This is an unprecedented time for our generation. Leadership and decision for the future do not come easily. The following is my attempt to compose the latest relevant information about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) for the purpose of decision making. My point is not to advise you medically but rather to comprise data to help me serve the people of Rose Hill Baptist Church more faithfully.
There are many who believe that Lysol and the disinfectant companies knew about the Coronavirus, so all of this is game to benefit Big Lysol. That’s right, we are being controlled by Big Toilet Paper and Big Lysol. The truth of the matter is there are many different kinds of Coronaviruses and evidently most of us have had them at some point in our life. These viruses are not new. COVID-19 is different, it was only first discovered recently in the outbreak in Wuhan, China. It is airborne and it spreads when an individual comes in contact with those who are infected. The symptoms are fever of 100.4 or higher, cough and shortness of breath. At the time of this writing there are approximately 1,200 cases in the United States and 36 deaths which is about 3% mortality rate in general. It takes between 2 to 14 days to show symptoms, but on average a person shows symptoms within 5 days.
Blown Out of Proportion
There has been much commentary on the current state of affairs and how we should respond from physicians and even religious leaders. What cannot be ignored is the rapid state of change with this virus. What may have been true a week, a day or even an hour ago may not be true now and what is true now may not be true in the future. It is without question a remarkable commentary on the state of affairs that the NCAA Tournaments have been canceled. The NBA has canceled their season, a decision to be reassessed in 30 days. The University of Kentucky, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Marshall University, The Ohio State University, West Virginia University, and many others have discontinued their face-to-face classes for the semester. Even NASCAR, whose events are all held outside, has announced that they will not admit spectators to the next two races in which at least one is in the heart of NASCAR country, Atlanta. This is happening just as NASCAR was beginning to win back their fans after years of low attendance. Since I originally wrote this post there has been a big change, both Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and those other parks have closed, this is unprecedented. The Governor of Ohio has closed schools for three weeks and banned, you read that correctly, banned gatherings of people with more than 100 in attendance. Although there is an exemption for religious gatherings, the principal for the safety of such gatherings remains the same. Finally, even the Governor of Kentucky recommended that public and private schools in Kentucky cancel classes for at least the next two weeks and encouraged churches not to meet but utilize other means of worship.
You may criticize these actions but what is it that you know that they don’t know that makes these decisions an overreaction? I tend to believe, and hope it to be true, that a Governor has access to more information than does the average person and that he is leading on more than a gut feeling.
Many are questioning if all of this is being used to whip people into a frenzy. Maybe. It is true that the President of the United States has used this as an opportunity to attack his opponents. The President’s opponents have used this as an opportunity contrast their leadership to the President’s. It may be that both the President, his opponents and even the news media are using this to work people up, the reality of COVID-19 doesn’t change. We must consider thoughtfully and carefully the information that we receive and make the best decisions that we can at the time they need to be made. You can only make decisions with the information that you have at the time
Stopping the Spread
Why would such responses be taken? COVID-19 is spread through touching a surface that has the virus on it or breathing in the germ when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The virus is most contagious when the infected person is showing symptoms but it seems there is a possibility with COVID-19 that a person can become infected by someone who has the virus but is not showing symptoms. The virus can remain in the air for 3 hours and live on some surfaces for days. The earliest research seems to indicate that COVID-19 is ten times more deadly than the flu with the highest mortality rate among the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
There are real reasons for so many closings. First, closures adds distance between you and the infected person. You are less likely to inhale the germs of the infected with distance. This distance has been proven to reduce the transmission rate of disease by 35%. Second, closure reduces the chances of you being infected or unknowingly infecting others. It is possible for you to carry the virus and be asymptomatic and you could unknowingly transmit COVID-19 to someone who may not respond to the virus as well as you. There are some who believe that children are somehow immune to COVID-19, but the evidence doesn’t back that up. There have been no deaths of children under the age of 10 worldwide. Otherwise, it seems that what is true for adults is true for children. I would like to note that children can also be asymptomatic and yet transmit COVID-19. Third, COVID-19 has been declared a Pandemic which means that it is outside of the measures that health care can handle in some places. Doctors in Italy are being forced to place only those with the greatest chance of survival in ICU. The social distance added by closure decreases the chance of transmitting the virus but also serves to protect the most vulnerable and pastoring in a region that has one of the oldest population in the nation, this must be taken into consideration. Remember, it is the oldest attenders of our churches that are often the most faithful. If church is open, those who would most likely not be greatly affected by the virus may stay home but those who could be most deeply impacted are often those with the deepest convictions to come. Finally, if we are not thoughtful and careful in the way that we handle COVID-19, your church as a lighthouse of the gospel could possibly become a conduit of COVID-19. There are multiple cases of the virus that have their connects in in religious gatherings.
What to do
As I stated from the outset, I wrote this as a means to more faithfully serve the people of Rose Hill Baptist Church. Governor Andy Beshear has been criticized deeply for even daring to suggest that churches not meet or to meet via the internet. The reality is regardless of my political perspective, he is God’s minister to me for my good (Romans 13:4). Practically, the man in Kentucky who should have the most information about the situation as it stands concerning COVID-19 encouraged schools, churches and other large gatherings not to meet. I do not begrudge him, but rather am grateful for God’s ministry to us, through him to protect us.
After compiling this information, I believe that those who would blindly march forward without taking some kinds of precautions to protect those they serve are reckless. As the Under-shepherd of Rose Hill Baptist Church, I have a great desire to lead those entrusted to me with faithfulness. I have a very deep conviction that the church is proclaiming a very clear message when it meets on Sunday. I believe that we must care for and minister to people in this trying time, safely.
When those earliest Jewish converts went from strict observance of the Sabbath to worshipping on Sunday, it was because Jesus Christ had risen from the grave. When the church meets on Sunday, that meeting shouts to the world, “He is risen!”
We must consider the close confines of some meeting spaces and the demographics of some services. We cannot live our lives in fear but rather faith, knowing that God’s love casts out fear. Our trust must be in God and not men, but neither can we be blind to those God has placed around us as His minister of good to us. We must carry-out those proven practices that keep us from spreading disease, protecting one another and ourselves, while faithfully proclaiming His resurrection. We must be faithful but not reckless. You are not being unfaithful to God because you have chosen to protect your family. You are not being unfaithful because you have made the temporary choice to limit that social interaction of you and your family.
I think the comment of a pastor and leader for which I have great respect is a helpful place to end. Dr. Hershael York writes, “It’s nice to have the luxury of an opinion with no consequences. It costs you nothing if it’s wrong. Leadership, however, comes with a price tag and decisions have real ramifications.” The days ahead really are uncharted territory for this current generation. Carful and prayerful leadership is necessary.