CMDA's The Point

A Plea to Our Churches

November 19, 2020

by Jeffrey Barrows DO, MA (Bioethics)

and Christopher Hook, MD

The daily rendering of the news informs us that the rate of COVID-19 infections is skyrocketing. The time it takes for the U.S. to accumulate one million cases has dropped from 44 days to just seven days. The pandemic has not only arrived; it is hitting with hurricane force and has reached a crisis point. The sector that is bearing the brunt of this raging pandemic is our healthcare system, particularly the healthcare professionals who constitute the backbone of our healthcare system. They are overworked because of the sheer volume of critically ill patients under their care and because many healthcare professionals have become ill with SARS-CoV-2 themselves. We have to slow the rising tide of COVID-19 cases, or our hospitals will be overrun.


The vast majority of healthcare professionals who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 did not become infected at their workplace. Studies have shown that most healthcare professionals become infected predominantly in the community. It is when they go to church, celebrations and small gathering with friends outside their immediate family that they become infected.


As an association of Christian healthcare professionals, CMDA has been wrestling with the role God would have us play in this pandemic. We previously released guidelines for churches to follow as they reopened from the shutdown last spring. We also released public policy statements addressing the “Duties of a Christian Health Care Professional in Pandemic Infection” and “Triage and Resource Allocation.” Finally, we released this recommendation on mass gatherings:


Romans 13: 1, 2 gives clear guidance in times like these. “1Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Christian Medical & Dental Associations endorses the efforts of state and federal government authorities to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by limiting large gatherings. We believe that churches that ignore those instructions are placing their congregants at increased exposure and risk of SARS-Co-V-2 (Covid-19) infection and therefore we cannot condone such decisions or actions by churches.


Despite these efforts, CMDA is saddened to learn not only that many churches have ignored our guidelines but that congregants have become infected with SARS-CoV-2 as a result of those decisions. One of us is personally aware of several recent weddings when people did not mask or engage in social distancing which resulted in the entire wedding party and family being infected with SARS-CoV-2. This is not only unfortunate; it is unloving.


We believe the church is a major priority in our lives, but it should not become an idol by itself. Loving God with all our heart, mind and strength is our first priority, and it can be done with our families outside of church. It can be done via the gifts of electronic communication that allow us to join virtually with other church members. We are not being prevented from having Bibles, reading Scripture and singing songs of praise because we can do them at home and with the church through these virtual tools.


But the issue here is the second greatest commandment: to love one another as we love ourselves. Restricting meeting for a season is not about fear of contracting the virus ourselves. Rather, it is about loving one another and minimizing risk to the vulnerable around us. As members of the body of Christ, we are called to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). That means that Christ has chosen us to reveal His love and grace to all those around us. Choosing to put off gathering together as a church is a statement of love.


Voluntarily choosing not to gather allows us to make a statement that is not overshadowed by a government restriction. It enables a church to proclaim to their locality that they care so much for their members, family and friends that they are willing to give up their right to gather together. It allows each church to make a statement of love, not just by their words, but through the action of no longer gathering together. It is tragic to see Christians become even more reviled because we appear to care only about our individual freedoms and don’t care that we may be contributing to others getting this illness because of our selfishness. As Christian healthcare professionals, we will voluntarily restrict our “freedoms” for a time to help protect my neighbor.


As an association of Christian healthcare professionals, CMDA urgently requests that churches strongly consider taking their services online and cancel in-person gatherings until this current surge of COVID-19 cases passes.


It is about love, not fear.


Christopher Hook, MD, is a hematologist and medical ethicist from Minnesota.

Jeffrey Barrows DO, MA (Bioethics)

About Jeffrey Barrows DO, MA (Bioethics)

Jeffrey J. Barrows, DO, MA (Ethics), serves as Senior Vice President of Bioethics and Public Policy for Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Dr. Barrows is an obstetrician/gynecologist, author, educator, medical ethicist and speaker. He completed his medical degree at the Des Moines College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in 1978 and his residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Doctors Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.


  1. Avatar David Tzeng on November 20, 2020 at 12:58 pm

    As a Christian critical care physician, I’m heartened by CMDA statement on this. How is CMDA disseminating this position to churches? I would imagine that many churches do not necessarily seek or regularly consult the CMDA.

    • Avatar Michael McLaughlin on November 23, 2020 at 1:37 pm


  2. Avatar Remi Drai on November 20, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    Dear Dr. Barrows, dear Dr. Hook

    Thanks a lot for this courageous, important and timely statement.
    A minor remark: I would have say “We believe church attendance is a major priority in our lives ….”
    instead of ” We believe the church is a major priority in our lives”.

    In Him,

    Remi Drai

  3. Avatar Phil Johnston on November 21, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Our church, Faith Missionary Church, Indianapolis (an Evangelical Free Church) has been meeting since early July, observing social distancing, all congregants masked, with protective screens for leaders/speakers and a color-coded system of arm bands indicating willingness to interact. The opening was coordinated by an “Opening Task Force” of pastors and members (including several CMDA member physicians).
    I suspect the main thrust of CMDA’s Plea is focused on the unfortunately common churches – especially well-publicized mega churches – who have continued to meet flaunting the reasonable community guidelines.
    I also hope that CMDA can include an “exception clause” for those churches who ARE following guidelines about numbers of gathered worshipers and the accepted hygienic practices we should be using for ANY outside activities.
    Philip E. Johnston, MD

  4. Avatar Jennifer Ritter, BSN, RN on November 21, 2020 at 9:28 pm

    Thank you.

  5. Avatar David H. Hopper on November 22, 2020 at 11:53 am

    I see where you are coming from with regard to unwise gatherings, but making this case for scriptural guidance for obeying the government or being goodwill ambassadors does not make the full case for how to worship. At least in our state, church is exempted from the most of mandates on gatherings. However, social distancing, masks, sanitizers, and hand washing are strongly promoted. When we are taught not to forsake the gathering of the saints we do so in part to encourage others to love and good deeds. Although we can receive the sermon and and praise the Lord corporately online, we miss out on interacting with others. At our church the deacons have set the sanctuary up in the safest way they can, and on exit we wait until outdoors to link with others and converse (with masks still). I have been able to interact with people who I do not know or who are new to the gathering, which I would be unable to to online where I only communicate with friends or people I know. The church should continue to meet, and strive the best it can to do so safely and thus to witness to the community. This is a topic worthy of a much more thorough scriptural search and discussion, so I hope people do not stop attending church based on this one blog.

    • Avatar Grant Hewitt on November 23, 2020 at 3:20 pm

      Thank you for that, David

  6. Avatar Danae Place on November 23, 2020 at 2:01 am

    Forwarding this to my church. Thank you!

  7. Avatar Joanne Hess Siegrist on November 23, 2020 at 5:00 pm

    Timely wisdom words above – thanks. Major 2020 problem: Confusion – What is truth? As church bells ring…. praying truth will ring loud and clear.

    Our personal experience is in rhythm with your concepts: ZOOM from March – November 2020: We share one full hour with Koinonia, our Sunday School class for about 45 persons. We see them. We hear them. We process issues and we pray together. Afterwards we go on-line for our congregational worship hour.

    Few persons actually understand this virus…. and some choose to pretent it does not exist. Dr. Siegrist, my husband for the last 50 years – says MASK are safe and necessary. Day by day he studies prime reliable research and I trust him even though I hate wearing a mask (5 different designs and keep switching for more comfort). Dr. Don respects Mayo Clinic of Rochester MN, John Hopkins of Baltimore MD, Michael T. Osterholm, PHD of Center for Infectious Disease at Medical School of Minnealolis MN, and Anthony Stephen Fauci – Immunologist, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 1984-2020.

  8. Avatar Gum Drops on November 23, 2020 at 10:23 pm

    You seem to not have investigated the work of Antoine Béchamp or looked into Drs. Thomas Cowan and Stefan Lanka (Germany). You seemed to also not have read the passages in the bible where Jesus went to the sick with no fear of “infection” from or upon those to whom he ministered/healed.

    Did you read this recently published study about masks? “There were no positive tests amongst 1,174 close contacts of asymptomatic cases.”
    Have you looked into the creator of the PCR test Kary Mullis and what he said about the test? (He said NOT to use the test for the presence of a virus, which is exactly what public health officials have done.)

    Did you speak out against the unethical bribery for doctors to fraudulently label any/all patients as “COVID-19” (like Dr. Scott Jensen did)? Did you speak out against Medicare incentivizing the MURDER of “COVID-19” branded patients with $13,000 per patient and $38,000 per ventilator use? How is any of this ethical? How about the pre-planned Event 201 and Clade X pandemic exercises forcing gullible citizens to be guinea pigs in an epidemiological experiment – did you speak out on the ethics of the rich using the unsuspecting poor as pawns in their profiteering ploys??

    Will you also speak out against the ethics of “forced vaccinations”? DNA harvesting via tests or vaccines? Nanogel technology embedded into our bodies via vaccines? Bill Gates has already openly spoke about his agenda, so this is not some kind of conspiracy, at least among those who have “eyes to see and ears to hear.” It’s a criminal conspiracy among the pandemic engineers.

    Finally, you are urging Christians to love one another by not loving one another, to isolate and die in misery instead of rejoicing with loved ones to celebrate and give thanks for the birth of Christ. “Perfect love casts out all fear.” To isolate ourselves is not the least bit loving; it is all about the fear and you are twisting the Gospel message for your political/financial agenda. Shame on you! This is not about ethics. Where is the LOVE in your message? Alas, I will give you the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps you have been drinking the Kool-Aid for too long, have been feeding off the hand of the Father of Lies and cannot discern fact from fiction. Hopefully, you will take this message to heart and look into these issues I have raised if you are a real Christian and not some political agent pretending to be a Christian (wolf in sheep’s clothing). Be blessed.

  9. Avatar Timothy Allen, MD on November 23, 2020 at 11:25 pm

    I know that this statement come after careful consideration, but I believe that it misses important Christian principles and oversimplifies the problem.
    – First we are the Christian medical and Dental Associations. What defines us is our relationship to Jesus and our dependence on him. We need to start with a foundation of Jesus and assurance that he is in charge and we should be seeking his healing and his provision, not starting with fear.
    – Next, the rapid spread is not necessarily an argument for locking down further. The lock down has been ineffective and continuing an ineffective therapy that has doubled the murder rate, suicide rate, and overdose rate, increased domestic violence, rape, and sexual abuse by several fold, and limited care for the most vulnerable in our society may not be the best approach.
    – The rate of infection of healthcare workers is much higher than that of the general public and cannot be explained by outside exposure. Additionally, Walmart has consistently been the major source of infections in the pandemic, perhaps we should be looking more at limiting big box stores, divide people into smaller groups at independent stores and keep the churches open as they are a small source on infection.
    – Romans 13 is important, but you did not even consider Hebrews 10:25? Any consideration of meeting or not meeting must include the direct command not to forsake the meeting together.
    – Some weddings have been super spreader events, but this is not mean that all church services are. And when we consider the most loving response how can we not consider the most vulnerable in our society (those with mental illness and addiction). For many of these people church is their only life line and without it they consider suicide or returning to drugs. As a mental health and substance abuse provider I see these stories every day. Why don’t their lives even merit consideration.
    – Church an idol? You need to give some definitions before declaring the bride of Christ to be an idol. Many people in history have been willing to die to try to go to church. Maybe it is worth considering the risk verses the benefit of coming together as a people to seek God and his intervention in the pandemic. Maybe if we died seeking God we might change the world. At least we should consider whether or not we are willing to die to go to church.
    – Voluntarily staying home may be meant to show that we love those around us, but when restaurants, bars, liquor stores, and strip clubs are open and churches are closed we may be saying the church isn’t that important.
    – I disagree the statement that we should urge churches to consider not meeting in person. I think we should ask, “What would God have us do under these circumstances?” Is church worth the risk? Does the power of seeking God matter in this world? Would you die for your faith? Would you live for your faith? We cannot simple look at the risk of COVID without considering the risk of not following God.

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