New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that people, not God, are responsible for the fact that COVID-19 cases in his state have plateaued. His comment stirred reactions among some Christian leaders, including Franklin Graham.
Cuomo, a Catholic Democrat, told reporters on Monday while comparing society’s coronavirus response to being on a diet that the social distancing effort of people in his state is responsible for the plateauing of coronavirus cases.
As governor of the state that has been by far the most affected by the pandemic, Cuomo stressed that the number of new cases is down “because we brought the number down.”
“God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that,” he stressed. “A lot of pain and suffering did that.”
The 62-year-old governor stated that the data is a “direct result of what we do.” He warned that if people “do something stupid,” the numbers will “go right back up tomorrow.”
“You get on the scale every morning. ‘I lost five pounds. I lost five pounds. I've lost five pounds.’ Oh, you're declaring that you have lost five pounds forever? No, [if] I lose self-discipline today and I go home and I eat like a horse and I'll get on that scale, it's going to give me a different number tomorrow,” Cuomo explained.
“And that's why we lost five pounds because we went out every day and we exercise and we burned more calories than we ate. That's how it works. It's math. And if you don't continue to do that, you're going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”
In an interview with CNN the next day, Cuomo reiterated his claim.
“Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus,” he said. ”God did not stop the spread of the virus. And what we do, how we act, will dictate how that virus spreads.”
"We changed the trajectory of the virus by our actions.”
“And that's the real important lesson to me,” the governor said.
Cuomo’s remarks drew responses from Christian leaders online.
Evangelist Franklin Graham, who leads the evangelical Samaritan’s Purse humanitarian charity that since April 1 has operated a field hospital in New York City’s Central Park, wrote on Facebook that “we always must be careful what we take credit for.”
“Yes, we must be cautious and combat the spread, but make no mistake — God can help us,” Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, stated. “His power is as infinite as His love.”
Graham, who also serves as president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, added that millions of people have prayed for New York and for an end to the virus.
“We continue to see answered prayer in our field hospital,” he said. “Gov. Cuomo, I urge you — don’t dismiss the power of prayer and the ability of God to work in this crisis and in the ones we will face in the future. He is our hope, and we continue to pray for His mercy on our nation.”
As local medical infrastructure has been overwhelmed, the Samaritan’s Purse’s 168-bed, 14-tent field hospital in Central Park treated over 125 patients since it opened on April 1. The hospital is staffed with over 70 medical professionals as well as Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains ministering to those in need.
DeWayne Hamby, an executive pastor of Southside Church in Winter Garden, Florida, wrote in a tweet that he is not sure why Cuomo “felt the need to make this highly offensive (and WRONG) point the day after Easter.”
Jamal Bryant, the senior pastor at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church megachurch in Georgia, tweeted an article reporting on Cuomo’s comments but did not comment himself on the matter.
Bryant’s post drew a chain of responses from his followers, including some who criticized the remarks and at least one who felt that the remarks are taken out of context because Cuomo was comparing individuals’ responsibility in the crisis to their dieting habits.
On Wednesday, New York recorded over 600 new deaths. According to The New York Times, that is the lowest 24-hour total in 10 days. However, Cuomo warned that more progress is needed before safety restrictions can be lifted. He extended the state’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order until May 15.
In total, over 10,000 people in New York are believed to have died as a result of the Coronavirus.
Before reopening the state back to normal, Cuomo announced Monday that New York will work with nearby states — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Connecticut — to come up with strategies for easing stay-at-home orders enacted to stop the spread of COVID-19.
On the West Coast, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California, Oregon and Washington have formed a similar pact.