Arkansas Baptist leader says report blaming churches for COVID-19 spread 'unfair'

Unsplash/Daniel Tseng
Unsplash/Daniel Tseng

An Arkansas Baptist leader has said that he believes a state government report on the spread of COVID-19 unfairly singles out and names churches as sources of infection.

Arkansas Baptist State Convention Executive Director J.D. "Sonny" Tucker recently sent out an email of complaint to Governor Asa Hutchinson and other state officials.

At issue was a report on June 26 by the Arkansas Department of Health in which they named dozens of churches, including two Baptist congregations, as having allegedly “documented COVID-19 exposure.”

The Christian Post reached out to the ABSC for comment, with the Convention directing CP to a statement that Tucker released on Monday regarding the emailed complaint.

Tucker explained that he questioned listing the two churches, calling to question the culpability of the congregations in actually spreading the coronavirus among the population.

“Those two churches had at least 22,000 unique individual attendees since February 26, yet the ADH put them on the list for having four people attend (a family of three at one church, one person at the other) who later tested positive for the virus­,” stated Tucker.

“These two churches in particular, as well as a multitude of other Arkansas Baptist Convention churches, have provided an incredible amount of ministry to Arkansans during this pandemic, provided thousands upon thousands of meals, served their communities through Disaster Relief efforts, and served first responders and the medical community.”

Tucker felt that “singling out churches is unfair and damaging,” adding that “Hutchinson graciously reached out to both churches and has also stated that he did not intend for the church list to be published.”

“Our churches are thankful for the protection the Governor has provided churches, and most have been diligent to meet or exceed the guidelines to protect those who visit our churches,” continued Tucker.

The two Baptist churches listed by the health department were Cross Church, a multi-site church in northwest Arkansas, and Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, according to Baptist Press.

There were 44 churches listed by the department, each with only a few COVID-19 cases.

“I don't like the fact that the media presented the information like there was a cluster in a particular church or that they had been careless,” Hutchinson told the Democrat-Gazette. “That is not the case.”

Houses of worship have been a source of controversy for states as they gradually reopen after shutting down public gatherings earlier this year to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Last week, a church in Alabama announced that it was returning to online-only services after meeting for in-person worship for a few weeks with social distancing due to a “spike” in COVID-19 cases among attendees.

First Baptist Church of Tillmans Corner, a Mobile-based congregation with about 1,500 members that had limited in-person worship to around 350, made the announcement on Facebook last Wednesday.

“Regardless of what is happening nationally or statewide, there has been a significant increase in cases among FBTC members in the past two weeks. We need to move quickly and decisively to stop the virus before it spreads any further,” explained First Baptist Pastor Derek Allen.

“We don’t want to see any of our faith family members suffer through a COVID-19 infection, and we want to do our part to contain this spike as much as possible.”

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