As the United States heads into its third wave of coronavirus case spikes, caution seems to be less of a priority as the public’s patience wears thin. Frustration at lingering government-directed restrictions is playing out in churches as well. Along with the alarming rates of infection we’re witnessing, the number of Americans who think churches should defy shut down orders is on the rise as well.
“The number who want their congregation to defy potential state orders to close due to the coronavirus has grown – 56 percent did not want their congregation to defy such an order in March, but that shrunk to 39 percent by October,” write the authors of a study titled “Church Defiance to COVID-19 Restrictions is Growing”. Paul A. Djupe and Ryan P. Burge continue, “From a different angle, support for the government asking congregations to stop meeting in person slipped from March to October, going from 66 to 56 percent.”
The survey was conducted by Religion in Public, a group of scholars who collaborate to discover “how religion and public, in all of their manifestations, mix.”
The survey asked respondents to rate how much they agree or disagree with three statements related to the coronavirus. The first sampling of 3,100 people was taken in late March “just when states were first considering lockdowns,” the authors state. In late October, “just before the election” another 1,750 people were asked to respond to those same statements. After months of uncertainty and devastating statistics, it appears opinions about our state of emergency have shifted:
If the government told us to stop gathering in person for worship I would want my church to defy the order
March responses: 36.4 percent strongly disagree; 19.2 percent disagree; 22.5 percent neither; 11.1 percent agree; 10.7 percent strongly agree
October responses: 25.8 percent strongly disagree; 13.3 percent disagree; 26.9 percent neither; 18 percent agree; 16 percent strongly agree
The change in responses indicate that more Americans are unsure of whether or not a church should defy government restrictions (the “neither” category increased). However, the greatest change came among those who disagree with that statement. In March, those who disagreed with the statement came in at 55.6 percent (combining both “disagree” and “strongly disagree” categories) while in October, that percentage had dropped to 39.1 percent. Additionally, those who agreed with that statement (whether “strongly agree” or just “agree”), rose from 21.8 percent in March to 34 percent in October. The change indicates that more Americans are inclined to think churches have reason to defy the government restrictions placed on them.
The government should tell churches and houses of worship that they should stop meeting in person to prevent the spread of coronavirus
March responses: 3.9 percent strongly disagree; 7.4 percent disagree; 22.6 percent neither; 27.3 percent agree; 38.8 percent strongly agree
October responses: 10.5 percent strongly disagree; 8.9 percent disagree; 24.7 percent neither; 25.6 percent agree; 30.4 percent strongly agree
The change in responses shows that Americans disagree with the idea that the government should tell houses of worship to stop meeting in greater numbers than they did in March. Meanwhile, the number of people who do think government should direct churches to temporarily stop meeting in person have dropped. More Americans appear to be unsure (“neither”) about this statement than they were in March.
Hysteria over the virus is politically motivated
March responses: 14 percent strongly disagree; 16.7 percent disagree; 26.8 percent neither; 25.2 percent agree; 17.3 percent strongly agree
October responses: 22.5 percent strongly disagree; 10.6 percent disagree; 26.8 percent neither; 21 percent agree; 19 percent strongly agree
While the shift in responses to the phrase “Hysteria over the virus is politically motivated” is not as dramatic as the other statements, it indicates Americans are slightly less convinced of this perception. In March, some 30.7 percent of respondents disagreed with this statement (either “strongly disagree” or “disagree”) while that percentage increased to 33.1 in October. Those who agreed that the hysteria is politically motivated sat at 42.5 percent in March. By October, that perception had dropped just slightly to 40 percent. The number of people in the middle (responding “neither” to the phrase) stayed steady at 26.8 percent.
What these statistics may point to is what some are referring to as “pandemic fatigue.” The simple fact of the matter is that seven months is a long time to remain vigilant and cautious. Many have lost livelihoods, housing, even loved ones. We are all eager to go back to a time when we can freely move and rely on the support systems (such as church) that have sustained us in the past.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who is a Christian, believes pandemic fatigue is to blame for the most recent spike in cases. “The virus hit different places of the country at different points,” Adams told NPR. “And so you’ve had people who’ve been doing these things since February, March, April, but they didn’t really start to see the wave until later on. And they’re just plain tired.”