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
Manufacturing facilities 13
Outbreaks were also documented in hospitals/outpatient facilities, daycares and grocery stores.
Keystone Church in Keller, TX is under fire from parents who want answers about the number of COVID-19 cases among teens returning from a camp experience sponsored by the church. However, Keystone may not be the only church needing to provide answers. I have learned that campers and staff who attended Allaso Ranch this month sponsored by Ed Young’s Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX have also tested positive after attending the church’s Mix Camp 2020.
On 7/20, Amy Smith at her Watchkeep blog posted some social media postings about a possible COVID-19 outbreak due to Fellowship Church camping experiences at Allaso Ranch. A public Facebook posting described a camper and staffer positive with COVID. Since then, I have had several conversations with multiple parents about their children who have tested positive for COVID-19 since returning from Allaso Ranch. One parent on Twitter pegged the number at ten positives, while others have no way to estimate since the church or camp has not offered that information. Emails to both the church and Allaso Ranch have not been answered.
One staffer developed symptoms and was sent home and is now quite ill. Another child tested positive but has more mild symptoms. Parents I spoke with said that they have heard from parents that other children have also tested positive. A Fellowship Church pastor called at least one of the parents and left a voice mail saying that a staff member at the camp tested positive during the camp week.
The pastor also said in his voicemail,
We followed every single procedure, actually gone above and beyond that, and anybody who may have exhibited any symptoms of anything, headache, cough, sneezing,whether it be a temperature, anything, we were on top of it and in fact if it was a trainer we just sent them home, and that actually took place in your [child’s] room and we sent [them] home, [they] were having some mild symptoms, we don’t know if their COVID positive, but we just took precautionary measures and sent them home, and there’s a new leader in that group. So we just wanted to let you know that, and if there is any COVID positivity, we will let you know that immediately.
While it was good that the pastor called this family, is it true that the camp followed every procedure? A review of photos of students at camp indicates that masks were not worn and social distancing was not followed. Here is a tweet from Fellowship Church as an illustration.
Heaven threw a party today! 🎉 Congratulations to every student that went public with their faith at Allaso Ranch! We’re just getting started! pic.twitter.com/3gbv2GRRsa
I also reviewed several photos from camp during July and campers are bunched together without masks throughout the week. According to the camp guidelines, masks are not required for campers. However, the guidelines specify that “Camp staff will wear face coverings whenever they are in close proximity to others and while handing food.” In the tweet photos and any other camp photos I have seen, volunteer staff are not wearing masks when they are near campers. If volunteer staff are considered staff, then it is understandable that parents would be concerned that guidelines may not have been followed.
Allaso Ranch has not posted (or has removed) pictures of camp from 2020. However, there are many photos of camp from past years. If you want to see what camp looks like at Allaso Ranch in 2020, go look at what it looked like in 2019.
As with the Keystone situation, there are hundreds of teens back in the community who may be spreading the virus without knowing it. Furthermore, the camp remains open to continue acting as a super spreader. Surely, Fellowship Church can find a way to spread the Gospel without spreading the virus.
UPDATE: Just after I posted this, another parent posted word on Facebook that her daughter attended Allaso Ranch and tested positive for COVID-19. Although this parent signed a waiver, she was under the impression that the camp was going to require mitigation efforts. However, she also confirms she saw no evidence that any efforts were conducted.
Here are some additional photos of campers at Allaso Ranch. Also, Fellowship Church has blocked Amy Smith on Twitter. Scroll down to the bottom tweet to see the photos. You will need to click that tweet.
All DFW locations: The Mix is at Allaso Ranch for the next two weeks! If you haven’t registered for camp there’s still a chance! SIGN UP TODAY: https://t.co/dG6d3p9Vs6 . We can’t wait to bring the party back to our DFW locations on July 22nd!! See you soon! pic.twitter.com/td0rf34ZIk
In this interview, we discuss our shared recollections of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, the Netflix documentary The Family, liberty of conscience, and evangelicals in relationship to Donald Trump.
This is second in a series of interviews marking 15 years of blogging. I started blogging in July 2005. The first interview with Michael Coulter is here.
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009
On March 2, 2009 I posted a article about an ex-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda. Three Americans, Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Brundidge, had been invited by Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network to speak on the topic of homosexuality. Scott Lively told the crowd that gays were behind the Nazi takeover of Germany and subsequent Holocaust. Don Schmierer told them that homosexuals were disturbed by poor parenting and that they needed therapy, and Caleb Brundidge, a client of reparative therapist Richard Cohen was there to show that the ex-gay therapy worked.
That was the first of hundreds of articles about Uganda and the effort of that nation’s Parliament to make homosexuality a capital offense (The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009). I don’t think it is too far fetched to say that Box Turtle Bulletin and this blog became key thorns in the side of Ugandan and American proponents of the bill. Jim Burroway and I (incidentally both originally from Portsmouth, OH) wrote nearly every day about some aspect of the bill and kept the story alive.
Because of my strong opposition to the bill and the kindness of Bob Hunter (as well as other Fellowship members), I attended the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010. There, I interviewed Fellowship Foundation leader Doug Coe. That was one of a handful of interviews he granted over the course of his life. A summary of it was published in Christianity Today later that year. Coe put the Fellowship on record as opposing the bill in Uganda.
When the Ugandan members of the Prayer Breakfast movement learned of American opposition, they felt betrayed by Coe and the Americans. They persisted with their efforts to pass the bill. As Jeff and I discuss in the interview above, the Ugandan members seemed to believe American evangelicals were afraid to really speak their minds. The Ugandan proponents of the bill seemed convinced that American Christians really supported their efforts, and it was their Christian duty to set a tone the world could follow.
Despite the Ugandan’s belief, I don’t believe the American Fellowship supported the bill. At the time (December, 2009), Jeff wrote a guest post for my blog which outlined his belief that the American Fellowship opposed it. In my rare interview with Doug Coe, he made it clear that he and the Fellowship opposed the bill and criminalization for homosexuality anywhere. Furthermore, at the National Prayer Breakfast, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke directly to the Ugandan people and by name opposed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I don’t think the opposition could get any clearer than that.
I was in the African suite watching Obama’s and Clinton’s speeches on television when they condemned the bill at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast. It was silent in the suite as the African delegation watched. Afterwards, some were stunned, some were angry. Some still believed that some Americans had to say those things in public, but may privately support them. However, they could not deny that the American Fellowship opposed the bill.
Through years of parliamentary maneuvering, the bill moved and then stalled. Sessions ended without action, but finally it passed at the end of 2013 session. The President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni proclaimed that he would not sign the bill if scientists could convince him that being gay was innate. He claimed to want to know if being gay was a choice.
At that point, at the request of others lobbying against the bill, Jack Drescher and I wrote a letter summarizing the research on sexual orientation in layman’s terms. The letter was signed by over 200 scholars and researchers from all over the world. Museveni acknowledge the effort but also convened his own panel of “experts.” They returned a letter which allowed him to sign the bill.
In August 2014, the bill was struck down as unconstitutional by Uganda’s Constitutional court due to the fact that the Parliament did not have a quorum in place when the bill was passed. A five year story of ups and downs came to an end with that decision.
Jeff and I became friends as we compared notes over what American interests and influences might be at work in this Ugandan mess. As I noted in the interview, he went to Uganda on one occasion (I think he asked me to go along but I can’t be sure of my recollection on that). His report of that trip was a lengthy write up in Harper’s.
Jeff has an inspiring sense of fairness and is a captivating writer. I don’t know of anyone outside of Uganda who worked harder to expose the truth relating to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill than Jeff. I am grateful and humbled by the kind and overly generous remarks from him in this interview. Thanks to Jeff for doing it. I hope you benefit from our discussion as much as I did.
Buzzfeed News is reporting this morning what I wanted to report last week but couldn’t verify: Prior to V.P. Mike Pence’s visit to First Baptist Church in Dallas on Sunday, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 among the church’s orchestra and choir. I had heard this from two twitter accounts but could not get primary source verification, so I didn’t run with it.
Buzzfeed reporters were able to get that confirmation and went with the story today. The video of the event shows that the choir was singing and the orchestra was playing without masks. The congregation was close together and the only real precautions were taken by Pence. You don’t need to watch the whole video to see what I mean:
Texas is experiencing a scary surge in cases and V. P. Pence should have shown leadership by canceling his appearance and urging Robert Jeffress to hold an online event. Just last week, in neighboring Arkansas, fellow evangelical Governor Asa Hutchinson told the public that the churches who are not experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks are the ones using masks and social distancing. He identified by name nine churches on a naughty list of churches which had not been following guidelines and thus experiencing more cases of COVID-19.
Jeffress’ church was a clinic in how not to do things. Singing and playing wind instruments are effective ways of spreading a virus. The congregation was not spaced properly and it appears not all were wearing masks. Given that some of the orchestra members have been infected (although none of those members were there), it is possible that some of the orchestra members playing that Sunday had been exposed in prior rehearsals.
While it appears that most church leaders are trying to take COVID-19 seriously, I don’t see how it helps to have so-called leaders disregard best practices. I have been tracking church outbreaks for just over a month and it is starting to get a little hard to keep up with. I count 48 churches as of this writing. As the pandemic enlarges in the U.S., it may be difficult to keep a complate count.
In any case, having church as normal can be a super spreading event and leaders need to heed best practices while still caring for their flocks.
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.
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?
Jim Bakker, Lori Bakker, Paula White-Cain, Johnathan Cain from Journey, Mondo De La Vega and Tammy Sue Bakker (Jim Bakker’s daughter with Tammy Faye Bakker) make Don’t Stop Believing a sad shadow of its former self.
There are several head scratching quotes from Jerry Falwell, Jr. in his New Year’s Day interview with Joe Heims in the Washington Post. One such quote which caught my eye is this:
Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? It’s because of free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.
While job creation might be out of reach for many low income people, charitable giving is something the poor do often. As Relevant magazine pointed out, Christian college president Falwell appears to have forgotten Jesus’ teaching about the widow and her few cents. Beyond Falwell’s insensitivity to the Bible, he is wrong about the poor and charitable giving. Actually, low income people as a group give a lot and on average they give more as a percentage of their income than rich people.
Given Falwell’s role as a fund raiser for his college, I am surprised he isn’t aware of this. In philanthropy literature, the link between income bracket and giving is well known. Although the truly poor don’t often itemize charitable gifts, lower income brackets are responsible for significant amounts of charitable giving compared to higher brackets. This is especially true of religious giving.
A 2007 Indiana University study found that donors making under 100,000/year gave nearly $60 Billion to religious organizations compared to $8.6 Billion given by donors making over $1 million/year. The per donor gift was much smaller in the lower income group, but together the lower income group represented nearly 60% of all giving to religious causes. In contrast to Falwell’s claim, that’s some real volume. No doubt Falwell’s college gets many widow’s mites on a monthly basis to help keep those doors open.
I realize that $100,000/year is not poor. However, this bracket is more likely to include large families with limited resources. As noted above, people in the lowest income groups don’t often itemize contributions and so it is harder to capture those data via the Indiana U. methodology. However, other research supports the contention that lower income persons give more as a percentage of income than the rich.
For instance, a 2014 study published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy showed that the wealthy reduced their giving during the economic downtown while lower and middle income donors increased giving. The lowest income bracket – those making less than $25,000/year – increased their giving by 17% from 2006 to 2012. The lowest income group demonstrated the highest percentage increase of all groups.
The 2014 study wasn’t unusual. Much prior research has found that those in low income brackets give more as a percentage of income than the wealthy. According to researcher Roger Barnett, “Research in the area has established that, on the average, high income donors give more to charitable causes than do people with low incomes. However, in Britain (and in the United States) the poor have for decades been observed to donate proportionately higher shares of their income to charity than the financially better off (emphasis in the original) (p. 520).
Falwell, Jr.’s college has been helped out in the past by big gifts (e.g., self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon) so perhaps he is influenced by the big donors. However, as a group, the poor do give and they give a lot. He is wrong and shouldn’t spread this misinformation. If I were a low income donor to Liberty University, I would have to rethink my contribution.
I have heard rumors that some evangelicals like Jordan Peterson’s work. He gets all angry when he says words like intersectionality and postmodern so that really hooks some of my evangelical brethren, I guess. I have a hard time following what he says so I don’t get it. The video below is a good illustration of why his work seems like what he criticizes.
asking jordan peterson whether he believes god exists or jesus was resurrected gets you the most incomprehensible, incoherent verbiage masquerading as profundity — which is ironically what his ilk accuse “postmodernists” of pic.twitter.com/EtK6W8T9a7
“It all depends on what you mean” is fine when he wants to use it but it isn’t fine when his ideological opponents want to do it.
Carl Jung, who I think Peterson considers an intellectual influence, didn’t particularly like this question either. Once, Jung compared himself to a witch doctor who found God in his dreams. On another occasion, Jung said he didn’t have to believe, he knew. According to his disciples at the time, he believed in a spirit or at least an immaterial existence but didn’t hold to the Swiss Reformed doctrines of his family.
Image: Dr.Jordan Peterson delivering a lecture at the University of Toronto in 2017. March 20, 2017, Source: Adam Jacobs, Wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Yesterday President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to 3 years in prison for several crimes, including campaign finance violations. In his remarks prior to receiving his sentence, Cohen said he was sorry he helped cover up Donald Trump’s “dirty deeds.”
According to Cohen, Trump directed him to make hush money payments to two women for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential campaign. If Cohen (and Dept. of Justice prosecutors) are right, Donald Trump deceived the American people when he told reporters that he didn’t know about the hush money payments. Putting aside the intricacies of campaign finance laws, the evidence is mounting that Trump told the nation a story he knew wasn’t true.
Evangelicals in 1998 and Evangelicals Now
I am old enough to remember when presidential lying about personal moral behavior set off spasms of indignation among evangelicals. In 1998, some of them put pen to paper with an admonishment and solemn call for integrity.* They said the Clinton presidency was in “crisis.” Now, many evangelicals think we are in the best of times. My, how times have changed.
The entire statement is here. Let me bring out a couple of segments which could be written about the current crisis, if only it was seen as one.
We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.
Remember this was written by evangelicals in 1998. Now we hear that a good economy and Supreme Court justices trump violations of ethical standards. Evangelicals of 1998 were “troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse.” Now they join in the debasing.
It appears clear to me that evangelical leaders no longer believe “the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda.”
Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.
This statement finds new relevance in the presidency of Donald Trump for reasons which go far beyond hush money payoffs to women. It is absolutely stunning what is now acceptable to evangelical leaders. Current evangelical leaders clearly have flipped this statement. It appears to me that they believe that their political agenda is more important than the “moral character of a people.”
At least that is how it has seemed up to now. I have to wonder: Could the Michael Cohen sentencing and surrounding events be the off-ramp for evangelical leaders? It was also revealed yesterday that the National Enquirer entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors regarding the hush money to one of the two women. The effect is that they acknowledged the money was paid to influence the campaign which contradicts Trump’s story. In other words, the magazine sided with Cohen’s version of events. Will evangelicals stick with Trump if it becomes crystal clear to them that he directed felonious violations of the law in contrast to his claims?
*(Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency. The following declaration can be found at moral-crisis.org, November 16, 1998. To be released on 13 November 1998.)