After being shut down for months due to COVID-19, our country is slowly beginning to reopen. Even though much of the nation is opening up again, we're still not operating at 100% capacity.
Still, in many places of business, you are not allowed to enter unless you are wearing a mask. Also, in many establishments, there are recurring announcements over their PAs reminding you to keep a distance of six feet from others.
Most churches in our country are still not open. Those that have reopened are seeing a fraction of the people in their services compared to before the virus.
People have been unsure how to respond to one another. Do you shake hands? Elbow bump?
Many times I've found people even hesitant to make eye contact. If you acknowledge someone by looking at them, then you have to figure out how to greet them. So, it's better to avoid the awkwardness and just look the other way. Sadly, all of this is a part of our social interaction today.
There is one exception. The protests that are happening around our nation regarding what many believe to be systemic racism in our country. Racism is evil, period! Any supremacy other than Jesus Christ, is wrong, whether it be white supremacy or black supremacy.
But this article isn't about racism. What we've seen with the protests are hundreds and at times thousands of people almost on top of each other, marching in unison in one powerful display of solidarity.
Apparently, the significance of this message provides an exception to the rules that shut down a nation. Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, tweeted "We should always evaluate the risks and benefits of efforts to control the virus. In this moment, the public health risks of not protesting to demand an end to systemic racism greatly exceed the harms of the virus."
Apparently, there is a message more important than the potential harm of a virus.
I wish the church believed this strongly about its message. A message that not only is eternal, but the only message that can ultimately change even a heart of racist.
Think about it. Those who are protesting aren't struggling with whether or not they should gather together en masse. They instinctively know there isn't any way to create the show of force necessary by making sure they are social distancing. Their protests would have looked more like a parade than a national movement.
You can be sure it never entered their mind to lead this movement through a zoom call. They also knew the success of this movement wasn't going to happen by gathering 15 or 20 people in a room and livestreaming it. Their efforts to confront racial injustice would have looked weak and fractured. Instead of communicating a clear and bold sound, it would have come off more like a tremulous, insecure whisper.
So, while many of our places of business are half-empty, laboring under unsustainable restrictions, the very leaders who placed these burdens on us are marching en masse. While most of our churches are struggling to regather due to fear, our church leaders enthusiastically join with those who gather fearlessly.
I don't think there's anything wrong with joining those protests. But it's troublesome for Christian leaders to gather with abandon for racial inequality while refusing to gather in our churches with the same abandon for the sake of the gospel.
These protesters have schooled us in what we, the church should have already known—the power of a crowd.
It's time to open our churches. I mean really open our churches.
We've discovered at New Life Church that it's impossible to fully focus on His presence while at the same time focusing on being "safe." Let's not be concerned about not having a packed room.
We don't need a packed house; we just need to worship with freedom. Let's get back to laying hands on the sick. Let's get back to putting our arms around someone who's hurting. Let's get back to people being able to see our smiles. Let's get back to connecting with God with abandon and connecting with one another with that same freedom.
Mike Fehlauer is the senior pastor at New Life Church in Corpus Christi, Texas.
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