It’s the Worshippers Who Are “Essential”

As the coronavirus death toll was about to reach 100,000, in a quick press announcement, President Trump declared, “Today I’m identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogues and mosques as essential places that provide essential services.” He moralized: “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. . . . So,” he said, “I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.” Thus Trump called “upon governors to allow churches and places of worship-to open right now. . . . These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united.” He concluded, “We need more prayer, not less.”

With these words, President Trump is attempting to mobilize white evangelical and conservative Christians. For many such Christians, abortion is taboo, and drinking alcohol is also against the religion of many.

Certainly, people of faith find spiritual empowerment in worship services. But many white evangelical Christians especially become intoxicated by religion. Under the influence of their assumed infallible biblical belief in Jesus as the only Son of God and savior of the world, a high percentage of them have supported aggression against non-Christians – most recently President George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Muslim Iraq and the terrible deaths and destruction it created.

“Places of worship . . . hold our society together and keep our people united.” Ironically President Trump is using religion to divide people, not unite them. He has driven a wedge between evangelical and mainline Christians by selecting prolife judges, and has sown division by promising evangelical Christians the right to discriminate against LGBTQ persons under the guise of protecting their “religious freedom.”

A repeatedly displayed photo shows evangelical leaders surrounding President Trump, putting their hands on his shoulders and praying for him. It is about power. Not only them asking their god to empower him, but wanting his presidential power to rub off on them. They are not about uniting and empowering people, but seeking to gain power over people with their assumed infallible biblical beliefs.

President Trump has used the coronavirus pandemic in a similarly divisive way. He attempted to exploit Easter, Christians’ most important observance, saying that was the time to “pack the churches.” “That’s about the timeline I think is right,” he prophesized. But the coronavirus was rampaging through the country, so he had to back off, grudgenly giving in to social distancing measures.

Then in an about face, he encouraged protests against those same social distancing restraints and stay-at-home orders in Democratic-governed states, demanding, ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN! And MINNESOTA! And VIRGINIA’ . . . They want their lives back.” With such presidential approval, protesters gathered, shoulder to shoulder, at state capitals, many without masks, some carrying rifles, with ammunition strapped to their shoulders.

Getting people back to worship is a step toward getting them back to work and thus normalizing the virus. That’s what his refusal to wear a mask is about. Whatever benefits the economy — and his re-election chances.

Spurred on by the president, It was not long before certain evangelical faith leaders disregarded the warnings of public health experts and re-opened their church doors for worship services. Similar to faith-demonstrating snake handlers , certain clergy evidently believe they can look an unpredictable, even invisible, virus in the eye and their god would protect their act of faith. But at the Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle in Ringgold, Georgia, and the Holy Ghost Parish in Houston and the Greers Ferry First Assembly of God in Arkansas worshippers contracted the coronavirus. Some died and others in the wider community were affected – which revealed that church-going, like any other gathering place, is a breeding ground for the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, to justify his attempt to manipulate religion for his re-election purposes, President Trump latched on to the sacred practice of prayer: “We need more prayer, not less,” he declared. But he doesn’t say what kind of prayer is needed.

For people of faith, a major purpose of prayer is to call for the well-being of others, not just themselves. Praying for others especially includes offering up supplications for their health and safety. That kind of prayer is in keeping with the teaching of great religious leaders, like Jesus, who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12: 31),

People of faith, who believe that all Americans are essential, would not want them to prematurely risk attending worship services and contracting and spreading the deadly coronavirus. Faith is about caring for people, not allowing religion to be used in the service of a president, who wants worshippers’ votes, no matter how many die in the process.

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Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.  

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