Dear Governor Newsom,
The purpose of this open letter is to foster dialogue between leaders of houses of worship and the State of California during this unexpected and difficult pandemic.
I believe it is possible for the California State Government and communities of faith in California to have a more coordinated and united effort in addressing the Coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest in our society.
This letter contains three main ideas and acknowledgements, outlined below:
1. Communities of faith are an essential aspect to the culture of California and make an
incalculable positive impact on our society.
2. Communities of faith have a special ministry to pray for, and honor, government leaders.
3. We must include faith leaders in faith-related decisions.
To the skeptic: Communities of faith are essential to a healthy society.
In our modern society not everyone is familiar with the positive impact that people of faith have upon our cities. The Christian faith, for example, instructs believers to “seek the prosperity of the city” to which a believer is sent (Jeremiah 29:7). Cited below are several academic studies that point to the positive impact that houses of worship and their congregations have on surrounding communities.
● In Toronto, Canada, a recent economic study concluded that the economic value of 10 congregations to the local region was approximately $45 million.1
● An economic study published by the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the average church invests about $140,000 a year into its community.2
● Churches are proven to increase property values.3
● Churches are proven to decrease crime rates.4
In summary, communities of faith provide millions of dollars of aid, uncounted hours of volunteer service, critical front-line mental health services, and emergency assistance in every city and region of our state. Houses of worship register citizens to vote, shelter people in crisis, and employ people who work tirelessly, most with little pay, to further the welfare of others. The economic and social impact of communities of faith to the California economy is incalculable.
During the time of the coronavirus, many churches have provided financial help to people without strings attached. My experience is that most organizations do this without discrimination or proselytization. We feel a call to serve.
To the church leader: Communities of faith have a special ministry to pray for and honor government leaders.
As people of faith, it is important that we affirm the special role that the state and government has in our lives.
The State is called upon to do things for society that the teachers of morals and spirituality simply cannot. The spiritual life is a life of mercy. The state is called to administer justice, execute vision, and enforce the rule of law. People of faith pray for our government leaders, as we know the decisions you make are complicated, technical, and potentially may affect generations. The Bible even commands us to this special ministry of praying for government leaders so "that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
As 2020 continues on and this virus becomes part of our daily lives, we must bond together deeper to find solutions that work for every aspect of people’s lives – including their spirituality. Faith leaders, it is important to recognize that the present crisis is an opportunity to partner together for the well being of our society – rather than the church and state becoming more suspicious of one another. Church leaders have not always pursued understanding and honor in relation to their governmental leaders. This needs to change.
To our government: We must include faith leaders on faith-related decisions
Leaders of communities of faith need to be involved on a governmental level as advisors to policy makers who make decisions regarding their ability to worship. Relegating worship style and practice, regardless of positive intent, is an overreach of governmental power when faith leaders are not included in the process.
As the COVID-19 situation evolves, we have an opportunity to include people of faith at the table of decision-making for health decisions. In addition to the advice of medical professionals, legal counsel, and other forms of input, I believe that the California Public Health statements regarding COVID-19 safety require more input from people of faith. The inclusion of faith leaders in discussions regarding corporate worship will create a united front in our response to COVID-19 rather than the current climate of suspicion and blame.
Taking the above into consideration, I believe it is time that the California State Government invites the input of faith leaders into decisions that affect the well being of our communities. I propose the establishment of a Faith Council that will function as an advisory board for decisions when people of faith and their ability to worship is concerned.
How would such a council be formed? I am sure that people of all faiths will be considered for appointment to such a council. As a non-denominational Christian, I submit the following names for your consideration:
● Rev. Kris Valloton (Redding, CA)
● Rev. Miles McPherson (San Diego, CA)
● Rev. Rick Warren (Lake Forest, CA)
● Rev. Samuel Rodriguez (Sacramento, CA)
I do wonder, if in God’s Providence, He may have ordained this time not for our division, but for our unity. Inviting faith community leaders to a special council to provide input on public health decisions can strengthen the bond between faith and government leaders, for we have something in common – a desire to make society better for all people.
Kendall Laughlin, Jr.
All Peoples Church San Diego
1 http://haloproject.ca/phase-1-toronto (accessed 7/26/2020).
2 http://articles.philly.com/2011-02-01/news/27092987_1_partners-for-sacred-places-congregations-churches (accessed 7/26/2020).
3 Carroll, Clauretie & Jensen. Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics . University of Nevada in Las Vegas, 1996.
4 https://www.jstor.org/stable/4120721?seq=1 (accessed 7/26/2020).
Kendall is involved in the leadership of All Peoples Church, part of the Antioch International Movement of Churches. He lives in San Diego, CA with his family and is the author of one book, "The Identity Journey."