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Just because churches can re-open doesn't mean they should, church group says

The Massachusetts Council of Churches is not real happy with Gov. Baker's decision to let churches re-open immediately, even with some limitations, despite evidence they have sometimes turned into breeding grounds for coronavirus.

In a statement today, the group, which represents a variety of Protestant and Orthodox churches in the state, says:

Churches are designed to be places of healing, not sources of sickness. We receive these new minimum safety standards from the state with much concern for those people most at-risk in our churches and our communities.

Many Christians will remain in prayer and praise from home at this time. To those Christians that do decide to return now to their buildings, we advise all to act with extreme caution during this pandemic. ...

Just because congregations may return to their buildings does not mean they should. " 'All things are lawful for me', but not all things are beneficial." St. Paul wrote to the divided Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Noting that some denominations have already said their church buildings will remain closed until July - or even next year - the council said it will soon issue its own guidance for participating churches.

The state’s new minimum safety standards for reentry to houses of worship raise many questions and concerns for the clergy and lay leadership across the network of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. ...

As we said previously to the Massachusetts Reopening Advisory Board, any just response to the pandemic must prioritize care and resourcing of the communities hardest hit during the pandemic, especially churches in Black, immigrant and unhoused communities that often serve as multi-service centers in addition to spiritual homes. We remain deeply distressed by the lack of comprehensive testing in communities of color, unequal access to care and resources, the financial and logistical burden on churches to provide masks and cleaning supplies, and the decision fatigue of so many church leaders already overwhelmed.

While much of the response to “reopening” has focused on the economy, we want to remind people of goodwill that the word “economy” comes from the Greek "οικονομία" oikonomía - the whole household of God. To care for the whole household of God means prioritizing not just the care of the fit and healthy, but of the sick and the lonely, the very old and very young. To care for the whole household of God means prioritizing the care of those most impacted. We have yet to see this prioritizing from our national and state leadership. We expect the Church to behave differently.

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Comments

What makes churches so special that they deserve to reopen with large groups of people when no other large groups are allowed? This wouldn’t be a purely political decision, would it?

I think we all know the answer

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That's what "makes churches so special"

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I would argue that closing a building does not prevent the free exercise of anyone's religion.

Both the US and Massachusetts constitutions grant the executive emergency powers under certain conditions. In Massachusetts the governor can enact emergency legislation without the General Court for "immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety or convenience"

No one to my knowledge is challenging the governor's powers to enact emergency laws to protect public health during a pandemic, including his restrictions on public gatherings. But in my opinion, the governor is bowing to political pressure from some churches, especially the right wing, so-called "Christian" churches, to re-open. And as the article points out, many churches, including other Christian churches, are urging caution.

So no, I don't think the right to free expression of religion requires a building, and I don't agree with Baker's new order making churches an exception to the ban on large gatherings of people.

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Sure, it protects the free exercise of religion, but it also protects free assembly generally. If we're strictly talking about the First Amendment, I don't see why it's ok to prevent me from gathering peaceably at Ned Devine's*, but it's ok to open churches up again.

*this is just an example, I have no plans to congregate at Ned Devine's now or even after the pandemic ends

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But there is no right to assemble wherever you want, whenever you want. So you can't gather at any specific business but you can gather in front of the State House.

Churches are special specifically because the government may not prohibit the free exercise of religion -- and for some churches attendance at services is considered to be an integral part of exercising their religion. A blanket ban on church services while other activities are permitted likely violates the first amendment -- if it's safe enough to golf or go to the beach, it's probably safe enough to go to church if precautions are observed.

Nothing in the reopening plan requires churches to open. They can stay closed if church leadership decides it's not safe to open. Churches can choose to voluntarily impose stricter standards if they deem that to be prudent.

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Why can't the state just argue that services be held in front of the State House or elsewhere the same as any other form of speech? Wouldn't the better move be for churches that feel that this kind of thing is required for them to apply for a religious exemption, rather than receiving a blanket exemption while other forms of mass gatherings are still banned?

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Keeping people alive and healthy during a pandemic has to trump someone's "right" to engage in activities that spread sickness. If not, the whole community gets sick and lots of people die.

We are at war with this virus. Those who maintain their "right" to give aid and comfort to the virus deserve to be treated as the traitors they are.

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Could make the same argument about elective surgical procedures... like abortions. Going to a clinic or hospital to terminate a pregnancy has the potential to spread coronavirus.

And if you're going to condemn anyone who goes to church as a "traitor" then you need to say the same about anyone who goes golfing, or to the beach, or to a construction job, or to work in a factory, or who cuts hair, or who goes to work in an Amazon fulfillment center, etc.

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we really have to stop this. yes, a convincing argument can be made for nearly anything.

you’ve got to see that one person going to a health care facility (!) is different from several families and individuals attending a church service.

when they start having communal abortions with a coffee hour after, maybe then we can do that comparison.

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Contact is much, much closer in a medical procedure than in a religious service (except for maybe Communion). And we know that coronavirus is a significant risk for medical professionals involved in patient care. It can be minimized by taking appropriate precautions but the same is true for participants in religious services.

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no shade to pastors but who is better at mitigating the risks involved with close contact?

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Abortion isn't "elective", but clearly that's the hill you want to die on, so be my guest.

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Pretty much says it's elective.

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...that you are in Massachusetts, right? A state that has officially stated that halts to "elective" procedures do not apply to abortion? And that abortion is a time-sensitive procedure?

Go peddle your disingenuous, intellectually dishonest nonsense to the crowd that wants to prevent women from getting abortions but doesn't want to be told to wear a mask.

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If a doctor tells you that you need surgery that has some potentially dangerous or life-altering side-effects (say, a risky brain surgery), you have the choice to refuse that treatment, but that doesn't make that treatment elective. The "choice" part just means that you get to choose whether you want it or not based on what's right for you, not based on the religious opinions of other people.

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If you don't allow people do to it, they no longer have a choice, do they?

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The big difference is economic. If the state says "casinos may re-open if they want," the casinos will all try to re-open. Their fear of the virus will be set against their fear of losing customers to the other casinos. Their insurance covers money they lose when the state makes them close, but generally doesn't cover what they lose because they're just being cautious. The waiters and cleaners and all the others who work in casinos won't be eligible for unemployment. The state can resume collecting taxes. ie, the tax collectors and insurance companies hope to make money by risking the health of customers and workers.

If the state says "houses of worship can re-open if they want," they know perfectly well that most of them will choose to stay closed (or mostly-empty) because of their own caution. It won't make any economic difference to the state until September. Clergy aren't collecting unemployment--they're still working, leading virtual services and trying to do socially-distanced pastoral care. Sunday school teachers are always out of work over the summer. And in any case, "can the Sunday school have classes?" is a different question from "can we have services?"

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...that the reopening documents explicitly state that sectors were assigned to a stage of reopening based on the risk of covid transmission and the economic benefit. Stage one candidates, supposedly, are those sectors where the risk of covid transmission can be managed so that it is low, and the economic benefit is high. So what's the high economic benefit of "houses of worship"?

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This reinforces the point that just because something is allowed, it still won't return to "normal". Many groups are planning a far slower return to operations irrespective of the Government directive. Same goes for many businesses.

As an aside, it's funny how people on Uhub are so concerned about churches. Overall, religious attendance is way, way down and has been heading that way for decades. Most churches in the Boston area would love to have the problem of overcrowding. Instead, many are struggling to stay open at all.

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about having concerns over opening gathering places to our oldest and most-vulnerable citizens who, in many cases, are woefully misinformed about COVID either due to old age or a steady stream of lies from their favorite news outlet?

Seriously, what's so funny?

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Pretty sure Boston Dog meant "funny" in the sense of "odd".

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It's funny how people go around looking for reasons to be offended.

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The Old Guard is dying off and FOX has gotten too liberal (lol wat) for the average working stiff who also consumes a steady diet of social media and/or AM radio that revolves around conspiracies and satanic cults.

So people like Chuck (who I otherwise think has done a terrific job considering we're one of the worst-hit states and the US Federal Government has completely failed us) are in a difficult position politically.

If he does what's logical and safe, and keeps churches closed he loses his most dedicated GOP base; The Elderly Churchgoer.

But by bending to right wing pressure because of "hurr-durr muh freedoms" loses him moderates.

Either way he doesn't gain any Democratic voters who are frothing to vote for a top-down straight D ticket as if their lives depend on it (because they do).

He tried to make everyone happy like a politician instead of keeping us safe like a leader.

This is a BIG swing and a miss in and otherwise stellar outing for Baker.

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Not sure having the fourth worst outbreak in the country equals a "stellar outing".

I think it's ok to have standards for politicians higher than "they can speak in a complete sentence."

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Baker was elected and reelected with plenty of Democratic votes. He is the most popular Governor in America. He doesn't need to kowtow to the Trump fans, and could probably win reelection as an independent.

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So the least they could do is open up Houses of Worship so we can pray they make the right decisions.

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...you can't pray at home?

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it would be a win:win if church basements were also able to open for meetings, sorely missed, among many of the things we all have missed during these difficult times

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In the quotation above, the Council referenced houses of worship that serve as multi-service centers, and made reference to another document. I'm guessing they may have a more detailed idea of how to do this, or at least they've given it some thought.

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Churches generally are some of the least likely places to transfer the SARS-COV-2 virus. They naturally [or perhaps supernaturally] come complete with tall wide open volumes -- think a Gothic Cathedral. Their very architecture emphasized tall and open spaces filled with natural light as the optimal kind of place to honor your lord and god. The main sanctuaries even often have lots of operable windows including parts of the stained-glass windows.

However -- the one place where a Church is a potential ideal place for sharing the COVID-19 disease is the basements. As many of the major church outposts [e.g. Catholic parishes] grew their buildings evolved "organically" because tearing down was often not an option. Now they have many basements and upper floor rooms interconnected with various rabbit warrens of smaller spaces and interior hallways. In the basements and interior rooms and halls the ceilings are typically low -- often there are no windows and the ventilation is usually marginal. These secondary spaces became the places which the churches made available to various charitable and popular outreach operations -- particularly as the attendance in the main spaces began to decline.

So to sum it up:

Open the Main Church -- Buy some big fans -- Open the Windows wide -- but keep the basement function spaces closed.

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The light may be naturally-generated, but if you think it has disinfecting qualities, it doesn't. Ordinary glass filters those wavelengths out.

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Sorry, this isn't the place to get all anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim.

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There is truth to the idea that just because churches may open doesn’t entail they ought. But this statement, coming as it does from Protestant leaders, does place proper stress on the absolutely crucial nature of liturgy and communal worship In Christianity- that is, people physically (not just virtually present), offering the ancient sacrifice of the Mass.

Now the decision to open the doors is always subject to prudential judgments about the health and safety of the congregants, and this has been the practice of the Church through many plagues, conflicts, and other interferences. But the presumption should always be that the faithful participate in the sacraments unless there is a grave reason not to. I hope the Archdiocese can adhere to these new safety guidelines as closely as possible, recognizing that not everyone may be able to participate, but encouraging those who adhere to do so.

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I'm Jewish. Like Christians, we have certain rituals that simply cannot be done except in person.

Throughout the world, the Jewish community has stated that we are not ALLOWED to do those rituals until the plague is under control. People who break those rules and try to perform those rites anyway are being banned from being allowed to hold leadership positions in their communities. Groups of Jews who have traditionally banned the use of computers on the Sabbath and holidays have started to put together groups to see if they can figure out ways to work around the prohibitions to be able to stream services for group worship online, even on holidays.

So... from MY point of view, we're at the "grave reason not to" place.

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Their hesitance to rush back is surprisingly sensible. I commend them for their science-based view.

The risk of opening chuches too soon comes with people who believe like the guy quoted below (who later caught COVID19 and has since repented.)

"I'm honoring what our government says to do during this epidemic but I do not fear this virus because I know that my God is bigger than this Virus will ever be," he wrote in a post on April 2. "Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords."

Source: https://www.yahoo.com/news/thought-coronavirus-fake-crisis-then-16321342...

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Baker has told the churches "now, you'd better behave."

We shall see what happens, I guess. If we get mass congregations without any precautions at all, I expect a crackdown like what happened to bars after the St Patricks Day "please don't do that" failed.

Not what I would have done, but better than nothing.

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Gov Baker isn't "letting churches re-open".

We have the right to free assembly and the right to freedom of worship.

These are constitutionally guaranteed, and can't be swept away by 'decree'.

None of this would pass constitutional muster if put to the test.

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Direct Scriptural commands in the Light of Jesus Christ declares “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others.” ( Philippians 2:3-4) The heart and mind of Christ trump any speculation regarding “constitutional muster” in terms of love for neighbors.

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Check your history books again. The Supreme Court has typically been okay with closure of churches during plague outbreaks.

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**Check your history books again. The Supreme Court has typically been okay with closure of churches during plague outbreaks.**

Please cite that which you refer.....

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"... decision this week to allow houses of worship to immediately welcome congregants back was rooted not in faith. Rather, aides say, it was a calculation of two threats: the coronavirus and a lawsuit, and the latter, according to constitutional experts, carried the potential of ultimately forcing their doors open anyway."

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Sounds like the The Massachusetts Council of Churches seems to have forgotten that the churches are there for the spiritual benefit of the congregants, parishioners and any of the public needing the place of worship.

Just like the members of the bureaucracy and some of the Legislature -- they have forgotten who they serve and who is their master

Nowadays its all about Political Correctness and government speak -- perhaps they ought to read the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution [with my highlight in bold]

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The Commonwealth of course began as a "Theocracy" but eventually evolved into a community of diverse religious backgrounds and so in the early 20th C the following was enacted and ratified to the State Constitution:[with my highlight in bold]

Article XLVI.
(In place of article XVIII of the articles of amendment of the constitution ratified and adopted April 9, 1821, the following article of amendment, submitted by the constitutional convention, was ratified and adopted November 6, 1917.)

Article XVIII.
Section 1. No law shall be passed prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
....
Section 4. Nothing herein contained shall be construed to deprive any inmate of a publicly controlled reformatory, penal or charitable institution of the opportunity of religious exercises therein of his own faith; but no inmate of such institution shall be compelled to attend religious services or receive religious instruction against his will, or, if a minor, without the consent of his parent or guardian.

So even inmates in prison were guaranteed the opportunity for the free exercise of religion. And further note there are plenty of mentions of charitable works, etc., -- but no mention of Associations or Councils of Churches

Hence -- Neither governors nor Associations or Councils of Churches should be making any restrictions on the Free Exercise thereof [with the exception of fire codes, etc.]

PS: if you as the Churches who are or are not members of the Massachusetts Council of Churches are worried about the COVID-19 disease and your congregants, staff, volunteers, etc., -- Buy some Fans [preferable installed up above head height] to stir the air around and Open the Windows Wide -- Fresh Air and Sunlight are the best anti-virus tools we have available!

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The First Amendment refers to government action. Absolutely nothing in it (it's really short, if you don't believe me, go read it) says that a church cannot make its own decision to close. And churches are free to disregard what the Massachusetts Council of Churches says - it's not some legal body or organ of the state.

If you belong to a church where the minister feels saving lives is more important than you do, and that just drives you insane, change churches and revel in the exchange of viruses, but don't accuse a private group of violating the First Amendment by professing that their love for their fellow man includes a desire to see them live.

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Both relate to the safety of the parishioners. If you can close a church for violating the fire code, you can close a church for actions that make more people sick and possibly die. The only difference is the uncertainty over how best to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Much as I miss my own church and fear for its economic health, I will be attending over the internet in the near future.

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**If you can close a church for violating the fire code, you can close a church for actions that make more people sick and possibly die. **

Some say that you can't close a church for violating the fire code...only as far as the faithful choose to adhere to it.

With a fire code. most understand it's something reasonable for the common good. Many fire departments have a "no standees" rule for churches.

Pastors know it is best to "make nice" with town officials. Most town officials know that it's best to "make nice" with the local churches.

Neither side wants a lawsuit or war.

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