When Governor Ralph Northam outlined his latest COVID-19 restrictions and a curfew last week, he had a message specifically for religious leaders.
“This year we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building? For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers,” the governor said. “Worship with a mask on is still worship.”
“Worship outside or worship online is still worship,” Northam said. “Quite frankly, we know that a lot of the spread is coming from this because these individuals that are in a place of worship and contract the virus then go out to their place of work or to the grocery store or the convenience store or wherever and that’s how this is spread.”
Northam’s 10-person group size limit doesn’t apply to churches, but the other provisions of his executive orders do. Conservative voices slammed the governor in response.
“That is my Governor who is telling people how to worship,” The Federalist Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway said on Fox News.
Hemingway said that Northam had espoused an actual theological concept that was rejected by many Christians. “He has overstepped his role by claiming to be a teacher in the church and it is particularly problematic because he is teaching something false,” she said.
“It actually is essential to be gathered to receive the means of grace, the Lord’s Supper, which is a communal thing, so Northam is just flat-out wrong when he pretends to be a theologian who can instruct people on how they should be worshiping,” she said.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins wrote, “Liberals, who constantly accuse President Trump of making baseless claims, are doing exactly that here! Most churches who’ve opened in a reasonable manner haven’t witnessed a single case — let alone an outbreak. Maybe Northam, who wants to make infanticide a choice between “a woman and her doctor,” ought to leave worship between a pastor and his parishioner.”
According to WFXR, Lynchburg Tree of Life Ministries Pastor Mike Dodson said, “It’s more than just a building. The building is a place where it’s got a name on it, but it’s the fellowship. The fellowship is very important.”
A November Gallup telephone poll with 1,018 respondents shows a decline in Americans’ mental health over the past year. In 2019, 85 percent rated their mental health as excellent or good, while in 2020, only 76 percent said they had good or excellent mental health. “Democrats and frequent church attendees show the least change in their mental health ratings,” Gallup stated in its findings.
Churches facing decreased attendance are also impacted financially and have had to develop survival strategies over the past year. Presbyterian Foundation Senior Ministry Relations Officer Robert Hay, Jr. said in March, “Many churches operate on a very thin margin and have little to no reserves. Most churches are still heavily dependent on gifts that are made in an offering plate when people are physically in church.”
He added, “According to the National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices, 78% of gifts are given during a worship service.”
Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Rebecca Heinrichs highlighted a recent case in favor of Washington, D. C. -based Capitol Hill Baptist Church that allowed the church to have more than 100 people in outdoor services.
“From the court ruling that ruled in favor of my church: “It is for the Church, not the District or this Court, to define for itself the meaning of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” Hebrews 10:25.” Someone pass it along to Northam,” Heinrichs tweeted.
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