For pastors across the country, the coronavirus is creating a different kind of crisis. Through any other national disaster, emergency, or terrorist attack, the mission of the church seemed clear: to be a refuge, a help, a haven. Now, with governors like Andy Beshear (D-Ky.) calling on sanctuaries to close their doors, Christian leaders are facing a new challenge -- how to respond when the threat is in our pews?
Like a lot of people, Kentucky's Pastor Aaron Harvie, couldn't understand why Beshear was singling out churches to begin with. If there's a mandate, he said, his church would obey it. I agree. But why target sanctuaries and not schools? "I'd ask the governor," Harvie said, "Who were your advisers?" he said. "These are areas that you're treading into of which you don't actually have direct responsibility or authority." Besides, he pointed out, "If we shut down services, it would add to fear."
To be fair, Harvie told me on "Washington Watch," he appreciates the governor taking the virus seriously. "But... we are called upon, in his word in Hebrews 10, to gather together in His name. And that is a demonstration of faith and trust." For his Highview Baptist Church, one of the largest in Kentucky, Pastor Harvie is stressing wisdom. And he's right. If you're sick or in a vulnerable group, stay home and watch online. But in times like these, it's important for everyone come together and for the spiritual leaders of this country to project a sense of confidence that God is in control.
"We are going to be cautious," Aaron insisted, but in the end, "We're not going to allow fear to rule the day. We are called upon to live by faith, not by sight. If faith is trust in conviction, that leads to action... [And that action should be the] lifting up and exalting the name of Jesus... I think we can make a tremendous statement of faith by gathering together and say the Lord is in control. He has defeated sin and death and our faith and hope is resting in Him and Him alone."
The Lord, he insisted, inhabits the praises of His people. It's how He reveals himself. And right now, more than ever, we need His revelation. We need his peace and comfort. In these days of great anxiety, Christians -- of all people -- can have confidence. When churches don't meet, the people aren't the only ones who suffer. So does their ministry -- because, as Secretary Ben Carson reminded us all on Thursday's "Washington Watch," the church's role extends well beyond the Sunday worship hour.
Dr. Carson, who's part of the vice president's taskforce on the coronavirus, thinks America's churches should be ramping up their efforts to help the needy. And with the uncertainty over the economy, there may be a lot more needy to care about. Just a few days ago, the secretary met with a large number of pastors from all over the country. And despite everything that's going on, he thinks there's a lot of work churches could be doing. The hurting and suffering people in this world don't go away when the churches close their doors. They just have fewer options. So Secretary Carson is putting together a plan to keep congregations focused on the good they could be doing.
"We will actually be rolling out, very shortly, a challenge to all places of worship to adopt one homeless person or one homeless family -- with the goal of making them self-sufficient within a year." He says that he's already seen some examples of this in places around the country, and it's "absolutely magnificent," because, as Dr. Carson explains, "These congregations have a lot of expertise in all different areas. And when they adopt a person or family, they're quickly able to find solutions that are that work and help get these people into the right position. And you know, what we have to recognize is: isn't that one of the real responsibilities of churches? You look at James 1:27, this is pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this 'to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world.'"
Well, there is certainly plenty of affliction now, as we fight for the health of our nation. Which is why, as our pastors gather Christians all around the country this Sunday, I encourage them to make this weekend a time of prayer for our nation, for our families, our neighbors, our communities. Together, let's heed the instruction of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians and not let anxiety overcome us, but rather, let us together give thanks that we live in a nation where we can openly seek God, get on our knees, and ask Him to intervene and stop this virus.