook wall.
Let us begin with the word “essential” and why Donald Trump decided to throw his weight behind the matter by labeling religious gathering important. We do not need too much thinking to realize that our world today is a post-religious world. There is a rabid disdain and anger against religion and religious people. The world looks on centuries past and concludes that religion has been the greatest albatross to science and progress in the world. Therefore, if irreligious people could have their way, they would wish that all religion be banned in the world. If you cannot ban religion, at the least consider it non-essential, especially at a time like this when the world is battling a pandemic – they would argue.
While irreligious people consider religion as non-essential, they would gladly label essential work and various businesses that bring money people’s ways. They would also call restaurants and liquor stores essential, and in the words of Donald Trump, they even think abortion clinics are also essential. Clearly, as we would soon see, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. If the irreligious would consider religion as non-essential, the religious have the right to call faith essential and thankfully they have the backing of the world’s most powerful man. Therefore, God bless Donald Trump!
I think what I consider most sickening about all these labeling of essentials and non-essentials is the hypocritical position that half-hearted religious people have taken on the matter. While we live in a post-religious world, it is still not very fashionable to call yourself irreligious or atheist in our world today. So what happens is that halfhearted religious people, people who do not keep the tenets of their faith firmly at heart, quickly buckle to the sentiments of their irreligious neighbors and lawmakers, and join the bandwagon of criticisms against religious people and their commitment to their faith. They are the ones that are increasing the volume against the opening of worship centers – publishing statements from men like Pastor Donnie McClurkin, with no concern as to knowing what McClurkin truly believes. McClurklin may be a pastor but he might not understand the intricacies of his faith and thus his pandering to the sentiments of the irreligious.
We must consider the fact that a pandemic like this one is not only novel but that no one actually knows the best way of dealing with it. New theories of what we are dealing with is emerging every day and one of the things people are discovering is that a total lockdown is simply not practical. If everyone is being allowed out, why would the world then frown at worship places opening too? What is clear before us is that this disease is going to be with us for a very long time. And anyone who is serious at all would realize that a continuous lockdown for the next two or more years is actually not practical. The earlier the world comes out of its shell and faces this disease the better.
Another thing that we might want to consider is this: there is no way the irreligious will be able to label religion as essential when in fact they do not even subscribe to religion in the first place. Their very profession of irreligion is saying that they regard religion as non-essential. On the other hand, those who choose religion think that religion is essential. So, who would decide on the way forward for the two groups?
In the United States of America a certain church in Phoenix, Arizona, the Apologia Church, never once closed their door of worship. They have held worship gathering since the pandemic broke out. They could do this with more liberty because the cases of Coronavirus infection in their city were about the lowest in the USA and they believed they could put in modalities to ensure social distancing and hygiene during worship. More importantly, this church thinks that the religious world was too hasty in falling in line with government admonition for places of worship to shut down. They weighed the pros and cons, and decided to continue to fellowship. Besides, this gathering of believers, a reformed church, is committed to a tenet of Christian worship that most churches have paid very little attention to. This is the matter of the Lord’s Supper. This church takes the communion every Lord’s Day and they are convinced that there is no way one can do this when the church is on lockdown. Thankfully they have carried on worship up until this time, even as the debate on church gatherings continues.
While I cannot speak authoritatively for mosques and synagogues, I can say confidently that churches that are deciding to gather together to worship are doing so with the utmost sense of responsibility. The Christian Church has always, in every age, led in the matter of community development and public safety. The modern era in most countries was brought about by Christian influences. Christians influenced education, government, law and so on all around the world. Africa would not be what it is today if not for Christian missions. There is no reason why anyone should think that churches would today be the fulcrum on which the pandemic will continue. My argument is that if places of business are opening, markets and liquor stores are opening, then by all means, the places of worship should open. Besides this, places of worship are gathering where people not only listen to God’s word but also have the opportunity to plead with him collectively to intervene in the nations of the earth. Like Trump said, we need more prayers in these times and not less.
I am using this opportunity also to appeal to the Nigerian government to also begin to allow places of worship to open up. I look forward to my own local assembly, the Chapel of the Resurrection, University of Ibadan, opening. It would be a wonderful re-union with God’s people, as we rejoice like the Psalmist who said “I was glad when they say let us go to the house of the Lord.” While the church building is not the church, the people who gather in it make up the church and it would be wonderful to be back worshipping with God’s people again. Any politician, government policy, law or idea that would restore the gathering of God’s people in these days of lockdown is a blessed idea. And while the irreligious may think it is not important, we think it is not only essential but also might serve as the very means of bringing an end to the whole pandemic. Why, you may ask? It is because the church, the place of worship, is the light of the world. We dispel darkness and this includes the darkness of a period like this one.
I agree that churches are essential. However, it is also important to note that many churches have been a source of exponential spread of the virus. The church is more than a building. We remain the light of the world even if we can not physically meet. And if we show by example that we can care more for others than ourselves, that will send a strong message to the world.