Please know that churches, other religious entities and their adherents are thankful for your leadership during this COVID-19 crisis.
The New Testament encourages believers to pray for you and all those in authority. Consequently, both you and all our elected leaders have been in our prayers, especially during our online services and prayer meetings in these weeks and months of crisis and concerns.
During these unprecedented and uncertain times, many Californians are being destroyed financially or distressed emotionally to the extreme by the coronavirus or its consequences. It is not surprising that many churches and social workers report spikes in attempted suicides, alcohol abuse, drug abuse or even child abuse. Compassion requires personal contact and care–the kind of spiritual, emotional and physical support which Churches provide.
In spite of being consigned to our homes for more than two months–to “flatten the curve” of this virus outbreak–we have sought to be peaceful, patient and respectful. However, we have been perplexed to see how liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and abortion clinics have all been deemed “essential” entities but churches and other places of worship have not. We were grieved by this just a few weeks ago, when Christians were denied the right and opportunity to assemble and celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, perhaps the holiest events of our faith.
Our congregants don’t understand why we are not viewed with other “non-retail” establishments, which also practice safe distancing and hygienic protocols and are allowed to function normally. Churches seem to be viewed along with ancillary, entertainment venues rather than with essential institutions of our society.
Please allow me to make two practical points and a respectful request:
Point #1 People and institutions of faith are viewed as essential within both our state and federal Constitutions. The free exercise of religion and the freedom of assembly are both prominently enshrined as God-given rights in the Declaration of Independence and in specific amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Also, declaring gratitude to “Almighty God” are among the first words of the Preamble of the California State Constitution.
We need to balance these constitutional guarantees with the exigencies and limitations of public health issues, with any restriction being the least necessary.
However, your Executive Orders have forbidden us from physically gathering together to worship God, as commanded in our Holy Bible. We have done our best to temporarily adapt to these extraordinary circumstances and restrictions, but this must not continue indefinitely. Soon, many may feel forced to actively “obey God, rather than man.”
Point #2: Reopening places of worship is consistent with the federal guidelines, wherein phase one establishes that “places of worship can operate under strict physical distancing protocols.” Most of our denominational affiliations have published guidelines to help us go above and beyond in meeting state and local guidelines for physical distancing, disinfecting and practicing personal hygiene.
The U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged earlier this month, “For many people of faith, exercising religion is essential, especially during a crisis.” We are asking you, Governor Newsom, to trust us now to exercise our “essential” faith responsibly and compassionately. We are prepared to use extraordinary care and precaution to protect the health of our members, as we re-engage in public worship and witness to our faith. Loving our neighbors is part of who we are as the Church. We will seek to be models of safety, sanity and sincerity.
Governor Newsom, I ask you to swiftly and publicly recognize churches as “essential,” non-retail entities and ensure that they are released to responsibly reopen by the end of this month.
Sunday, May 31, is “Pentecost Sunday,” another key observance for the Christian Church. It is sometimes known as “the birthday of the Church.” Being free to reopen on that day would be like a “new birth” in the middle of this difficult season of death and discouragement.
Please release churches and other religious entities to responsibly practice the necessary health protocols, while reopening churches to safely serve the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of their–and your–constituents.
Thank you for caring and for your timely responses.
Pastor Gary Curtis, Retired