More than 260 pastors sent a letter Thursday to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker urging him to “swiftly and publicly” allow churches to re-open when his coronavirus restrictions begin to expire on May 18.
The pastors questioned why they have been forced to close in an effort to save lives while abortion facilities that destroy lives are allowed to stay open.
“We have seen how marijuana dispensaries, liquor stores and abortion clinics have all been deemed ‘essential,’ but churches and other places of worship have not,” they wrote. “We are grieved by this, but we have been patient, and peaceful.”
They continued: “… church IS essential for us. Your order of March 23 would forbid us from gathering together to worship God, but the word of God commands us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We have done our best to temporarily adapt to extraordinary circumstances, but this must not continue.”
Boston Globe reports the 260-plus pastors represent Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox congregations across the state. They told Baker that they are prepared to open May 18.
“We are fully prepared to exercise extraordinary care and precaution to protect the health of our members and our broader communities,” their letter states. “We are capable of following the guidelines for social distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, just as other businesses Massachusetts has deemed essential.”
The church leaders said their ministries have not stopped, even though they are not meeting in person. They told Baker that their congregations continue to feed the hungry and comfort those who are suffering, and many of their churches are holding online services.
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“We care deeply for the health and welfare of our congregations and our communities,” they continued.
The pastors urged Baker to include churches in his first phase of reopening that starts May 18. They noted that the Massachusetts Constitution and the U.S. Constitution both protect the freedom of religion and assembly.
Many churches have closed temporarily or switched to online services, but a few have defied the governor’s order. According to the Globe:
Late last month, Worcester officials threatened to fine Adams Square Baptist Church after its pastor, the Rev. Kris Casey, held a Sunday service that drew dozens, in violation of Baker’s emergency order banning gatherings of more than 10.
Casey appeared to back down afterward, holding a service the following Wednesday that was limited to fewer than 10 parishioners. He is not among the letter’s signers.
The Rev. James Hopkins, pastor of the First Lutheran Church of Boston who signed the letter, told the Globe that meeting in person is a “palpably different experience.”
“It’s not the way God designed his church, and that’s been clearly experienced by us,” Hopkins said.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts abortion facilities remain open by special exception from the state Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality.
In March, bureau director Elizabeth Kelley released a memorandum explaining what procedures qualify as “nonessential” during the health crisis, and abortions were specifically excluded.
“Terminating a pregnancy is not considered a nonessential, elective invasive procedure for the purpose of this guidance,” the memorandum said. “However, the ultimate decision is based on clinical judgment by the caring physician.”
The memorandum did restrict skin incisions, injections into a “joint body space or body cavity,” hip replacement or knee replacement, colonoscopies, bronchoscopies, kidney tube placements, invasive radiology procedures, most dermatology procedures, eye implants, tooth extractions, sound wave treatment to break down kidney stones and endometrial biopsies.
These are important medical procedures. Abortions are not. They destroy lives, and they are not essential. Recently, medical groups representing more than 30,000 doctors in America emphasized that abortions are not “essential” or “urgent,” and abortion facilities that continue to operate during the pandemic are being “medically irresponsible.”
Religious leaders all across the country are urging governors to allow them to re-open. This week, pastors in Virginia also sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam asking that he lift restrictions on religious gatherings.
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