Family Research Council President Tony Perkins slammed churches that have continued to gather as the coronavirus pandemic explodes across the county, calling their action a “defiance of common sense.”
Reacting to a recent report by The Christian Post about 43 members of The Life Church of Glenview in Illinois falling ill and at least 10 of them later testing positive for the coronavirus after a revival service earlier this month, Perkins said it was irresponsible and should not be treated as an example of defending religious freedom.
“At this point, holding public church gatherings in the midst of a public health crisis is not a defense of religious freedom — it is a defiance of common sense and the care of your congregation. Spread the Good News, not the virus!” tweeted Perkins, whose organization works "to advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview."
Perkins' tweet came a day after Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, argued in an op-ed in The New York Times that it is the religious right’s hostility to science that has crippled the United States’ response to the new coronavirus.
“Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown,” Stewart wrote.
“This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis,” she said before pointing to a number of high-profile Trump supporting pastors who have defied the wisdom of scientific experts on the virus.
She pointed to Guillermo Maldonado, a self-described apostle who hosted President Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, who urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person.
“Do you believe God would bring His people to His house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,” Maldonado said.
Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida also mocked people concerned about the disease as “pansies,” she noted. In a sermon that was livestreamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, noted, “We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.”
In an appearance on Fox News, Perkins called Stewart’s op-ed “hate-filled” and “bigoted” while suggesting it was politically motivated.
“It’s reprehensible that The New York Times would allow this hate-filled, bigoted rant in their paper at a time of national crisis when people are dying. It appears that they cannot put politics aside to work for the well-being of the nation. They are more interested in criticizing President Trump and his supporters than they are containing the coronavirus,” he said.
He also argued that it is liberals who have trouble with science and not Christians.
“They are the ones that have a problem with the design of a defined male and female. Christians don’t have a problem with science. In fact, while they’re attacking Christians, it’s the Christians that are out there serving the first responders. In fact, many of the first responders are Christians. Like my daughter who’s an evangelical who’s working in the hot zone in the ER … who volunteered to work with the coronavirus patients,” he said.
Preliminary research on the response of churches to the coronavirus viewed by The Christian Post Monday shows that a majority of churches have responded to the coronavirus by closing.
A minority of churches and other religious organizations across the country have continued to defy warnings to limit gatherings or shut them down altogether to help in stemming the spread of the new coronavirus.
In places like New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio says defiant religious organizations will now be shut down if they fail to obey the order to temporarily stop gathering.
"If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services," de Blasio warned. "I don't say that with any joy, it's the last thing I'd like to do because I understand how important people's faiths are. We need our faiths in this time of crisis but we don't need people to endanger others.”