Notes from Quarantine: Losing Our Religion
Notes from Quarantine: Losing Our Religion
Since COVID-19 has been spreading rapidly through the Kansas City area, the metro will be under quarantine beginning on Tuesday. This will affect yours truly, as well. The edict extends over the Kansas-Missouri state line, requiring residents to stay inside except for “essential needs.”
However, “essential needs” doesn’t include religious services, leading many to insist that this infringes upon their right to practice religion. I have seen this all over my Facebook feed, and I have thoughts.
To start with, not all local houses of worship were still holding services at the time of the edict. On March 16, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph suspended all public Masses. My own Lutheran church — a church which never halts services, even for snowstorms — sent out an email last week announcing suspension of services.
Now I’m neither an epidemiologist nor a constitutional attorney. Nor do I play either on social media. Yet to me, while I worry that a 30-day quarantine will wreak havoc on our local economy (my biggest fear), suspension of large religious services is not unconstitutional.
In many regions, religious people may not gather in a large group for worship at this time. However, that hasn’t stopped some churches from becoming creative. Like this church in Jackson, Mississippi, which held a drive-in service, the preacher standing on the roof of the church.
Nor is this the only congregation. Do an internet search for “drive in church services coronavirus” and you’ll find a plethora of churches nationwide which now hold drive-in services.
As for my church, with its more staid, liturgical practice, an entire service was held in the sanctuary and posted online. The only persons present were the pastor, the choir director — who sang the liturgy and hymns — and the organist. It was a bit surreal, but for us it was still hearing the Word of God.
Now ask yourself: if the government were indeed clamping down on our freedom to practice religion, would these be happening? Try conducting a drive-in church or posting an online Christian service in Saudi Arabia, or China, or North Korea, and see how far you would get. Those are societies which either suppress any outside religion, or all religions. That’s true oppression of faith.
Yet some houses of worship continue to defy quarantine, no matter whether it’s government-imposed or medically advised. In Illinois, for example, a church refused to shut down its religious school, despite the governor’s statewide order. The Northwest Baptist Academy in Elgin defiantly wrote:
“. . .freedom to assemble and exercise religion is one of the most foundational and defended rights in our nation’s history. This God-given right is protected by our Constitution and has been reaffirmed countless times by our courts amidst many attempts of government overreach.”
However, as of 8:30 Monday morning, the local sheriff announced that the school would begin e-learning. I don’t like the fact that law enforcement became involved, but this school is still able to disseminate its faith to its students.
But Christians are not the only faithful to defy court orders. New York City has seen an outbreak of coronavirus infections among the Hasidic Jewish community. That group has held several large weddings, despite prohibitions.
Yet for me, as a Christian, this issue goes beyond the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. It goes to the edict that Jesus gave me and all believers: Love your neighbor as yourself.
If you’re a practicing Christian or Jew, your house of worship is probably a lot like mine: composed of people of all types. This means, of course, that there are elderly people, or people with cancer or diabetes. Perhaps some have just gone through a round of chemotherapy and have compromised immune systems. Our congregation has an older couple who bring their adult daughter with Down Syndrome. She is low-functioning, and, like other DS persons, is at greater risk for health problems, too.
I would not want to risk contracting coronavirus from a church service, nor would I want to pass it on to others sitting near me, if — God forbid — I had it. Or kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder at the communion rail, either. My call as a Christian is not to defy a temporary order, or protest that my rights are being infringed. My call is to obey the edict — as much as I dislike it — and to remain in my home as much as possible. That way I can best serve my neighbor, and by extension, Christ Himself.
Religious faith will continue, whether believers gather or not. We need not lose our religion in a time of quarantine. As Dr. Esau McCaulley, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College wrote: The church’s absence, its literal emptying, can function as a symbol of its trust in God’s ability to meet us regardless of the location.
Have faith. The time of emptying will end soon.