A Sane Christian Response to Churches and Social Distancing
Guest post by Dana Porter
I have a request for the church. Can we stop pretending that we know the sciences better than the actual scientists do?
To quote John Oliver, “Experts should stay in their lane.”
As a theologian, I am an expert at theology and church history. I know little about viruses and how they work. Since science is not my field of expertise it means I must trust that virologists know what they are talking about.
We are living in a dangerous time when political partisanship has already led to people needlessly being infected by COVID19 and dying. The time for Christian arrogance, assumptions, and pretending we know better than science, has been over for a long time. All along, we should have been listening to scientists, but especially since the outbreak which began in January. Choosing to continue to live your life without practicing social distancing is not only grossly irresponsible, it is a horrible witness, and morally negligent towards our relationship with Christ.
Earlier this week, disturbing news came that the state of Florida has issued a stay at home order, but is permitting church services by classifying them as “essential.” If anyone has been paying attention to world news, this is asinine.
Scientists have traced a massive spread of COVID19 due to a five-day service at the French church. Read and re-read this key quote until it sinks in.
“Worshipers at the church have unwittingly taken the disease caused by the virus home to the West African state of Burkina Faso, to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, to Guyana in Latin America, to Switzerland, to a French nuclear power plant, and into the workshops of one of Europe’s biggest automakers.” — Tangi Salaün
The Reuters article then goes on to say that the German border was eventually closed in places due to the outbreak caused by those attending the service. It may be hard to believe, but this pandemic spread by well-meaning Christians (and others) who did not take the virus seriously.
So much misery and death could have been avoided if the French church had taken scientists seriously. It has been screamed from the rooftop that this virus is highly contagious and deadly. As a theologian, let me point out there is no place in Scripture where you are promised protection if you willingly put yourself in danger just to attend a worship service.
Next, let’s a look at a South Korean sect that is a radical spin-off of Christianity and is often described in South Korean media as being a death cult.
At the beginning of March, South Korean pastor Lee Man-hee was under investigation for the role his church played in spreading COVOID-19. At the time of the article, more than half of South Korea’s 3,730 cases of infection could be traced back to the church. There are more than 250 articles about the spread of the pandemic through this cult.
It is important to realize that scientists are still trying to understand COVID19. But one of the main reasons that there is such a push for social distancing is that around 25–50% of the population can carry the virus without developing any symptoms. That means they will not develop fever, coughs or fatal pneumonia.
This means that either one out of four or up to half the members of a congregation gathering for church services may be infected without knowing it. Every time they shake hands, hug, or exhale during talking or singing, there is a chance someone may become infected with this fatal disease.
I love church services. I love playing music. I love the comfortable routine of a weekly ritual where I join with other like-minded crazy people to worship the living God. Community is a vital part of being a Christian, but it’s important to not treat the church as an idol.
And yes, Virginia, choosing to put church attendance above the safety of your fellow humans is making your church into an idol.
Gathering online has the same effect without putting others in danger and placing the church in the position of an idol in your life. Staying home for Easter will suck, but as the Church, it’s what we’ve got to do.
We are going through a once in a lifetime global crisis, so it makes sense that we want to use comfortable routines to help us feel safe. However, there are a multitude of alternatives to having an in-person church worship service.
1. Contact your church leaders and find out if they are broadcasting services on Sunday
2. If you are part of a church small group, start meeting via the internet.
3. Call your friends and family.
4. Donate to food banks.
5. If you have neighbors you know that are struggling, give them a call or text message. Sometimes a simple word of encouragement goes a long way.
Here are a couple sources that might give ideas or inspire you with how to rethink church and fellowship during this season: