California: You Win Some, You Newsom
Good news, California! Your generous dictator, Governor Gavin Newsom (D), has decided to "allow" residents to watch the sunsets! Turns out, it's one of the few government-approved activities his administration has benevolently approved in lockdown, according to a new decree. His scepter also waved agreeably at gardening and car washing, in case people were wondering. But if you want to play doubles' ping-pong, you'd better get the county's permission.
"Huzzah! Let us peasants bow on bended knee and vow to be worthy of his merciful thoughtfulness," one resident tweeted sarcastically. "Oh good," posted another. "Meditation is on the list. Thank you, Governor Newsom for not policing my brain. That's so lenient of you!" Others, like California's Republican Party leadership, were less veiled in their criticism. "[Newsom's] gone off the deep end," Harmeet Dhillon fumed.
When people started hitting the beaches, one sheriff's deputy said they weren't supposed to allow chairs because people might -- get this -- sit down. "Basically, you're supposed to be just kind of walking or swimming -- or resting from your walking or swimming. But they don't want chairs," he grumbled. At first, people like Pastor Jim Garlow says they laughed. "They can't be serious, we thought. After all, it's America! But they didn't. And now, it's no longer funny." The governor fired back at critics, saying they have to be "cautious." But this isn't cautious -- it's outright despotic.
Elsewhere, in places like Louisiana, some of the state pressure is paying off. As more churches grow impatient to start the re-opening process, Attorney General Jeff Landry encouraged the governor, John Bel Edwards (D), to start amending his emergency order. "As other states begin reopening and unrest in the legislature continues, I believe many faith-based congregations will begin to meet with or without guidance," Landry wrote. "We are be better served by taking a proactive approach by publishing reopening guidelines that take a phased approach to faith services restarting. Without guidance based on best practices in place, this could be disastrous."
Borrowing from FRC's roadmap for re-opening churches, he included a draft framework for how Louisiana could approach the issue. On Thursday, seeming to heed the call, Governor Edwards agreed that churches could at least start holding services outdoors, if they practiced social distancing. Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for Edwards, said the state fire marshal would send guidance to churches about it as early as today.
Down in Florida, pastors don't seem to be deterred by the new normal. After all, one said, the church isn't just a building -- it's a community. "Everything that we'll do, we'll do outside," a minister of a small Tallahassee church explained, including baptisms. They'll ask people to wear masks, and they won't pass a plate. Instead, there'll be donation stations and other boxes set up around the parameter.
David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, admitted that he'd been worried about how this would all turn out. But even in livestreamed funerals, He's seen God work in amazing ways. "So you know what? I think we can do these things. We just have to do them a little differently."
For advice on how your church can get prepared, check out our new publications, "Guidelines for Re-opening Your Church" and "What Pastors Should Know about the White House Plan to Open up America Again."