When state governors began ordering the closure of all but essential businesses, questions quickly emerged about churches. But where do they fit?
I bet that if someone asked you if churches are essential businesses, your answer would depend on your faith.
If you’re a believer, you might insist they are. If you’re an atheist, I’d bet you’d say no.
I also suspect there’s a good bit of gray area on both sides of the spectrum.
Since the start of the pandemic, some churches raced to move to online-only services. They followed the guidance of medical experts who urged social distancing and government orders capping the number of people in gatherings.
But some churchgoers refused to heed the advice, instead declaring social distancing an attack on their faith or Christianity itself. Some others have come up with absolutely imbecilic notions about how safe they’re sure they must be.
The church isn’t just a building.
I visited a church here in Charleston a few years ago that came up with an interesting idea. They devoted one Sunday each month to serving others. Some fed the homeless. Some painted schools. As I recall, some built wheelchair ramps for people in need.
They didn’t do these things instead of church: This was church. They served “the least of these.” They acted as the Christ they want to see in their own community.
Some might argue their actions were more productive than if they sat in pews keeping their places in the hymns they sang.
Church doesn’t have to meet in person inside one building. It can meet online. It can meet in the form of serving others.
I’m a believer.
So I do think church is important. I think it plays a very important role in helping people grow in their faith. I will say it doesn’t work as well for some as it does for others. That’s unfortunate.
But for the most part, I consider church to be essential.
I don’t, however, consider it to be “an essential business” as defined in the various gubernatorial executive orders. Since it can be done without gathering in groups — even live on social media from the pastor’s living room — churches need not open their doors to crowds of people when a pandemic is underway.
I hope once this pandemic is over, we won’t have to face anything like this for a long, long time.
But I do hope some of the people who’ve defied orders and potentially put others at risk just so they could look holier than everyone else might have a chance to think about their actions. And the possible consequences of those actions.
I hope you’re finding ways to have your spiritual needs met.
But I hope you’re doing so in a way that doesn’t put yourself or others in danger.
I think that’s the Christian thing to do.