Faith in a Pandemic: COVID-19, the Church, and Social Distancing


I am devout Muslim. I consider my faith the central part of my being and essential to the way that I interact with and interpret the world. Although, I am a Muslim now, I have not always been. For the first 20 years of my life I was a Christian. In fact my father is a Baptist minister and has been for nearly 45 years. I have a deep and sincere love for the church and my Christian family. My years as a Christian also helped to shape who I am as a person today. Currently, I am a PhD candidate and my dissertation research centers on the use of Biblical scripture in religiously integrated cognitive behavioral therapy.

Both Christians and Muslims believe in the power of faith, prayer, and fasting. I would never attempt to demote, demean, or reduce anyone that has faith in the protective and restorative power of God. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”(Hebrews 11:1).

Since the implementation of social distancing to combat the COVID-19 outbreak churches, masjids, and synagogues have been unable to open their doors to remain in compliance with the guidelines. Many faith leaders have taken to Facebook and other social media to have virtual worship services. However, there have been a few faith leaders that have refused to follow the mandates of social distancing and have continued to have worship services with hundreds of congregants attending.

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida and Mark Anthony Spell, pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana have made national headlines for continuing to hold worship services. This has led to many discussions about the separation of church and state and religious freedom. But what does Biblical scripture have to say?

The story of the Passover, in the book of Exodus, has an explicit “stay at home order” in response to a plague. In the story God is preparing to send a plague to destroy the first born of all Egyptians. God gives Moses specific instructions and Moses relays these instructions to the Children of Israel so that they will not be harmed by the plague. One of the instructions can be found in Exodus 12:22, which reads “Take a cluster of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin, and brush the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe. NONE OF YOU SHALL GO OUT THE DOOR OF HIS HOUSE UNTIL MORNING.” In order to be protected from the plague, the Children of Israel had to stay at home and quarantine.

The pastors have argued that Christians should not follow social distancing guidelines issued by the government. However, the apostle Paul had a different perspective in the book of Romans. He wrote “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-3).

The central figure of the New Testament is Jesus. His ministry consisted of preaching, teaching, and healing. As pastor Rick Warren points out, 1/3 of his ministry was healthcare. So central was healthcare to his ministry that he appointed his disciples to be healers. Luke, himself a physician, states that Jesus sent out 72 disciples and told them to heal in the cities that they entered. The takeaway from this is that Jesus sends healers. Today we have healers… doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who have been given the authority to heal the sick. We must heed their advice and listen to their precautions.

Finally, James, the brother of Jesus, tells us that faith alone is insufficient. He states that “faith without works is dead”. James 2:18 states “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” Following the protocols of social distancing does not mean a believer lacks faith, to the contrary, it means that person is marrying their faith with works.

To my Christian family, I would like to remind you that the church is not a building, the church is the people. The believer’s relationship with God does not cease at the exit door of the church house. God is omnipresent and worshipping him is not contingent upon a building. I encourage you to call your church members on the phone and commune with them, read your scriptures, participate in services online and be steadfast in prayer. Have faith and do the work of social distancing that is needed to get through this difficult time. I encourage all members of any faith community to do the same.

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