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Congressman James Clyburn points pastors who insist on gathering during pandemic to Matt. 6:6

Congressman James Clyburn points pastors who insist on gathering during pandemic to Matt. 6:6

Democrat and House Majority Whip James Clyburn. | Flickr/James Clyburn

As a minority of pastors across the country have continued to resist calls from federal and local government officials to shutter in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, citing their First Amendment rights, Democrat and House Majority Whip James Clyburn urged them to apply Matthew 6:6 from the Bible and stay home.

The Scripture, which encourages believers to pray in secret, says: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Clyburn, whose father was a fundamentalist minister, made the suggestion during a press call organized by the faith initiative at the Center for American Progress Wednesday while praising essential workers such as those in the health field who have been risking their lives to keep infected persons alive.

In a time of crisis, he said, pastors need to provide responsible leadership.

“I believe that it’s also important for us to say to our faith leaders, those who are really, really concerned about maintaining our practices as much as we can, that just as we look to our political leaders, our government officials, to make the kinds of decisions that will keep us safe and secure in our homes and communities, we expect leaders should do what we can to contribute to that. One of the things that in fact contributes to that significantly is our #StayHomeStayHoly movement,” he said, referring to the #StayHomeStayHoly campaign launched by CAP in partnership with Faith in Public Life.

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“I often think about growing up in the parsonage and even today I tend to refer to many of those sermons that I was honored to hear. Didn’t feel it at the time but I was very honored to be a part of those services and I still remember a particular sermon my dad used to take. If my memory serves, Matthew 6:6, when he talked about how hypocritical it is to have to demonstrate publicly your faith,” Clyburn recalled.

“We can be just as faithful praying in our closets, praying in our private homes and I’m not too sure that that is not more of a demonstration of faith than it is to have to gather in public, especially when we can put many others at risk. Staying home does not mean that you’re foregoing your religious traditions. It just may be that you are fulfilling some of them as well.”

Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president of external affairs at CAP, said her organization called on states last week to not exempt churches and houses of worship from large gatherings to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

“With several major holidays coming up, including Passover, Easter and Ramadan, we want to stress how important it is that faith communities celebrate their holidays safely at home,” Stachelberg said. “This initiative encourages people to celebrate their faith traditions and to share how they are celebrating holidays and regular worship while staying at home.”

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, leader of Revival International Ministries and The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida, became the first high-profile pastor in the burgeoning movement of resistant pastors who insisted his First Amendment rights were being violated after he was arrested for leading two large worship services on a recent Sunday.

Days after his arrest, Howard-Browne decided to shutter his church even though Gov. Ron DeSantis declared attending church an essential activity, allowing churches to continue gathering during the pandemic.

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