Weeks After Court Ruling Black Pastors Still Abide by COVID-19 Restrictions

Dr. Jonathan Augustine
Dr. Jonathan Augustine

By Cash Michaels

June 7, 2020 3:11AM
Cash Michaels
Cash Michaels

As cities across North Carolina were entrenched in turmoil this past Saturday evening in protest of the killing of George Floyd, there was nothing many Black pastors wanted to do more than to preach about it in their respective churches Sunday morning.

As social media starkly revealed, their communities, their congregations, the people they regularly minister to, were in pain, and needed to hear the Word.

But despite the fact that a federal judge’s May 16th order now allows North Carolina churches to conduct indoor services unrestricted by Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 mandate limiting gatherings to just ten - something that several white churches filed suit over and Republican leaders supported - many African -American pastors across the state are still abiding by Gov. Cooper’s mandate in order to keep their predominately Black congregations safe from contracting the coronavirus.

“I write this open letter, as a religious leader and former law professor, sharing my sincere concern for how the church’s longstanding racial and socioeconomic divisions have once again manifest within partisan politics,” Rev. Dr. Jonathan C. Augustine, national chaplain, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and senior pastor, St. Joseph A.M.E. Church in Durham.

“These racial and socioeconomic divisions have created false narratives that embolden certain conservative and majority white, evangelical faith groups to publicly support positions adversely affecting minority communities.”

“Accordingly, considering the empirical data revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the African-American community, I write to: (1) debunk the politicization of well-reasoned, governmental shelter-in-order orders; and (2) urge members of populations that are disproportionately vulnerable to refrain from mass, in-person gatherings, including worship experiences, at the current time.”

Rev. Augustine is not alone in his pronouncement, many faith leaders across the state echo the view.

The Greensboro Faith Leaders Council also offered a statement decrying reopening for in-person worship.

As Jewish, Muslim and Christian Faith leaders in Greensboro and Guilford [counties], we are aware of the very real suffering that the COVID-19 virus is causing in our community, our nation, and our world. Based on the central teachings of our faith traditions, and the most reliable science, we will wait a while longer to gather for face-to-face, and we encourage other faith communities to do so as well.”

Rev. Dr. William Barber, national social justice leader, and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, railed when President Trump declared that he wanted the nation’s churches open for Memorial Day weekend.

“Trump doesn’t get to tell the Church what’s essential,” Rev. Barber said on Twitter May 22. “Buildings are not more important than people doing the will of the Lord.”

There were many Black pastors across the country who disagreed.

According to the website “Church Leaders,” ‘The leadership of the Church of God in Christ, a predominately African-American denomination, has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19.” Reportedly, “… up to 30 leaders in the church, including two out of 12 board members, have passed away from complications from the coronavirus.”

There are reports across the nation of other churches who defied shelter restrictions, or refusing the option of holding outdoor services with congregants in their cars, holding in-person services, and spreading the virus mostly older attendees, several of whom have died.

Many Black pastors have said that’s a risk they want to avoid, having instead gone to online social media (Facebook) or telephonic ministry to keep in spiritual contact with their church families.

“The ongoing pandemic has forced us all to adopt “new norms,” Rev. Augustine wrote. “Rather than place faithful parishioners in potential danger, I encourage clergy leaders and concerned citizens to use alternative options, including free technological advancements made available to everyone through social media.

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