As several categories of businesses begin reopening in Georgia today, many pastors in that state say their churches will remain online-only for now. Some have expressed concern and even outrage at Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s plan, saying it endangers the lives of churchgoers—especially African Americans.
On April 20, Kemp announced that certain places—including gyms, hair and nail salons, and houses of worship—could reopen by week’s end if they follow certain safety guidelines. Though President Trump had pushed states to start reopening, he now says he “disagrees strongly” with Kemp’s plan. So far, Georgia has almost 900 coronavirus-related deaths.
Is Georgia Governor Caving to Commerce?
The day after Kemp’s announcement, megachurch Pastor Jamal Bryant appeared on Facebook Live, equating opening the state with “opening caskets.” In a video that’s been viewed more than 1.4 million times, Bryant lashes out at Kemp, calling his decision “reckless and irresponsible” and a “slap in the face” to people of faith. “I am disappointed in his moral leadership and bending to the pressure of commerce,” the pastor says of the governor.
Bryant’s church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta, will continue holding virtual services for now. “Resolutely we are not opening church,” Bryant says. “Sometimes laws are not moral or ethical, and this is an example of a law or a suggestion that we ought to ignore.”
Early Friday, as some businesses prepared to open their doors, Bryant tweeted: “Dear Lord today, guard #georgia from its governor, protect people of color in this pandemic, curtail #covid19, help all hospital workers & bless those who received no stimulus.”
In his video, Bryant accuses Kemp of leading black people “to the slaughter” and links the timing of the reopening to the arrival of government stimulus checks. “They understand diabolically that African Americans are prone to do spending,” says Bryant, calling the governor’s decision “an assault on the minority community in Georgia.” During the pandemic, the death rate among African Americans has been disproportionately high.
Other Churches Also Are Waiting to Reopen
Most Georgia church leaders say they’re waiting to meet in person until statistics improve. Bishop Reginald Jackson with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, whose members are predominantly African American, says, “We ought to wait until we’ve reached our peak and begin to flatten the curve.” The bishop has instructed Georgia’s 520 AME churches not to gather yet, saying, “I don’t think we should jeopardize ourselves anymore by congregating.” Citing Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Jackson adds, “You shouldn’t put God to a foolish test.”
The United Methodist Church’s North Georgia Conference also has advised congregations not to meet until at least May 13, “as we do our best to do no harm.” The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta says its bishops are currently “working on a plan.”
North Point Community Church, the Alpharetta, Georgia, megachurch led by Pastor Andy Stanley, also will continue livestreaming worship services for now. Through its #giveservelove campaign, North Point has provided meals to frontline workers, held a blood drive, and donated 23 tons of food to local charities.