Friday, May 15, 2020


On yesterday, 14 May 2020, the Centers for Disease Control officially released to the public new guidelines for the re-opening of public places in the United States. These included:  workplaces, child care centers, schools and camps, restaurants and bars, and public transportation. Find an informative article about this here . The new guidelines are brief, general, and simple. Basically they say to follow the local policies for re-opening. This reflects the abdication of national leadership in the face of the worst health crisis to hit the United States in a century.

One will recall that just a couple of weeks ago, someone(s) in the CDC leaked to the media the proposed new guidelines as they were sent to the White House for approval. They were long, detailed and quite restrictive. We know that the WH killed the proposal on 30 April. It was apparently afterwards that the the CDC personnel constructed the new and drastically watered down version which was approved by the WH and released yesterday. Find the original guidelines here .

The original version contained a lengthy section on churches. There was speculation at the time that the WH shelved the whole original version because of the what it saw as too restrictive provisions for churches. These suspicions may have been right considering the total absence of churches in yesterday's publication. The CDC may yet issue new suggestions for churches but if they do they will no doubt be as generalized and un-helpful as the others.

What all of this tells us is that the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic has become thoroughly politicized. The federal government's response to the pandemic has gone through three phases. In the first, January to mid-March, the presidential administration was in denial. It dismissed the problem as minor and temporary. It took very little action to stop the virus. By mid-March it was obvious this policy was failing. 

The second phase ran a month and a half, from mid-March to the end of April. In this, the Congress and the White House combined to produce a massive injection of money into the economy as local governments almost everywhere closed down most areas of public life. People were ordered to stay at home. Four acts were passed by Congress and signed by the president. The third was the most important. It was the $2.2 trillion "bail-out" program that included $1,200 checks to most Americans and "loans" to small businesses (and churches). This bill was passed unanimously in the Senate, an accomplishment that is all but impossible in today's political climate. Even though the administration refused to establish a unified, focused, dedicated national program to fight the pandemic, there was an overall national response, mostly from Congress. The right-wing elements in American coalesced to destroy this unity.

By the end of April, the country moved into the third and present phase of response. It is a return to the politics of polarization and deadlocked hostility which paralyzes any common national program. Conservative elements, voiced by Fox News, denounced the restrictive measures of the second phase and proclaimed the "crisis" to be fake. They verbally attacked the scientists and specialists who advocated for socially restrictive policies as the only viable alternative to the spread of the virus. The conservatives won the day and now dominate the political scene. The scientists have been sidelined. The Democrats in Congress are preparing a fifth and much larger "bail out" bill but the Republican leaders and the White House have publicly declared this to be DOA. Apparently there will be no significant fifth law. The fragile unity of common purpose in the second phase was short-lived. We are now back to pre-pandemic polarization. The CDC is a victim of this. It tried to make a meaningful directive to stop the spread of the virus but this came too late. By the time it floated the restrictive measures, near the end of April, the conservatives had already turned the presidential administration in their favor. Hence, CDC's toothless final version of yesterday. In this third period, the presidential administration and its congressional allies are turning away from the pandemic and focusing on the national election coming up in November. With this, the states and localities are on their own to fight against the worst public health crisis in a century. Meanwhile cases and deaths in America continue to skyrocket with no end in sight. With no national plan and a return to polarized political warfare, the pandemic will only take a greater and greater toll on the country. COVID-19 is highly contagious and deadly. There is no cure or even treatment for the disease. As the scientists are saying, we are in for darker days ahead. The country is facing even greater disruption of life than we have seen.

What this means for churches is that they are on their own according to the local governmental guidelines. As of this moment, there is no specific guidance from the CDC on re-opening churches, and I doubt there will be. This means, the Episcopal and Anglican dioceses of South Carolina are free to decide the conditions under which they will re-open churches as long as these do not conflict with local official policies. 

The Episcopal diocese has said there will be no in-person worship services until after 17 May. They have not announced a policy after that. The Anglican diocese has declared a re-opening of churches. Local churches may resume public worship on 17 May. However, the diocese issued a highly detailed and remarkably restrictive list of "requirements" for the re-openings. It is considerably more demanding that the proposed CDC guidelines that were killed by the White House. Find it here .

For whatever reasons, perhaps the heavy restrictions of the diocesan guidelines for re-opening, some of the ADSC churches are holding off on resuming in-person worship. I looked up several large parishes on the Internet to find their policies. According to their websites:

 St. Philip's of Charleston will not resume public worship for an indefinite time but will continue live-streaming; 

St. Michael's of Charleston will tentatively resume in-person services on June 7; 

St Helena's of Beaufort will continue only on-line church; 

Church of the Cross of Bluffton says "no in-person services will be held" as it continues live-streaming.

I did not consult all of the ADSC parishes, but it is interesting that large and important parishes are hesitant to resume in-person services.

At any rate, the point is that churches are virtually on their own to decide the best ways to resume public worship services. While this gives local church authorities a good amount of freedom, it also puts a great deal of responsibility on them for the welfare of the communicants. The officials' decisions may literally mean life or death to the people returning to their beloved church buildings. Surely, the ADSC has the right attitude about all of this--it is better to bite the bullet now than to face the bullet down the road.

As always, remember, friend, we are here for the living of this hour. Peace.