Opinion-Empty Pews: A Christian response to closing churches during the pandemic

By Bethany Rentfro, Staff Reporter

The nation is facing what has been called one of the most unique situations in history and Christians are facing unique spiritual tribulations as a result of the pandemic. 

With so many Americans being unemployed and unable to provide for their families because of COVID-19, many are beginning to feel like they have no hope. 

As a Christian, I know my hope comes from Jesus Christ but it is really hard to stay reminded of that hope when the churches are closed.

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Now more than ever, people need to feel a sense of security in knowing there is something greater than themselves.   

They are going to run to something that is familiar, something that is normal, something that makes them feel safe. 

The number one concern for Christians during this pandemic, first and foremost, is and should be the preservation of human life. 

Christianity teaches us that every life is inherently valuable and no one gets to decide which life is more precious than another. 

However, many Christians are divided on the issue of closing churches because they feel this closure is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Some people feel that Christians are overreacting when they say this is violating their rights during a global pandemic but is it really a far-fetched idea to consider?  

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the reasoning behind pastors conducting virtual services as a way to keep people safe and healthy. 

I do think social distancing practices should be adhered to but it still doesn’t change the fact that people need church. 

Right now, our current climate makes it hard for people to stay both physically healthy and spiritually healthy. 

It is difficult for pastors and religious leaders to do the work necessary for their jobs and I am not just talking about a Sunday morning service. 

Pastors are feeling disconnected from their congregants because they cannot visit the elderly in nursing homes or those who are sick in the hospital. 

The job of a religious leader far extends the sermons they preach on the Sabbath. 

I believe there are ways to follow CDC guidelines and also worship freely, such as drive-in services on Sunday mornings. 

Unfortunately, some churches have come under fire for allowing their congregants to worship freely in this manner. 

According to the Christian Post, a Pentecostal church in Holly Springs, Mississippi was questioned  by local police after the pastor held drive-in services and Bible study groups.  

The church’s Senior Counsel Stephen Crampton said Holly Springs law enforcement ignored the fact that the congregants were practicing social distancing and complying with health requirements. 

Crampton also said he believes this is an example of police overreach and a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. 

If the church members were obeying orders from the CDC about social distancing, why did the church have to close their doors? 

A judge has now ordered that this church can worship freely, as long as they conduct drive up and drive through services, according to the same Christian Post article. 

See More: Pentecostal church can worship freely without fear of being shut down, judge says

Similarly, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker was sued in federal court by The Beloved Church of Lena in Lena, Illinois over the rights of its 80 members to gather, according to an article by Chicago Sun Times. 

Pritzker said his new extended order says leaving home is allowed for people to engage in the free exercise of religion provided they comply with social distancing requirements and limit gatherings of more than 10 people. 

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Pritzker encouraged drive-in services to protect the safety of their congregants. 

It is true that religion can be a deeply personal thing and I know so many Christians and even people of other faiths who have intimate relationships with their Creator. 

The Apostle John wrote the entire Book of Revelations during a time of isolation while being completely connected with God. 

Imagine what a group of Christians can do in isolation during a pandemic!

But, for myself and many other Christians, gathering together in faith is a key component of how our religion is practiced and the thing that gets us in the mood to receive the blessings of God. 

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day drawing near,” Hebrews 10:24-25, English Standard Version [ESV]. 

God calls Christians to worship together in faith and to encourage one another to do His work. 

In times of uncertainty, people are looking for something that is constant, unchanging and permanent. For Christians, that unchanging thing is God. 

It is hard for Christians to bring hope and optimism to others during this time when our houses of worship are being shut down. 

When we don’t have a place to gather together with other believers, we can become complacent and we start to really see the darkness of the world around us. 

There is so much panic right now and Christians are called to help their brothers and sisters in Christ not to live in fear of the unknown. 

One upside of this is that even though churches are closed, one has been opened in every home. 

More people are seeing the mess the world is in right now and running to their own source of comfort, even if the churches are not operating. 

Parents and children are able to pray together as a family and share their thoughts and fears about the coronavirus with one another. 

Families are gathering around the piano singing worship songs and old hymns together all while raising their hands and feeling the presence of the spirit within them. 

This proves that even though the government might try to take God away from the American people, they cannot take the American people away from God. 

There really isn’t one right answer as to what the brick and mortar churches should do during this time. 

All I know is that taking away the one glimmer of light we have during a global pandemic could be detrimental to the mental health of Christians everywhere. 

Staff reporter Bethany Rentfro can be reached via email at [email protected]

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