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.