Despite a call from President Donald Trump that governors reopen houses of worship “right now,” churches whose predominantly black and Hispanic congregations have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic say they will remain closed because the virus has not yet been contained.
The Church of God in Christ, America’s largest Pentecostal denomination with some 8.8 million members who are predominantly black, released a statement Friday in response to Trump’s call, noting that their reopening will be guided by the advice of state and federal public health agencies.
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“The past few months have been a season of great difficulty for our nation and our world. The United States has endured several viral pandemics in the previous 100 years. Still, there has never been a time when a viral illness has wrought such a profoundly negative impact on our communities as COVID-19, the Coronavirus,” COGIC, led by Bishop Charles Blake Sr., said.
“The Church of God in Christ family has been no exception. Bishops, superintendents, pastors, and lay members have succumbed to this disease, leaving their families and churches devastated by their untimely passing,” it continued, acknowledging the denomination’s significant loss to the coronavirus which has disproportionately impacted black and Hispanic communities.
The group noted that the CDC and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “admonish us to stay home and to wear appropriate face coverings and engage in social distancing if we absolutely must go out” because containment of the coronavirus, which has killed close to 100,000 people in the United States as of Tuesday morning, has not yet been achieved.
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“The CDC and the NIAID have developed mathematical models to monitor the number of newly confirmed cases and deaths resulting from the virus. They have used these models to track the pattern of sickness and death. The data will help them determine when containment has been achieved and when it is safe to resume public gatherings, including church services and other religious activities,” the denomination said.
“The number of new cases and deaths continues to increase. Based on the data available to them, the CDC and NIAID recommend that the present precautionary measures remain in place. We agree and caution pastors to delay re-opening churches at least through the end of June, if not later. Even when regular activity is allowed to resume, it must be done cautiously and methodically in phases.
“Several states have decided to relax restrictions and permit regular activities in defiance of these recommendations. These premature re-openings will once again put tens of thousands of our COGIC saints in harm’s way. We urge you, our pastors, to adhere to the recommendations of the CDC and NIAID and to refrain from prematurely opening your churches and congregating in your buildings before we have credible and substantiated evidence that it is safe to do so.”
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As the CDC urged religious officials to defer to the directive of state and local governments on Friday, President Trump said in a press briefing that houses of faith, including churches, synagogues, and mosques are “essential services” and called for their immediate reopening.
“Today I am identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogue and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right.”
He further threatened to “override” governors if they did not follow his order to reopen churches.
“I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now,” he said. “If there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me, but they’re not going to be successful in that call.”
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Bishop Paul Egensteiner, who leads the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, told his leadership team in a letter shared with CP that while he agrees that the church is “essential,” churches in his synod would remain closed until more accurate information on the virus is available.
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