One of the more controversial examples of rules established by some governors around the country to combat the novel coronavirus was the decision to define churches as “nonessential businesses.” And that’s been getting some polite but firm resistance from otherwise generally passive men and women of the cloth. Another case in this category comes to us today from Worcester, Massachusetts, where Pastor Kris Casey continues to hold Sunday services in defiance of Governor Charlie Baker’s order prohibiting gathers of more than ten people. And he’s doing this despite having already been ticketed and fined twice, with warnings of possible stiffer punishment to come. The pastor’s message to the governor is a simple one. I can’t baptize babies on a Zoom call. (CBS Boston)
A pastor in Worcester held a service with more than 10 parishioners at his church Sunday despite the warning and fines he has received. While some supporters stood by Pastor Kris Casey at Adams Square Baptist Church, critics call his actions “misguided” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Casey has already been fined twice for ignoring Gov. Charlie Baker’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
“We have a right to disobey,” Casey told WBZ-TV. “I can’t baptize someone on a zoom meeting.”
Holding signs and flags, a few dozen folks gathered outside the church morning to support Casey’s decision to hold service in violation of the state’s coronavirus emergency orders.
I think the Governor is finding himself is a bit of a pickle over this situation. It’s bad enough that the church is being hit with financial penalties at a time when attendance and tithing are down considerably. There are camera crews stationed outside the church every time a service is held or the pastor sets foot outside the door. Can you imagine the political nightmare that would ensue if the evening news showed video of Pastor Casey being led away from his church in handcuffs and loaded into the back of a squad car?
But if he doesn’t take action against the pastor, what does he say to all of the other churches who have obeyed the shutdown orders? When they see that this pastor can seemingly thumb his nose (politely) at the Governor, what’s to stop them from resuming services as well? Baker would immediately look like a feckless, powerless leader.
Congregants have been quick to come to Pastor Casey’s defense. Most spoke of their constitutional rights to religious freedom. Others had more personal messages to share, publicly thanking the pastor for tending to their spiritual needs during a time of crisis and uncertainty. Others seemed to question the government’s rationale for taking this action.
That’s a point that Casey has been making all along. His church seats more than 300 people at full capacity. He didn’t count the number of people who came to the most recent service, but he said it was “more than ten.” And yet it was far, far below full capacity. They are disinfecting the pews, door handles and everything else after every service, and the congregants are spaced out with plenty of room between them.
If Massachusetts can have grocery stores, Walmart and Home Depot open taking those sorts of precautions, why not the churches? I realize I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record on this subject, but do you really believe that the ability to go buy a new hose for your lawn sprinkler is more “essential” than saving your immortal soul? The pastor had a baptism for a new baby to perform. As he said, that’s not the sort of thing he can do through a laptop screen.
It’s fair to expect the churches to follow the same precautions as commercial businesses that are currently open or in the process of reopening. They can easily enforce social distancing rules and disinfect their spaces, probably more easily than some of those actual businesses. And their work is surely as important (if not more important) than all the rest. It’s time to stop threatening our spiritual leaders with fines or jail time and reopen the churches.