Conference and District News
Houses of worship will be back. Churches, synagogues and mosques will reopen — but they will do so when it is safe — not when they are pressed to do so for partisan political benefit.
Who is able to determine when it is safe for people to gather to pray? Certainly not politicians. No, the only advice that is meaningful comes from the scientific community, from epidemiologists, from doctors, and from virologists.
The vast majority of religious leaders understands and respects the meaning of expertise. They look to those with knowledge for guidance on issues related to that expertise.
The 17,000 clergy members who comprise The Clergy Letter Project originally came together to celebrate the compatibility of religion and science, recognizing that each has something critically important to offer. They challenged the fact that scientific expertise was being cast aside by some in the name of religion, understanding that this was an affront to the principles of their faith while undermining the very nature of science.
Now, in the face of a deadly pandemic, some politicians are attempting to use religion to advance their narrow special interests. These politicians are telling (perhaps demanding is a more appropriate word) clergy to open their houses of worship, to demonstrate that we’ve defeated the pandemic before us, despite the very clear warnings being offered by the scientific community that to do so is to risk increasing the toll of death and misery.
These politicians misunderstand virtually everything meaningful about religious belief.
They don’t recognize that religion doesn’t need a physical building or sanctuary to remain alive and thrive.
They don’t recognize that religion is every bit as much about community as it is about physical closeness.
They don’t recognize the strength that has been present as religious communities come together virtually to pray, to demonstrate compassion, to mourn, and to look to a better future.
They don’t recognize that at the core of all religions is a deep belief in the well-being, both spiritually and physically, of all people.
They don’t recognize that religion and science are not at odds with one another and that religious leaders can celebrate the knowledge science offers.
And they don’t recognize that the vast majority of clergy do not see themselves as pawns in a manufactured culture war.
This is a widespread movement, far bigger than The Clergy Letter Project.
Two examples will demonstrate the depth of feeling within the religious community.
Clergy members from Memphis representing a wide array of faiths have produced a powerful video explaining why they will not open their houses of worship until it is safe to do so. Heed their powerful words:
We make our decisions based on love, morality, and the best of medical science, not expediency. We love the vulnerable and the lonely, those on the front lines of healing and supply chains, so until it’s safer, many of us are delaying face to face gatherings for praise and worship, for Shabbat, for jummah, for holy eucharist.
Clergy members from Virginia have written a letter to Governor Ralph Northam urging caution. They said, in part:
Many faith leaders will also experience great pressure to reopen for worship, hold funeral services, and other physical gatherings…. In the beginning months of this pandemic, religious gatherings contributed greatly to the spread of COVID-19. We’re fearful a premature reopening will only exacerbate this problem. We want to be part of the solution, even if it means sacrificing our preference for in-person gatherings a little longer for the sake of others.
Yes, there are some religious leaders who have a different perspective, who believe their faith protects them from the virus. Unfortunately, we are increasingly seeing that some of these very same religious leaders, along with their parishioners, are falling ill and dying.
It is important to recognize that this small but vocal minority does not represent the vast majority of the religious community. That majority has a different perspective, one that embraces life, demonstrates empathy and compassion, understands the value of science, and treasures the community arising from close friends.
These religious leaders are taking the steps necessary to keep people safe, to find ways to feed souls and stomachs during a challenging time, and to remain above the needless and damaging politicization of religion.
I’m proud to call many of these religious leaders my friends.