Outspoken megachurch pastor Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church slammed the Georgia governor's decision to begin reopening the local economy by Friday as akin to an "assault on the minority community” and “contrary to God’s will” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Gov. [Brian] Kemp, if you have a decibel of moral integrity, before Friday comes, I am pleading on your conscience, even when the evangelicals remain silent in this hour, I stand and cry loud and spare not, that what it is you are calling for is contrary to the will of God who declared openly ‘I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly,’” Bryant said in a Facebook Live broadcast Tuesday night.
“I am calling on Governor Kemp to immediately reverse and retract his order that is supposed to start on Friday. What it is that he is doing is launching, in no uncertain terms, an assault on the minority community in Georgia,” he argued.
On Monday, Kemp announced plans to begin reopening some businesses across the state as early as Friday with specific guidelines. Among the businesses that can begin reopening on Friday are fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barber shops, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, their respective schools and massage therapists.
The Georgia governor’s office further noted that minimum basic operations include but are not limited to screening workers for fever and respiratory illness, enhancing workplace sanitation, wearing masks and gloves, separating workplaces by six feet, teleworking if possible and staggered shifts.
Theaters, private social clubs and dine-in services at restaurants will also be allowed to reopen on Monday, April 27, with specific social distancing guidelines and sanitation mandates. Bars, nightclubs, amusement parks and live performance venues, however, will remain closed.
Bryant said he was banding with several other prominent black pastors across the state, including Raphael Warnock, E. Dewey Smith, and William Murphy, to keep their churches shuttered in a united show of resistance.
“I am afraid and I am frightened that this is going to set an immoral precedent for other wayward governors across the South who believe that if he can do it, then it is in fact the new standard for death to happen to the black community. I stand with countless numbers of other clergy who have resolved within our heart, our spirit, and our mind and our ethical compass, that we cannot resume church as normal because nothing is normal,” Bryant said.
Prior to making the call, Bryant pointed out that black and brown Americans are still disproportionately dying from the new coronavirus due to higher levels of underlying health conditions and lower access to healthcare. He also pointed to issues of lower levels of testing for the virus in minority communities.
“New Birth will not be holding church because we understand that life is valuable and we cannot in fact go down this rabbit hole of a slippery slope. Where are the testing kits? And if we’re gonna deal with testing kits we’ve got to deal with the inequity of healthcare that is provided to black and brown people in this state,” he said.
“We keep hearing the flag being raised about pre-existing conditions, pre-existing conditions like hypertension, obesity, high blood pressure, and things of that magnitude and heart disease. It’s because we have not addressed the fact that many people in our community are living in food deserts. Many people in our community do not have access to affordable healthcare. Many people in our community only end up seeing a doctor when they come through an emergency room,” he said.
He also pointed out that Bernice King, CEO of The King Center in Atlanta and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., who is a member of Kemp's Coronavirus Task Force, along with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms were both blindsided by the governor’s decision.
“Like many of you who are in the state of Georgia, I’m extremely concerned about the governor’s plans and what his decisions will mean for the safety, health and lives of Georgia residents,” King said Monday in a Facebook Live broadcast, in which she revealed she was considering resigning from Kemp’s task force.
“I have a great working relationship with our governor, but I did not speak with him before he made this announcement,” Lance Bottoms told CNN.
She further noted that she spoke with other mayors across the state who revealed Kemp had not consulted with them either before making the decision to reopen the state for business.
“I’ve spoken with several leaders across this state. So we really are at a loss, and I am concerned as a mother and as the mayor of our capital city,” she said.
“I’m perplexed that we have opened up in this way. And again, I can’t stress enough, I work very well with our governor, and I look forward to having a better understanding of what his reasoning is but as I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical,” she said.
As of Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported a total of 20,166 individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus. Just over 800 persons have died from the virus and more than half of them are black.
“Gov. Kemp, I am asking you in the next 48 hours, you already have two amazing conscientious committed black sisters on your task force in Bernice King and in our mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, I ask that you will meet with both of them immediately because I trust that they speak for our community and for the welfare of our people," Bryant said. "I pray for repentance over this governor and the legislators who support him, who believe that this is a good idea. Something is wrong with the moral fiber of our community, when we put commerce over the value of human life.”