Megachurch pastor Jentezen Franklin cried “discrimination” and urged Christians to vote their faith in November as the California Department of Public Health issued updated guidelines Wednesday, forbidding churches from singing during services to prevent the spread of COVID-19
“California’s Governor just banned singing/chanting at church. Catholics can't recite mass; Evangelicals can't worship out loud. The very definition of discrimination is to allow thousands to march and scream without masks while telling churches 100 or less that you cannot sing,” Franklin, who is senior pastor of the multi-campus Free Chapel Church in Gainesville, Georgia, tweeted Friday.
“Christians must realize the radical left will restrict & control church if we don’t vote our faith this November! Are you registered to vote your faith?”
A few weeks ago, California began allowing the reopening of churches for in-person services with guidelines after requiring most Californians in March to stay at home to disrupt the spread of COVID-19 among the population. As the number of cases began inching upwards again, public health officials said singing and chanting in houses of worship must not happen.
“Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations,” health officials noted in the new guidelines document.
“In particular, activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing. *Places of worship must therefore discontinue singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower,” they advised.
Houses of worship, along with other places of work such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, prisons, food production, warehouses, meat processing plants, and grocery stores, were identified as places that had suffered multiple outbreaks of COVID-19.
A report from the Skagit County Public Health Department in Washington State published by the CDC in May showed how quickly the coronavirus spread after a choir practice became a “superspreader event” for the disease that infected 86% of attending members and killed two of them.
While churches are still allowed to operate with restrictions, California health officials strongly recommended that places of worship continue to facilitate remote services and other related activities for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19, including older adults and those with underlying conditions.
Like Franklin, many other evangelical leaders saw the banning of singing in churches in California as a hypocritical assault on religious freedom.
“The ‘science’ that allows for protests but prohibits singing in church is ‘fake science’ that must be rejected. If being outside makes protests safe, then why are beaches being shut down?” Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas asked on Twitter Friday.
Tony Suarez, chief operating officer of the Sacramento-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said he would rather be jailed than stop singing in church.
“I’ll go to jail before I’ll stop singing to my God! This just turned into our Daniel chapter six moment. California has just banned singing/chanting in houses of worship,” Suarez said, encouraging civil disobedience.
He also shared a statement from NHCLC President Samuel Rodriguez who noted: “You cannot permit tens of thousands to march in protest without masks and demand that 100 worshipers refrain from singing. That my friend is the very definition of discrimination. @GavinNewsom please stop discriminating! #inalienablerights.”
“This is where every church should draw the line & practice civil disobedience. They must choose to obey God rather than man! Of course, part of that involves being willing to suffer the consequences, but the churches must not bow to this totalitarian order,” he said.
Some churches, meanwhile, are choosing to abide by the guidelines.
Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa chose to be "flexible" and "safe" and avoid congregational singing. Instead of the typical series of worship songs, the worship team sang from the stage while reading scriptures and encouraging the congregation to meditate and pray.
"It’s not the end of the world if the health department says it’s not the best idea for you to be singing congregationally," Senior Pastor Brian Brodersen said Sunday. "We’re mature enough. We have the Lord. We can navigate that. We don’t have to get all stressed out about it."
Jason Batt, chief operating officer of Capital Christian Center, one of the Sacramento area’s largest congregations, told The Sacramento Bee, “We recognize that singing is a challenge." He said the choir has been put on hold for the time being and the church only had limited singing on stage during the recent reopening.