By Rev. Isaac S. Dowah, Pastor, Lutheran Church in Liberia
As we contemplate on the President’s proclamation on the partial opening of churches and mosques across the country and the position of the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia and other religious leaders, I have given considerable thought to the matter and conducted some research.
The findings which I present below, should guide us in making wise and informed decisions as a BODY OF BELIEVERS.
As much as we embrace the idea of going back to normal worship, what is happening in countries around the world, where restrictions have been lifted, should offer some guidance in determining the direction that we go.
Countries that have eased restrictions have experienced a jump in COVID-19 cases. This, as I understand the World Health Organization’s position on the matter, should sound a strong warning that “challenges lie ahead” if we are not careful on how we proceed with the easing of restrictions.
The WHO Director-General has advised that before any country seeks to ease restrictions by opening up churches and mosques, such country should ensure that the proper structures are in place, including those for testing, contact tracing and isolation for COVID-19.
It is reported, for example, that China, the Republic of Korea, Germany and other countries in Europe are experiencing hikes in confirmed cases since their restrictions were lifted (Tedros, May 11) In a related report (washingtonpost.com), Ghana saw a hike in Coronavirus cases just 10 days after the easing of restrictions in Greater Accra and Kumasi. The bulk of the new cases, it may interest you to know, are in the very places where restrictions were eased.
The Director-General of WHO recommends a “slow and steady” approach to the easing of restrictions, which I agree with and would recommend to members of our church. Though the easing of restrictions represents some level of hope, Mike Ryan (Executive Director of WHO’s Emergencies Program) cautions that such an action requires “extreme vigilance” along with a vibrant health system in countries following that path.
A question for each of us to ponder is whether Liberia has put the virus under control? Or better still, does Liberia have the requisite infrastructure in place to keep the virus under control? To jump to the easing of restrictions without having an affirmative answer to the above concerns, may, I am afraid, only prove counterproductive.
I have been following the call of some church leaders on the government to open churches and mosques, but I have personally disagreed with them; specifically on the reasons that they have given as the basis of their call on government. They have argued that the COVID-19 situation is spiritual and therefore can only submit to a spiritual approach – meaning, the reopening of churches and mosques for believers to seek God’s intervention. If this is how Liberia theologians would proceed, I beg to differ!
I would rather take what our Lord said in His meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well than this argument that is being put up by people I consider fervent readers of Scripture. Notice, our Lord said to the woman, “.. the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem” (John 4:21, New Living Translation). I believe that the time is even now that wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, he is right there in their midst. Mark the word “wherever”!
I would not even want to go to the part of the other argument that speaks of the spiritual nature of the COVID-19 situation. I am one person who does not accept the idea of the dichotomy of the spiritual and the physical. These two realities run into each other and cannot be divided. What sense, for example, would salvation make to us earthly beings if it had no physical ramifications? CHRIST came to save the whole person, body, mind, and soul!
It follows, in my opinion, that to propose an exclusively spiritual solution to an exclusively spiritual problem remains a mystery yet to be unravelled! To see just the spiritual side of COVID -19 to the neglect of its physical side amounts to an unbalanced view of the situation we are faced with.
Having said the entire above let me go back to the main issue at hand. The proposal to reopen churches and mosques, with whatever modifications there may be, especially at a time when cases are still being announced, requires our careful consideration.
Consider a congregation of a Sunday attendance of between 500 and 700 members. By government suggestion, 25percent of the above attendance would be between 125 and 175. That would be a huge number given the requirement for social distancing. In fact, it would be virtually impossible even in the biggest church building.
Let’s think about it and make the wisest decision!