The Supreme Court of the United States offered a so-called victory to Roman Catholic Churches in New York City. Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan sent a word of congratulations to Bishop DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Diocese for sparking the lawsuit, which wound up in the nation’s highest court.
For all of the religious legalism used to file the lawsuit and then applaud its subsequent, hollow victory, several issues must be brought to light:
1) Archbishop Dolan does not speak for all faith communities. There are many faith leaders who are vehemently opposed to the concept of opening houses of worship during the increasing pandemic spreading across our nation and world.
2) There is an outright myopic arrogance in this lawsuit that bodes of archaic and selfish rationale. More than 260,000 people have died. Twelve million human beings have been infected. And this, in our country alone. Both science and medicine have given the most critical, precautionary measures; stay home (as much as possible), do not gather together at indoor places, no public singing, wear face masks, demand public spacing.
3) A high percentage of church attendees have pre-existing conditions, making them especially vulnerable to COVID-9. I surmise the average age of parishioners in New York are not different than where I am in Illinois, 60 and over. Heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, upper respiratory infections are predominant in those over the age of sixty.
4) A disproportionate number of Black and Brown people attend worship services in the United States, compared to the percentage of their white counterparts. COVID19 has already struck these communities, decimating families, leadership and neighborhoods, among Latinx, Black and Native American people.
5) The forecast suggests that up to 400,000 people will die by March 1st (a conservative estimate) from COVID-19. The approaching winter months portend, perhaps, the most difficult period in our lives.
Thus, it is a great curiosity why the Diocese was so deeply concerned about its “Constitutional rights” to do what they wanted to do. Was it because they were concerned about the future and increased amount of death? Was it because they share a deep concern about Black and Brown people in their pews? Was it because they wanted to protect those with pre-existing conditions who might return to their houses of worship?
Obviously, the answer is no to all of these questions. So then, it all boils down to motive. Does the Roman Catholic Church and do the Evangelicals (who are also demanding their Constitutional right to do whatever they want to do during this pandemic) have more in common than meets the eye?
I’ve been a Baptist preacher and pastor nearly all my adult life. I’ve seen faith communities divided over many issues – abortion, racism, sexism, homosexuality, civil rights, human rights, war, politics. But never have I witnessed such an arbitrary and reckless decision regarding the life of one’s own parishioners. Jaded as I am as I grow older, it seems to me there must be a bottom line.
What a tragedy.
As for the tiny church (in the larger realm of things) I am blessed to serve, we will remain closed. We made such a decision collectively and placed people before profits, children before asset columns, and life before death. We will focus on increasing the effectiveness of our Livestream praise and worship, teaching, activities, events and engaging in virtual services. When the dust clears, we will emerge and find our way back into the House of Prayer, with a heaviness from so long a separation from one another … but alive. And rejoicing.
Reverend Dr. Michael Nabors is pastor of Second Baptist Church.