Conflict Over Churches Reveals Fundamental Divide in US

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One of the most contentious debates of the COVID-19 saga has been that of churches being allowed to operate. On the one hand, most stay-at-home orders would normally preclude people from gathering in an enclosed space. This measure is ostensibly for public health, even when it results in the cancellation of church services. Proponents of the lockdown measures argue that these extreme measures will only be temporary, and that they will result in a good outcome.

Protesters in California call for the reopening of churches
LA Times

On the other hand, many churchgoers resent the idea of their church being forced to close its doors by the government on principal alone. Some argue that the government telling churches whether or not they can be open crosses a line. Often, such arguments hold that if the government can use a pandemic to close churches, what’s to stop them from using any emergency declaration to shut down businesses or churches they don’t like?

Lockdown Measures Open Uncomfortable Discussions

The American ideal of freedom and resentment of government intervention is on full display during these lockdown measures. Many Americans reject any governmental decree out of hand, regardless of its stated intention. This is doubly true when those orders pertain to matters of faith. Differing opinions of the lockdown have highlighted a distinct divide between two schools of the thought in the US.

There are those who see the public good as the highest good, arguing that even one COVID-19 death from reopening too soon is abhorrent. Then, there are those who see the lockdown as an infringement on their personal rights, regardless of the lives risked or saved. In some ways, this cleavage has fallen along existing political party lines. On the former, you have liberals. On the latter, conservatives.

No Consensus

As the debate rages on, even within religious communities there is no consensus on the right path forward. A church in Texas canceled mass indefinitely after the church pastor died and five others in the congregation tested positive for COVID. Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice has issued a warning to California over their restrictions on churches.

Truly, the situation has revealed something fundamental under the surface of American politics. The two sides aren’t just disagreeing on policy or responses to crises. The two view the world in completely different ways. Now, these disagreements are going farther as we face our biggest public health challenge in a century.