Pastors in Philadelphia and across the country are refusing President Donald Trump’s call to reopen their churches.
"Yesterday, of course, 45, for political purposes, started running his mouth again," said the Rev. Allyn Waller, pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, during a Zoom conference call he coordinated for pastors across the country Saturday evening.
"And we recognize that had nothing to do with his love for God, nor did it have anything to do with his emphasis on the church. All of that was for an audience of a section of the Christian church, known as evangelicals. And let me be very clear...I am a theologically conservative evangelical. But what he was talking about, wasn't talking to me. The reality is he is trying to position himself politically to get more votes. And we wanted to address that. We recognize that we have to be smart, we have to be sensitive, we have to be spiritual around that."
Waller, wearing a black T-shirt that said “I love Barack,” added that Enon would “be doing the same thing we did last week."
Enon, like many churches, has been livestreaming its services.
The Rev. Marshall Mitchell of Salem Baptist Church read a letter he drafted to represent pastors and religious leaders who said they await the time when data and science confirm it is safe to reopen houses of worship.
"The president has failed again to provide wise and careful guidance to an anxious, polarized, and dangerously unprepared nation,” Mitchell said. “Instead, we call upon the president to develop and lead this nation with a coherent safety, health and economic plan based upon both science and decency. The nation is in sore need of a massive Marshall Plan effort that encourages Americans and fans the flames of optimism rather than stoking the ancient embers of division.”
Mitchell’s letter went on to say the pastors “fundamentally reject” Trump’s declarations about the reopening of churches.
“For the African-American community, faith in the one God of the universe has never been optional. It has always been essential. Our sojourn, survival and safety have depended upon the abiding presence of God,” Mitchell read. “For a community that has had its churches burned in both the South and North, had its pastors hung and assassinated, and had its legitimacy questioned, faith in God has always been essential."
Mitchell said the leaders of any house of worship, including imams and rabbis, are welcome to personalize and distribute the letter.
Other Philadelphia pastors on the call included the Rev. Gregory Lamar Stewart of Taylor Memorial Baptist Church, the Rev. Charles Quann of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and the Rev. William B. Moore of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church.
"We need to stand on what we stand on and that's the word of God," Moore said.
"God has entrusted into our care... our congregation. And through our influence, God has people who look to us for guidance and for leadership. And we have to be good stewards of that. I don't think at this moment, we can afford to be silent. Our people need to hear our voices."
Pastor Gina Stewart of Memphis, agreed, saying Christians must be careful about reopening.
"What you are doing is actually what some of the faith leaders did in Memphis a couple of weeks ago — because we are committed to safety over expediency, and because we know our people, African-American people, tend to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19; and because we know the greatest act of love for our neighbor is to look out for our neighbor and put their safety above our own," Stewart said.
"Our position...is that we will listen to the Spirit and we will listen to science. We will make the decisions when we feel it is in the best interest of the people that we serve because the greatest act of love is to love our neighbor as ourselves.”