Georgia Reports 49 Place of Worship Outbreaks Associated with 517 Cases, 91 Hospitalizations and 15 Deaths

As a part of my ongoing tracking of place of worship related outbreaks of COVID-19, I asked the Georgia Department of Public Health if the department logged the number of church related outbreaks. Public information representative Nancy Nydam told me, “As of today, there have been 49 COVID-19 church/place of worship outbreak investigations reported to DPH.” She added that as a result of those investigations, 517 cases have been reported as have 91 hospitalizations and 15 deaths.

As of today, GA has reported 241,702 cases and 4,795 deaths. Thus, in GA, church outbreaks have been a small fraction of total cases.  However, these cases may be accelerating. There were 8 place of worship outbreaks from August 6-12 of the 110 outbreaks in Georgia during that time period.* As churches have come together in person, outbreaks have increased. The low total numbers may not be due to safety in church as much as because many churches were meeting online until recently.

As of August 18, 2020 in the U.S., I count 263 religious gatherings associated with at least 3,136 cases of COVID-19 and 43 deaths. My sense is that it is getting harder to keep up with them as churches are beginning to relax their restrictions.

*From the Coastal Health District of the GA Dept of Health website. There were 110 total from August 6-12, 2020. An outbreak is defined as 2 cases or more.

These outbreaks are occurring in settings where people are physically congregating and underscore the need for distancing and source control.

  • Long-term care facilities 23
  • Schools/school athletic teams 14
  • Offices/workplaces 14
  • Manufacturing facilities 13
  • Prisons/jails 13
  • Churches 8
  • Restaurants 4

Outbreaks were also documented in hospitals/outpatient facilities, daycares and grocery stores.

 

 

CA Court of Appeal Upholds Ban on Indoor Worship in John MacArthur Case (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Grace Community Church conducted an indoor meeting this morning with little masking or social distancing. In fact, near the beginning of the service, John MacArthur said, “the good news is that you’re here, you’re not distancing, and you’re not wearing masks.” You can hear that quote in the second part of the audio below.

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Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal set aside Judge Chalfant’s lower court partial denial of Los Angeles County’s restraining order on indoor worship at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church.

Read the Court of Appeal ruling

Los Angeles County filed an emergency request with the Court of Appeal to prevent Grace Community Church from having indoor services this morning.  In short, the Court of Appeal ruled that county’s Health Order had support from prior court rulings and was likely to be upheld at trial. The Court of Appeal held that the order should be upheld at least until the September 4th hearing, although the church will have an opportunity to present a rebuttal by August 25.

Court Declines to Halt Indoor Services at Grace Community Church; Church Must Comply with Masking and Social Distancing (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Late Saturday, 8/15/20, CA Court of Appeal set aside Judge Chalfant’s partial denial and upheld LA County’s Health Order. See this post for more on the Court of Appeal action.
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Today, Judge James Chalfant granted in part and denied in part Los Angeles County’s request for a restraining order against Grace Community Church. John MacArthur led the church to defy the California public health restrictions on indoor worship and filed suit against the state. In response, LA County filed for a restraining order to stop the church from meeting.

Although the judge declined to halt indoor worship altogether, he ordered the church to “comply with the mandates of the Health Orders to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing.” This practice will be a departure from the last two sundays when very few people in the congregation wore masks and the congregation did not sit apart. The county health department will also be allowed to be on site to monitor compliance.

According to press release from the church, MacArthur said, “I am very  grateful the court has allowed us to meet inside and we are happy for a few weeks to comply and respect what the judge has asked of us because he is allowing is to meet.” The full hearing on the matter is slated for September 4.

The church is framing this as full vindication.  In fact, according to Judge Chalfant’s order, the restraining order was denied in part and granted in part. The accurate picture is that the church did not follow safe practices before, but now they have to as a condition of meeting indoors. According to Chalfant’s order, Grace is prohibited from meeting indoors unless the church complies with masking and physical distancing. I asked the public relations firm representing the church if this social distancing requirement would limit the number in attendance but the representative did not have the answer to that question.

Judge Chalfant’s order

LA County’s complaint against Grace Community Church

Grace Community Church’s suit against California

Trump’s Reelection Strategy: Class Warfare

Donald Trump couldn’t make his strategy any clearer: class warfare.

From today:

The rule Trump rescinded required proof of compliance with the Fair Housing Act. Trump has interpreted it as a wedge to keep poor people away from the middle class. Given the intent in 1968 to stop racial discrimination in housing and Trump’s actions blow a racial dogwhistle as well.

Obviously, Trump is only president of people who like him, and among those people, the middle class and the rich. Low income people (too bad poor MAGAs) are considered invaders who make suburban neighborhoods unsafe and bother the white housewives who inhabit them. It has long been clear that Trump has distain for low income people; this just makes it transparent.

I leave this with some Scripture from James 2 –

My brothers,[a] show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

Blog Theme: Gospel for Asia – Interview with J.D. Smith

My first post about Gospel for Asia was published April 27, 2015. Here is what I wrote to introduce the organization:

GFA LOGOGospel for Asia is a large missionary organization which supports direct evangelism, child sponsorships, Bible colleges, education, disaster relief and several other ministries. Their assets are substantial but, at their request, I am not going to address how much money they take in.* The 990s are not available on Guidestar and so it is very difficult to find out specific information about the financial situation.

GFA describes itself as a missionary organization and a church. What GFA calls The Believer’s Church is based in Wills Point, TX and apparently consists of the various churches planted around the world. According to the church website, the church has “over 2.4 million members scattered throughout 14 nations.”

Actually, Believers’ Church is based in India and is also headed up by Metropolitan K.P. Yohannan – GFA’s founder and CEO – who also goes by Moran Mor Athanasius Yohan Metropolitan. If we were buddies, I would just call him “Yo.”

My interest in GFA was triggered by a reader, Mr. Jesperson, who was once a donor. Then Bruce Morrison came along who is a Canadian pastor and a key player in confronting the discrepancies in what GFA said on paper in Canada and what they reported in India. Auditor Jason Watkins provided his expertise to help make clear the discrepancies in U.S. financial statements and other records we secured. I have talked to numerous former American and Indian staffers who have helped to paint a picture of GFA. Since 2015, I have written hundreds of posts on GFA’s finances and practices in the U.S. and around the world.

In early October 2015, Gospel for Asia was evicted from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. GFA was a charter member and it was a rare move for the ECFA. To get a description of the reasons for the removal, you can read the ECFA preliminary report given to me by former GFA board member Gayle Erwin.

In 2017, the nation of India revoked GFA and Believers’ Church registration as a charity eligible to receive foreign donations. GFA still solicits money for use in India and still sends funds there to NGOs that have no purpose other than to funnel money to Believers’ Church.

In 2019, GFA settled a class action RICO lawsuit and agreed to pay $37-million to donors. The Canadian branch is currently being sued by a donors in Nova Scotia.

Much of my writing on GFA has related to financial practices. However, there is a human side to the story. This is what got me started and this is what former staffer J.D. Smith focuses on in today’s interview. If you are interested in group dynamics and how leaders hold members with controlling tactics, you will want to hear J.D. speak.

To watch all interviews in this “15 Years of Blogging” series, click here.

To read all posts relating to Gospel for Asia, click here.

To read more about controlling groups and Steven Hassan’s work mentioned by J.D., go to freedomofmind.com.

Blog Theme: Getting History Right – Interview with John Fea

This is the sixth interview in my series reflecting on 15 years of blogging. Messiah University history professor John Fea joined me to discuss getting history right, court evangelicals, and much more. John is a prolific writer and you can read his publishing credits in the bio below. He also hosts a podcast called The Way of Improvement Leads Home and writes frequently at his blog by the same name.

John has been an active public historian during his tenure at Messiah. He has confronted the historian misadventures of David Barton and Eric Metaxas. I became acquainted with John in 2011 when I first started to fact check David Barton’s historical claims. Not long after that, he endorsed Getting Jefferson Right, my book with Michael Coulter that addressed many claims in David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies. Along with my history professor colleagues at Grove City College, John is one of several historians who have helped me along the way.

I believe historians doing history properly can provide our nation an extraordinary service. We need to know our rights and the heritage of free speech and protest. What does the Consitution say and what took place when the framers debated that document? Without full context, people are vulnerable to ideologues who selectively use historical events and quotes to create what John calls a “usable past,” a past which supports their current political aims.

As an evangelical, John has special focus on evangelicals in public life. He coined the term “court evangelical” to refer to evangelical leaders who fawn over Donald Trump and never hold him accountable. John provides a valuable overview of this concept in the interview. I hope you benefit from it.

John Fea is Distinguished Professor of American History at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.

He is the author or editor of six books, including Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical IntroductionWhy Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past; and Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

John’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, The William and Mary QuarterlyThe Journal of the Early RepublicSojourners, Christianity Today, Christian Century, The Washington Post,  USA Today,  He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a blog devoted to American history, religion, politics, and academic life.

John has lectured widely and speaks regularly to churches, school and teacher groups, civic groups, and historical societies. He appeared on NBC News, CNN, C-SPAN,  MSNBC, National Public Radio, and dozens of radio programs across the country.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.