Two days ago I wrote about Jerry Falwell’s facemask design using a blackface and KKK photo. An online professor resigned over it. Now, a student at Liberty University has written Falwell an open letter of protest. Rather than comment extensively, I will post his tweet here:
I (Micah Trostle) wrote this letter to my school President, Jerry Falwell Jr, whom I have been burdened by his inappropriate racial, sexual, and political behavior. As a member of Liberty's student body, it is my duty to step up and share my concerns. #jerryfalwelljr#libertypic.twitter.com/gNAQoIsRfR
The letter is a little hard to read for older eyes so you can see a larger version by clicking this link.
The nation is tearing itself apart and Jerry Falwell thinks it is appropriate to use painful racist images to make some lame political point. This isn’t getting much press because the riots, COVID, and Donald Trump allow no time for anything else. However, I suspect a majority of Liberty students would agree with Mr. Trostle.
Falwell is doubling down with some head scratching reasoning.
People have asked why I won’t apologize for reminding people of the @vagovernor racist past in a recent tweet. It’s because that same Gov just ended tuition assistance grants for the 27% of @LibertyU online students who are African-American! Put your$ where your mouth is Gov. Sad
I plan to check into the facts but I doubt that Gov. Northam picked out Liberty U’s African-American online students to target. In any case, Falwell sounds like a child – he won’t apologize because of something someone else did. If you take a look at the comments on the tweet, he getting — as the kids say — ratioed.
In normal times, this story would rock the evangelical world. As things stand, it barely registered. However, examining the situation, it is incredible that Jerry Falwell is still president at Liberty University.
On May 27, Falwell tweeted:
Just so folks outside Virginia unfamiliar with the pic on the mask understand: it is from the personal page of the medical school yearbook of @GovernorVA . Just a way to shine a spotlight on the fact that Democrats are and always have been the real racists in this country.
In response, one of Liberty’s online professors, Christopher House, resigned. Dr. House, an African-American pastor and scholar rejected Falwell’s justification for the tweet. His full explanation is at his Facebook page.
Yes I did resign today from teaching an online course for Liberty University! As a Black pastor and scholar who does work on racist memorabilia, I am disgusted at Falwell use of Blackface and KKK outfits. This does not represent the God of the Bible! pic.twitter.com/FC1Yh75GNj
Yes, the picture on the mask was taken from Gov. Northam’s medical school yearbook. It is also true that Gov. Northam is many years removed from medical school and apologized for his participation in the photo. He also faced widespread condemnation from his own party with numerous calls for his resignation. He disavowed it and is obviously ashamed of it.
Thus, Falwell’s use of the pic is opportunistic. He knows Northam doesn’t stand by the photo, and he knows numerous Democratic leaders called for Northam’s resignation. His use of that photo is now on him. He has to own it because he chose to use it. About the mask, he said he “designed my own.” He chose to use a photo of blackface and a KKK hood to make his silly political point.
So here we are. A Christian college president used some of the most painful imagery for African-American people that can be used to make his point. Apparently, it doesn’t matter who he hurts, offends, or angers, Jerry Falwell, Jr., large and in charge, must express his opposition to the inconvenience of a little mask on his face.
Falwell might protest that he is attacking the racist Northam. This is bogus. Northam disavowed it and is attempting to atone for his sins. Falwell appears to be oblivious to the pain this causes. He sins to make a point that could be made in so many other ways. In fact, his actions have now obscured the point he wanted to make.
Clearly, Dr. House experienced pain from Falwell’s choice:
There is very little that one can teach in an Intercultural class that can be taken seriously by students who seek to engage in a meaningful cross cultural, bridge building and improving race relations in the world when the President of the very same institution draws upon images of racial terror for political expedience, and without regard for people who look like me who will have to deal with the very real, social, economic and physical implications of those negative stereotypes long after his post is removed (or not as such is the case).
Symbols of racism are just that: symbols of racism. They aren’t analogies for perceived slights by white people. A mask using painful images of racism isn’t — will never be — an appropriate advertisement for your political grievances.
Roys traveled the same road I did in 2017 and found much the same thing. The school isn’t accredited by a state or federally recognized accrediting body and isn’t licensed as a university by the state of Florida. In Florida, religious schools can become exempt from the requirement to be licensed if they file an affidavit with the state that their degrees are only religious in nature. St. Thomas was out of compliance when I researched in 2017 and they remain out of compliance today according to Roys.
Eric Metaxas has been in the hot seat lately due to his race baiting tweet in response to Joe Biden (see this post for that story). However, there is something else that in times past would relegate Metaxas to the fringe.
On his radio show last week, he gave 36 minutes to Kent Heckenlively, the co-author with Judy Mikovits, of the conspiratorial book Plague of Corruption. Mikovits is the star of the documentary “Plandemic” that made the rounds in early May. Metaxas treated Heckenlively as a serious guest with truth to reveal. In the process, he gave the anti-vax movement a huge public relations win. Watch:
In this video, Heckenlively claims and Metaxas accepts that aborted fetal tissue is in vaccines, and harmful viruses are in vaccines. The fictitious vaccine-autism link is implied along with other wild ideas. Heckenlively is allowed to provide a full recitation of the anti-vax catalog. Metaxas is completely unprepared for these claims and can’t or doesn’t want to offer any skeptical response. For all practical purposes, Eric Metaxas produced a 36 minute commercial for the anti-vax movement.
As of October 27, 2020, I count 615 religious gatherings associated with at least 7,289 cases of COVID-19 and 99 deaths.
(Update – 10/22/20) Because the number of church outbreaks have been increasing since churches are opening up and failing to use masks and social distancing, it has been become too time consuming to report the outbreaks in the format used below. I have tabulated the cases in October using this chart instead. I hope to continue to keep a tally in this manner and add to the totals above.
Due to inadequate record keeping in many states and secrecy by many churches, I suspect this significantly underestimates the actual numbers. For instance, New Mexico keeps track of location of exposure but doesn’t report outbreaks by source location. Other states, like Ohio, vaguely refer to church outbreaks but decline to name locations or update numbers of cases. In situations where an outbreak is mentioned but the number is not given, I count an outbreak as 2 cases since that is a common and conservative means of defining the term in many states. While these numbers may seem low, most of these outbreaks have occurred after churches have opened back up.
Regularly updated. Scroll down for section on churches being monitored due to contact tracing. This section is useful for people who want to know if they have attended a church where an infected person has attended.
On May 22, Donald Trump has threatened to “override” governors who have limited church gatherings. He can’t do that legally and he shouldn’t try. Furthermore, governors should resist the calls of some church leaders to remove restrictions. Going to church is not like shopping or even eating out. With this post, I plan to keep a running list of situations where churches have met together and spread the virus in an outbreak of cases or a church has closed because of a positive case due to a church service.
Some are widely known. In South Korea, much of the spread was due to a new religious movement where a single infected person spread the virus to many people in church. Several days ago, I wrote about the differences between church going and shopping and concluded that many things we do in church make it easy for the virus to spread.
Eight members of the Ider Church of God in Ider, AL tested positive for COVID-9. The pastor announced that they all are in quarantine.
The CDC reported this past week that an Arkansas church was involved in the spread of COVID-19 in March. Here is the CDC description:
Among 92 attendees at a rural Arkansas church during March 6–11, 35 (38%) developed laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, and three persons died. Highest attack rates were in persons aged 19–64 years (59%) and ≥65 years (50%). An additional 26 cases linked to the church occurred in the community, including one death.
Services held in a church in North Little Rock in June are associated with 14 cases of COVID-19. The church is First Pentecostal Church and testing is being done to determine if more cases associated with services exist.
The AR Department of Health issued a report card of sorts on churches where COVID-19 infected people have attended. Most churches had one or two people attend with COVID and nothing more came from it because they followed the social distancing and masking guidelines. However, in 9 churches, there are outbreaks associated with not following the guidelines according to Director of the Department of Health Matt. Watch his explanation. Following that, I will list the churches with two of more cases (the red dots).
Churches which have more than two cases associated with attendance at church services (red dots) are:
Central Baptist Church- Central Campus, Jonesboro
St Raphael Catholic Church, Springdale
New Beginnings, De Queen
New Beginnings Church, Springdale
Lifeline Ministry Church of God in Christ, Nashville
Slaty Crossing Free Will Baptist Church, Dardanelle
First Pentecostal Church, North Little Rock (this church is reported above)
Big T Apostolic Church, Corning
Below is an image depicting where the cases of COVID-19 have shown up in AR churches. The red dots are listed above and according to Governor Hutchinson were not following the recommendations for social distancing and use of masks.
At 6:18 in the video briefing above, Gov. Hutchinson explains that 98% of churches are doing a good job but those who are not have helped contribute to cases. He then put this image before the audience.
In April, a Russian language evangelical church near Sacramento was the center of an outbreak. Seventy cases of COVID-19 were traced back to the church. Small group gatherings may have contributed to the spread of the virus.
A Chula Vista church is being investigated due to an outbreak there. The pastor and church defied mitigation measures, but then three members tested positive for the virus as of June 9.
Two Catholic churches in Dixon, CA have closed because a priest and unknown number of members have contracted the virus. In at least one case, masking guidelines were not followed.
Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle opened their church to in person services in April only to close again in early May after just two weeks of services due to reported infections among congregants. The infections occurred despite significant social distancing precautions and low attendance at the services.
In Cartersville, GA as many as 15 cases of COVID-19 were connected to an infected person who attended the Church at Liberty Square in early March. The church then moved to online services. Dr. Melissa Dillman told The Cancer Letter that most deaths from COVID-19 in Floyd County, GA came from that church service.
Killian Hill Baptist Church in Lilburn had 30 cases in July and August, including the pastor and a family member.
From August 6-12. GA reported 8 church related outbreaks. There has been a total of 49 church/temple related outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic with 517 cases, 91 hospitalizations, and 15 deaths according to an email from the Dept of Public Health.
The GA Dept of Health updated these figures on 9/11/2020. At that time, there were a total of 71 church/temple related outbreaks, 638 cases of COVID associated with 103 hospitalizations and 18 deaths.
As of 10/21/20, the GA Dept of Health updated these figures with 94 church/place of worship outbreak investigations involving 748 COVID cases, 110 hospitalizations, and 19 deaths.
An unnamed church on Maui was associated with a cluster of cases in April. No details were given by health officials.
A pastor is in ICU, his wife is ill and five members of the church staff are infected with COVID-19 after the church went back to in person services in Coeur d’Alene. The church resisted masking and social distancing and apparently will continue to do so.
A church near Chicago is associated with 10 confirmed cases and another 33 congregants with COVID-like symptoms after a church service in March. The stay at home orders had not been imposed at the time.
The Cathedral of Worship in Quincy is associated with “several positive cases.” Services will not be held this weekend (7/5) at the church.
As of 8/27, LifeChurchX in Waterloo is the scene of an outbreak in two locations. At least the pastor and his wife and an undisclosed number of members are infected.
From March 16 to March 22, a Church of God denomination conference was held in Kansas City, KS. As of a April 20 news report, there were 7 deaths and 51 COVID-19 cases associated with attendance at that conference.
The Kansas Department of Health reported 9 cases relating to an out of state church camp.
The KS Dept of Health “identified clusters associated with religious gatherings at Faith Chapel Assembly of God in Louisburg (21), Faith Tabernacle Apostolic Church in Junction City (7), Hannah’s House in Independence (9) and Plevna Church in Plevna (14).”
Kansas now has a total number of clusters at religious gatherings with associated deaths and cases. There have been 25 clusters associated with 281 cases, 56 hospitalizations, and 13 deaths.
In March, a Hopkins County revival meeting led to infections that spread throughout the state. At least 30 cases and three deaths have been linked to the meeting.
A Nicholasville, KY church is the scene of an outbreak. The church’s pastor was a vocal opponent of stay at home measures but now has postponed services until June 21.
Officials want to hear from people who attended Solid Rock Church in Burning Springs between May 28 and June 3. Several cases are associated with attendance at that church.
Outbreaks at two churches in New Bedford are reported in this article. A current one involves 9 cases at Iglesia Pentecostal Levantate y Anda and another was in June at La Primer Iglesia de Dois Church. Add 40 more cases to the storefront church in New Bedford.
Two small Catholic churches, one in Maple Lake and the other in Annandale, share clergy who have tested positive for COVID-19. Despite following guidelines, volunteers and others have tested positive and are displaying symptoms of the virus. All three of the clergy who serve both churches are positive or symptomatic.
An unnamed Martin Co. church is associated with 50 cases due to a church service tied to a funeral and then to other services not associated with the funeral.
According to a tweet from the Jackson County, MO Health Department: “There are currently 30 confirmed cases from an exposure at Old Paths Baptist Church between July 19 – July 24.” The church is in Independence, MO.
As of October 21, NC will report clusters by location. Since April, religious gatherings have accounted for 76 clusters, 1,040 cases and 13 deaths.
Today, according to WLOS, Macon County Public Health reported seven members of Evangelical Ebenezer Church in Franklin, NC have tested positive for COVID-19. Health officials have identified this as a “cluster” of cases and identified the source as the church.
The Hamilton County Health Department announced exposure to positive cases of COVID 19 with participants that attended the Windy Gap Young Life Camp, 120 Coles Cove Road, Weaverville, N.C. between July 24 and July 31.
Cashiers Church of God, a Jackson County church is associated with a cluster of 8 cases. The exposure was between 7/12-14/20.
On July 10, Huron CO. health officials reported 12 COVID-19 cases were associated with outbreaks at two churches, Collins United Methodist Church in Collins, and West Hartland United Methodist, Norwalk.
From July 19 to July 30, attendance at the Pilgrim Holiness Church and church camp in Winchester, could have exposed someone to COVID-19. Five cases are associated with those locations.
Christian Life Center in Heath is the site of an outbreak of 32 confirmed cases. Another church in St. Louisville in Licking County has a small outbreak.
Brown County has one small church outbreak. Ohio does not provide specific information on the church or cases.
Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Eastern Oregon is associated with an outbreak of cases in Union County. As of June 19, over 230 members of the congregation have tested positive. This represents over two-thirds of the congregation. This church took direct guidance from Trump’s guidance to open in person church services. The outbreak followed renewed services.
Westmore Church of God in Cleveland has closed due to an outbreak there. The exact number of cases associated isn’t known but according to the church, there are at least 12 cases. The church did not practice social distancing, allowed singing, and didn’t require masks. A later account said dozens were sick and three died.
Covenant Baptist Church in Cleveland has closed services due to an outbreak of 20 cases there. The pastor is among those who have been infected.
A Calvary Chapel in San Antonio is associated with dozens of cases including the pastor and his wife. Church people may have spread the virus through lack of social distancing due to hugging when the church met for services.
A Catholic church closed services after several members came down with COVID-19. The transmission is unclear but 5 members of an order associated with the church tested positive.
Although not officially an outbreak yet, a Catholic church in Houston was closed because a priest and church staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
A Killeen church has reported 10 cases tied to a singer in a service even though masks were worn and social distancing was practiced. Now the church is having services online.
First Baptist Church of Dallas has an outbreak in their choir and orchestra. This has been kept secret by the church but was reported by Buzzfeed News. This situation is especially noteworthy since the pastor of the church is Robert Jeffress, a key supporter of Donald Trump. It also was occuring the same weekend V.P. Mike Pence visited the church.
Despite the fact that the leadership was aware of the outbreak, the orchestra and choir performed during the Pence visit without masks and in close proximity. Watch:
Another megachurch, Fellowship Church pastored by Ed Young, appears to have an outbreak relating to a church camp and lack of mitigation measures. As reported by Amy Smith at her Watchkeep blog, several parents of youth at the church are reporting that several participants at a recent church camp have tested positive for COVID-19. At a more recent camp session sponsored by Fellowship Church, at least one staff child and a camper have been infected as indicated by this Facebook posting.
A minister who defied mitigation efforts died from the virus. Gerald Glenn of Chesterfield VA vowed to continue preaching but succumbed to the virus back in April. Several of his family members also contracted the virus.
An outbreak at Kidane Mehret Church in Alexandria one of six outbreaks in the city during the pandemic. Anyone at the church between August 14-17 should quarantine. It isn’t clear how many cases have come from these outbreaks. In my count I will apply the conservative number of two each until I hear from the VA Dept of Health.
In Castleton, Massanova Pentecostal Church experienced a significant outbreak in June. Since Virginia doesn’t report church outbreaks separated from other congregate settings, the Rappahannock News obstained internal VA Dept of Health documents via a FOIA request. It appears that 32 cases and 2 deaths resulted.
In Madison Heights, two churches have outbreaks, one with 4 cases and the other with two.
The first COVID-19 death in WV was a member of a Baptist church in Everettville. Due to lack of resources and tracing, it is unclear how many people became infected, but at least five did after attending a service of between 90 and 120 people back in March.
Greystone Baptist Church in Ronceverte (Greenbriar Co.) is now linked to 41 cases with many more people being tested. Two other unnamed churches have also reported outbreaks relating to meeting together. One of those churches may be this Hampshire Co. church which reported 8 cases.
Governor Justice reported on June 13 that 24 new cases statewide had been associated with church attendance. In his update, “The Governor added that the primary factor in these outbreaks was that the organizations had not adequately planned or put in place social distancing or infection control guidelines.” Although details were not released on the fifth church, a state of WV press release said five churches in all have experienced outbreaks due to meeting together.
A sixth church in WV has been identified. The First Baptist Church in Wheeling has been associated with 21 positive cases. Because the church did not close when the outbreak was first identified on June 10, the outbreak has grown.
Thirty cases have been associated with an outbreak at North Charleston Apostolic Church in Charleston.
Although he didn’t name the churches, Gov. Jim Justice said on July 17th that outbreaks had been associated with churches in “Boone, Kanawha, Raleigh and Taylor counties.” Assuming one church per county, that would mean there are 10 churches in West Virginia associated with outbreaks as of 7/19. As of July 29, Grant, Logan, and Mason counties can be added to that list. A high of 137 cases were associated with church outbreak on July 27. This is since July 17. As of 8/7/20, Cabell County can be added to this list.
In this section, I am just going to list churches under scrutiny by health officials because someone attended a service and was COVID-19 positive. These churches haven’t experienced an outbreak, but attenders have been exposed due to public meetings (if known, the date of the meeting(s) is provided).
Multiple locations in Arkansas – 6/25/20 – The AR Dept of Health released a list of 44 churches visited by someone who was COVID-19 positive. I did not list this above because the DOH is not sure if the infection came from the church or if there is an outbreak in the church. However, at least 8 of the churches have had more than two cases in their services at some time during the pandemic. According to the DOH:
The information provided in this report represents exposure locations for the full duration of the COVID19 pandemic until 6/25/2020. The information presented was reported to the Arkansas Department of Health during case surveillance and contact tracing efforts as reported by a known COVID-19 case. The church locations are places patients reported visiting during their infectious period, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate they became infected there. As more cases are contacted, the information found in this report will change.
Another church, this time in Bremerhaven, is the site of another outbreak. Over 100 people have been infected with one death associated with a service in early June.
The CDC reports eight churches in South Korea where there are clusters of infections (in parentheses): Jusarang Church in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi (9), Elim Church in Gumi City, Gyeongbuk (8). Dong-an Church-PC Cafe in Seoul (20), Manmin Central Church in Seoul (41), Onchun Church in Busan (39),Grace River Church in Seongnam (72), Bucheon Saeng MyeongSu Church in Gyeonggi (48), and Geochang Church in Gyeong-nam (10),
There are many reasons why a church service is a good environment for spreading the virus (see this post for a discussion). Despite social distancing, some church gatherings have been responsible for the spread of the virus. During the Spanish Flu pandemic churches closed down until it was safe to meet again. We should be patient and follow their example.
I urge readers to leave other cases of church spread in the comments and I will add more as I find them.
Those folks want to keep America (and Britain in the case of Hopkins) white and European. I don’t know what’s in Metaxas’ heart, but I could never give those three a platform, let alone call them friends and heroes.
Metaxas is currently getting dragged on social media for this tweet, and rightly so. However, if tomorrow everything goes back to normal, what will it matter?
Ed Stetzer has weighed in:
Good opportunity here to delete this tweet and put up a short apology.
After being ratioed all night long, Metaxas doubled down:
So may we call Biden’s policies “racist”? And those that oppose them “anti-racist”? Or shall we focus on the shiny objects for another fifty years and ignore the crushing reality? https://t.co/ObXeQsGIpW
In the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, Joe Biden was favored by 81% of black voters over Donald Trump, who was favored by only 3%. Although it was a dumb and insensitive way of saying it, Biden was not untethered to the facts.
If anyone is failing to deal with reality, it is Metaxas and his supporters. They fail to deal with the fact that there are good reasons for the disparity in the black vote. Principally, what Republicans do is criticize black voters for being captivated by “shiny objects” as if black voters don’t have reasons to favor the Democratic party.
Conservatives will make the most of Biden’s gaffe but exploitation can’t cover the fact that members of GOP fight against expanding voting access. Members of which party support Confederate heroes and symbols and find “very good people” among those who want to see a statue of Robert E. Lee remain in a honored place? Not the Democratic party.
According to a recent poll, black Americans feel that racial division has grown and that Trump is responsible for that that. They strongly disapprove of his performance and hold him responsible for an increase in racism on his watch. There are reasons for these results which Republican leaders simply don’t want to confront.
This morning Ravi Zacharias International Ministries released a statement announcing the death of their founder. Ravi Zacharias had been ill with an aggressive form of cancer. He was 74.
Until late in his ministry, Zacharias was universally beloved among evangelicals as a minister and defender of Christianity. He was affiliated with the Christian Missionary Alliance church. Recently, scandalsmarred his work, but for the most part his fans continued to stand with him. His organization will continue his apologetics work with his daughter Sarah Davis as CEO.
Davis had this to say about funeral arrangements:
Soon our family will gather for a graveside service. In the days ahead we will provide details for a public memorial service to be held in Atlanta and streamed around the world.
Ravi Zacharias, R.I.P.
The Washington Post obituary by Sarah Bailey for Ravi Zacharias contains a link to this blog’s exclusive 2018 apology concerning Zacharias’ claim that he studied at Cambridge and was a professor at Oxford.
Today, on First Things, Rusty Reno apologized for his “foolish and ill-considered remarks about masks and mask wearing.” It is short, so I reproduce it here.
I regret my foolish and ill-considered remarks about masks and mask wearing on Twitter on Tuesday, May 12. Masks are clearly indicated in many situations. I used over-heated rhetoric and false analogies. It was wrong for me to impugn the intentions and motives of others, for which I apologize.
I wrote about his tweets (now deleted along with his entire account) last week. Given the position First Things has in the world of religion, it would be good to hear what tipped the scale in the other direction.
This seems like a good start. Reno also distorted history in his crusade against social distancing measures and it would be a good thing to see corrections made there as well.
I’ve been talkingabout itfor awhile. I’m just one of many. First Things, the magazine that calls itself “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” is struggling. For me, it started with a broadside against the very reasonable David French by Sohrab Ahmari about a year ago. And then of late, the editor of First Things, R.R. Reno, has used the magazine to carry on a war against social distancing and most recently face masks. Yesterday, the crescendo was this series of tweets, now deleted from Twitter.
Reno today deleted his account from Twitter and did not file a daily Coronavirus diary on First Things as he has done most days during the pandemic.
By the way, in fact soldiers did wear masks. Or at least these recruits did during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
Others have noticed. Evangelical historian Thomas Kidd tweeted earlier today.
Once the top intellectual outlet for religious traditionalists; now trashing people for trying to protect the ailing and aged from COVID-19. Has any American periodical ever fallen so far? #firstthings#ProLife
As I read editor Reno, he seems preoccupied with fear. He almost seems afraid to be afraid. In his tweets and articles, fear is the worst thing. Wearing a mask is a sign of cowardice to him. While I understand that fear is a negative emotion, some things should be feared. Fear is a natural part of our ability to adapt and respond to the demands of life. Fear can focus us on what is important.
In his war on fear, Reno has taken liberties with both history and science. In prior articles, Reno said in past pandemics, American citizens didn’t stop their gatherings, football games, and church services. Not true. In the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, many of the very same measures being taken now were taken then.
In his Coronavirus journal entry on May 12, Reno wrote:
Experts estimate that one-third of the residents of New York City have had the disease—a collective condition that makes it nearly impossible for an outbreak of significant magnitude to sweep through the city again. Yet we’re locked down, with no end in sight.
Actually, experts estimate that it would take 60% of the population to be infected for herd immunity to prevent an outbreak. In fact, we don’t know for certain that immunity occurs in all cases of COVID-19, and we don’t know for sure that the antibody tests are reliable. Even if they are and 30% is a valid number, that still isn’t adequate.
First Things once cared about accuracy. There are still good people writing there (e.g., Carl Trueman), but I do agree with Thomas Kidd’s assessment about the publication as a whole and hope for a reset.
In his article, Stetzer proclaims: “If Costco can make it work, so can the churches.”
Maybe they can. However, I want to point out that church is different than shopping at Costco.
Stetzer calls on us to use science in our decision making which is what I want to do. My thoughts are based partly on an excellent blog post by UMass Dartmouth Biology professor Erin Bromage. Bromage teaches courses on immunology and infectious diseases and has a research program in the evolution of the immune system.
My ideas here are also based on my experience as a church attender and a shopper. Having done both for much of my life, I can safely say that full participation in church and going shopping are different activities.
Church activities spread the virus
First, let me pick some relevant material from Bromage’s article. An important principle developed by Bromage is this:
Remember the formula: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time
To get to this principle, Bromage discusses the ways humans spread a virus. We spread it most efficiently by sneezing and coughing, but we also spread it by speaking and breathing. Sneezing and coughing expels hundreds of millions of viral particles, so it is easy enough to understand why sick people should stay home. They shouldn’t go to church or shop.
But let’s take speaking since that is done in church a lot but not as much in the grocery store, especially these days. Bromage estimates it takes about 5 minutes of face-to-face speaking to transmit enough virus to make an infection possible. Church meeting supporters might complain that we all will be wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. Well, if you really will, then that will help. However, there is the variable of time in Bromage’s formula.
When people are shopping in Costco and many grocery stores, they are moving around in large open spaces. They go in, do their shopping, and leave. That is not how people do church. They go in, sing (more about that in a minute), talk, and sit and listen to a 30-50 minute sermon, stand around and talk some more and then leave, often in a smaller room. Sitting around for a couple of hours with a super spreader in the room isn’t like shopping in Costco.
Bromage describes several instances of how infections spread in restaurants, work places, sports venues, parties, and choir practice.
For instance, Bromage summarizes a case where a single carrier infected most of a choir in a Washington city even though the community choir members took certain precautions during their practice. The thing many Christians love to do in church that they don’t do in Costco is sing. Bromage describes how singing spreads the virus:
Singing, to a greater degree than talking, aerosolizes respiratory droplets extraordinarily well. Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs. Two and half hours of exposure ensured that people were exposed to enough virus over a long enough period of time for infection to take place. Over a period of 4 days, 45 of the 60 choir members developed symptoms, 2 died. The youngest infected was 31, but they averaged 67 years old.
Recall Bromage’s formula: infection equals exposure x time.
Bromage describes a restaurant scenario where an infected person at one table led to infections in people sitting at adjacent tables. The airflow in the room apparently carried low levels of virus to the people sitting at the adjacent table. Churches could work around this as we move into summer, but not if they don’t know how church is different than shopping.
Public Health v. Civil Rights
In a crisis, it is easy to get polarized and I have been pleasantly surprised at how well evangelicals have followed good practices in moving to online services. Of late, however, more voices have arisen suggesting that churches have a right to meet and that if people can gather in shops, they should be able to gather in church. As I point out, these are not similar activities.
If one looks at church activities and commercial activities through a civil rights lens only, then one could make a case that there shouldn’t be any discrimination. However, looking at these activities through a public health lens, there are important differences which place a burden on churches (or any group) to demonstrate how they will address the problems inherent in their activities.
If churches are going to meet, then they need to take this information into account. They need to spread people out, consider not singing for long sets (if at all), and having shorter sermons (finally!). Outdoor services might be an option in some locations. Online messages throughout the week should be available. Who said everything must be done on Sunday?
In any case, I hope it is clear that a public health lens isn’t designed to discriminate against religion. Church is different than shopping. Isn’t that a good thing?