What if mayors and governors had not ordered churches to close? Would churches have closed of their own accord? Probably some would have closed and some would not have closed. Churches are dynamic organisms more than organizations. Mimicking Will Rogers, I’ve often joked that I don’t belong to an organized religion: I’m Baptist.
Information, data, models, and advice from ‘experts’ have been all over the board, from “we’re all going to die” to “COVID-19 is no worse than the flu” and all points between. The debates have been more political than medical. Political debates are easy to assess these days. Those who are politically vocal are either LEFT or RIGHT. Those who are vocal and claim to be independent and middle of the road are deceiving themselves. The quiet ones are much more likely to be independent and middle of the road.
Speaking of politics, churches are uniquely organized and operated under political frameworks. For example, General Henry Martyn Robert composed the first iteration of what would become Robert’s Rules of Order in 1863 when he was asked to preside over a church meeting. He had had no problem presiding over military hearings and meetings, but he was a bit daunted by presiding over a church meeting.
Church meetings at every level within churches can be quite daunting! Ideally, churches operate under the authority of the Bible and are led by the Holy Spirit in worshiping and serving God the Father and Jesus the Son. Nevertheless, we don’t live in a world that operates under ideal circumstances, and all church members and leaders are necessarily handicapped by human nature. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
When mayors and governors gave churches no choice except to close their doors they raised concerns about Constitutional rights. Some churches resisted the orders from the beginning, but most acquiesced to government orders and found other ways of meeting, ministering, and serving the faithful and those in need.
Last Friday President Trump upped the ante in the debate about “essential” organizations. He said new CDC guidelines will classify houses of worship as “essential,” and asked governors to allow them to open “right now.” In his remarks, Trump said, “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.” He added, ”In America, we need more prayer not less.”
President Trump’s announcement reignited the debate about separation of church and state, and put the onus for reopening churches back where it should have been from the beginning, in the hands of the churches themselves. Who knows what’s best for local churches? Mayors and governors, or individual churches themselves?
In spite of what many of today’s academics claim, Christians - not Muslims, Jews, or atheists - played critical roles in colonizing and founding America. They built churches, schools and hospitals, indeed the foundational infrastructure of our society and culture. Nevertheless, modern histories of America more likely than not portray Christians and Christianity as the bane or source of many of our problems. The tide has turned in America.
As we come out of this government-mandated lockdown, it’s refreshing to some of us that President Trump recognizes “these very important essential places of faith.”
Daniel L. Gardner is a syndicated columnist who lives in Starkville, MS. You may contact him at PJandMe2@gmail.com.