Tag Archive: Closing Churches During Coronavirus Pandemic

Dear Pastor Reeves, Let Me Explain to You Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself

Have you noticed that many of the churches refusing to close during the Coronavirus Pandemic are Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregations? Over the past week or so I have written about two such churches, First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio and the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio. (Please see Local Church Continues to Meet on Sundays Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic and IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic.) Pastor John MacFarlane at First Baptist has since seen the light and all services at the church are now canceled. The Baptist Temple, pastored by Mark Falls, remains open, but some peripheral programs have been canceled and older congregants have been encouraged to stay home. My wife’s parents attend the Baptist Temple, and, fortunately, both of them stayed home on Sunday. Polly’s aunt, the wife of the late James Dennis, who has end-stage bone cancer and is on chemotherapy? She was front and center, praising Jesus.

Why is it that many IFB churches refuse to close their doors? First, IFB churches have a conspiratorial hatred for the government — especially if the government is controlled by Satan’s party, the Democrats. I plan to write more about this hatred later this week. Second, IFB churches tend to have members who are easily led astray by conspiracy theories. This is especially true now that Donald Trump is president. Third, most IFB churches are not flush with cash. If they don’t hold services, their cash flow will be seriously compromised. Fourth, many IFB pastors believe that the government has no right to tell them what to do. Some go so far as to oppose any sort of government regulation, including fire, safety, and building codes. Years ago, an Ohio IFB pastor took it upon himself to build a new building without permits. He believed he should be able to build the building any way he wanted, even if it meant he violated the law. His actions, of course, brought legal action, and his refusal to comply forced the state to raze his building. Fifth, closing church doors would be a repudiation of the belief that God always protects Christians, and no matter the circumstance, the people of God should be present and accounted for on Sundays. Sixth, IFB churches tend to be anti-science. Remember most IFB church members and pastors are Bible literalists, young-earth creationists, and believe the entire earth was covered with a flood a few thousand years ago. Holding such anti-scientific beliefs reflects poor reasoning skills. I am not saying that IFB church members are stupid. I am saying that their theological beliefs cripple their ability to rationally understand the world they live in. Their thinking is crippled by their insistence that the Bible is some sort of divine blueprint for life and it contains everything necessary for life and godliness.

The latest IFB church on my radar is the North Platte Baptist Church in North Platte, Nebraska. Last week, I wrote about the church and its pastor, William Reeves, using the Coronavirus Pandemic as a tool to evangelize people. (Please see North Platte Baptist Church Uses the Coronavirus Pandemic to Evangelize People.) North Platte has continued to run its buses and hold services despite the Coronavirus. Reeves, in classic IFB fashion, has stupidly and stubbornly held his ground. Reeves has received a lot of negative publicity — glad I could help — so much so that he has taken the church’s and his personal Twitter account private. (I was banned long ago from both of these accounts.)

One of Reeves’ last public tweets can be found in the header graphic of this post. Reeves said:

Having church doesn’t make you an enemy of the state or an enemy of people. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about your people or that you are not doing your part in curbing the spread of COVID-19 (with Facepalm emoji, as if what he is saying should be obvious to everyone).

Jesus said in Luke 10:27: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 13:9,10: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. In Galatians 5:14, Paul said, For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. And finally, James said in James 2:8, If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.

Evidently, these verses must not be in Pastor Reeves’ leather-bound King James Bible. Consider what Paul says in Galatians 5:14: all the laws of the Bible can be fulfilled in one word, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Holy shit, Batman! Can Pastor Reeves, along with Pastor McFarlane and Pastor Falls and a host of other IFB preachers, honestly say that their actions show that they are loving their neighbors as they would themselves? Of course not. Their actions are driven by one or more of the six things I mentioned above.

To Pastor Reeves I say, if you really loved your neighbors — who include your congregation and the children who ride your buses — would you continue to have mass gatherings? You KNOW that mass gatherings are a prime way to spread the Coronavirus. You KNOW that people NOT showing COVID-19 symptoms can actually be carriers. Everyone could “look” healthy on Sunday, yet some of them could be spreading the virus. IF you really loved your neighbors, you wouldn’t take this risk. You have a social and moral obligation to not only your church but the community at large. By being a weak link in the containment process, you and your church could be making people sick and killing them. What kind of person ignores these things, all for the sake of some sort of theological or political statement? Evidently, you, Pastor Reeves.

I know, I know, the next words out of your mouth are going to be something like this: I DO love my neighbors, so much so that I am going to keep the doors of North Platte Baptist Church open so unsaved people can ride our buses, come to church, hear the gospel, and be saved! That way if COVID-19 chokes the life out of them, leaving their spouses widows and their children orphans, at least they will go to Heaven. Praise the Lord Jesus Christ!

Their salvation can wait a few weeks. All that matters right now is the safety and health of others. I encourage you, Pastor Reeves, to swallow your theology and politics and show love to your community by closing the doors of North Platte Baptist and suspending all group activities until health experts give the all-clear. How you respond will show if you really do take the words of Jesus seriously.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Local Church Continues to Meet on Sundays Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic

The above screenshot is from the website for First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I attended First Baptist in the mid-1960s when it was located on Alpine Drive, and again in the 1970s when it was located in the old Methodist building on the corner of Beech and Butler. The pastor at the time was Jack Bennett.

Today, the church is pastored by John MacFarlane. John was a young boy in the church when I headed off to college in 1976. I used to bale hay for John’s father Randy. At one time, I had a number of family members and close friends who attended First Baptist. Today? Pretty much a new crowd. The old folks have died off, and those of us who were young years ago are now the new old folks. Such is the circle of life.

I really don’t know John that well. I know he’s a Fundamentalist, but I hoped he had a better understanding of the world than his predecessor, Jack Bennett. John’s no dummy, so I am astounded by the fact that he intends to continue holding services on Sundays. He’s canceling the Wednesday services and Sunday school, but Sunday morning and Sunday night? Game on! Everything we KNOW about the COVID-19 virus tells us that the best way to impede its spread is NOT to gather in groups. Stay at home, and avoid contact with other people. Churches are no different from schools, restaurants, sporting events, or other places where large numbers of people gather. John KNOWS this, yet he plans to have church anyway. Maybe he thinks God will be with them or be some sort of talisman that will protect them from the Coronavirus. Maybe he thinks if the church congregation prays real, real, real hard that God will hear their prayers and pass over them like he did the Israelites in Egypt. If so, he’s delusional. God is AWOL, and the only hope now is us. If we don’t do the right thing, who will?

You may remember that I mentioned earlier this week what John said about the Coronavirus in a blog post titled COVID-19 DOES Work Together for Good:

Listen here, you dirty coronavirus bug! You will NOT win! In Jesus name, the church is going to use what you are doing to the world and turn it around for something good. Your days of creating chaos will come to an end as Jesus heals body and soul. Your fear will be vanquished in the life-giving blood of Jesus as He makes new creatures, converting the lost souls. Persecution has never diminished the affects of the church. Quite the opposite! Persecution has always caused the church to grow and flourish. And, even though we can’t see you, you are an enemy that WILL be defeated. You will NOT conquer. “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Jesus name — and all God’s people said — AMEN!

The fact that First Baptist, along with a handful of other local Evangelical churches, is having church on Sunday is yet more proof that Governor Mike DeWine should have ordered churches to close. Churches are nothing more than a weak link in an otherwise exemplary plan for controlling the virus in Ohio. (Dear Governor DeWine: Why are Churches Exempt from the Group Gathering Ban?) Just today, the Defiance County Department of Health said we now have our first confirmed case of infection in the county. It’s coming, John. For you, for your family, for the people you pastor. Do the right thing and close up shop and wait for the all-clear from Ohio Department of Health. Until then, you are risking the infection and death of your family, church members, and fellow citizens.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Why I Kept the Church Open When I Shouldn’t Have

pile of money

Thanks to various state governors, including Mike Dewine, the Republican governor of Ohio, houses of worship are exempt from gathering bans. While thousands of thoughtful, caring churches canceled services, more than a few Evangelical churches dug in their heels and kept their doors open. Whether out of the belief that the Coronavirus pandemic is a government attempt to take away civil liberties, an attempt by Democrats to take down President Donald Trump and spoil his reelection bid, or out of some sort of loyalty to Jesus and the Bible, none of these supposed defenders of God, freedom, and coffee after church are telling the real reason for carry on as normal.

I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. I hated to cancel services for any reason. “Sundays are meant for worship, bless God, and regardless of whether there are two feet of snow on the ground, the true Christians at _____________ (fill in the blank with name of church I was pastoring) are going to gather at their appointed times. Can I get an A-MEN? AMEN!” (Though I suspect more than a few members were thinking, FUCK YOU, PREACHER!)

Of course, people who cared about their personal safety and that of their family stayed home, but I could always count on some faithful souls showing up to worship the one true God. Rarely were these services memorable. Why? Because everyone there wanted to be somewhere else, myself included. “Then why have the services?” you might be thinking. Simple. Are you ready for the answer? I am going to blow your mind with my answer. The reason I was Heaven-bent on holding services regardless of the weather was because of money. Churches require money to operate. Most Evangelical churches don’t have large sums on deposit or investment accounts. Most churches rely solely on the tithes and offerings of attendees to operate. Without weekly offerings, churches quickly get into financial trouble. Churches are, in many ways, financially no different from the families they minister to. Living from offering to offering, many churches face employees not getting paid, utilities getting shut off, and mortgage payments going unpaid when services are canceled. It is for this very earthly reason many churches refuse to shut their doors during the current pandemic. Oh, they will put a shiny, pretty coat of paint on the situation and make all sorts of excuses, but the fact remains: it’s all about money. It is ALWAYS about the money (as it is for all of us).

“Bruce, surely congregants pay extra tithes and offerings to cover the services they missed?” While that is certainly a nice sentiment, far too many church members have a “no show, no money” approach to giving. Their thinking goes something like this: “If there are no services at church, why should I pay for sermons, sacraments, music, and fellowship not received?” I could count on offerings dropping fifty percent or more on weeks when services were canceled. Such income loss often meant that I didn’t get paid. Better to keep the lights on and propane in the tank than Pastor Bruce get paid. I know, what a guy, right? In retrospect, such thinking was stupid. It unfairly made me bear all the burden for decreased income. Instead of being honest with the churches I pastored about this, I, instead, bullied them into being present and accounted for on Sundays when ninety-nine percent of county churches were closed.

The good news is that by the time I started Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio in 1997, I had things figured out. Well, I had the offering issue figured out, anyway. I was no longer going to carry the load when church services were canceled and income was lost. I was first in line when it came to getting paid. I spent way too many years being the last person in line; often finding out that all that was left was a few widow’s mites, food stamps (yes, I preached that poor people should tithe their food stamps), and a cold half-eaten Big Mac.

While I certainly understand the financial pressures pastors and church leaders face when church doors are closed, they have a moral and ethical responsibility to act in the best interest of not only their congregants but the unsaved world they say they love and are trying to reach with the gospel of Christ. Want to model love, mercy, and responsibility, preacher? Shut the damn doors of your church until local, state, and federal officials say it is okay for people to safely gather in groups again. People will remember the pastors and churches who didn’t care about the health and welfare of others. They will also remember who put their lives before theology, politics, and money. How you respond during this crisis says a lot about you as a person, preacher and the church you pastor. Your “testimony” is speaking loud and clear.

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

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