Pastor John Gray, who leads Relentless Church in South Carolina, said he believes keeping churches closed during the pandemic is not a sign of lack of faith, but it “takes more faith” to do that.
Asked how holding online services changed things for him, Gray told Fox2 Detroit, “Aw man, we are more creative, I get to be more free. I get to have conversations. I’m more conversational in my approach. I also think [of] other ways to express myself, so it’s great, it’s been a great opportunity for me to try some new things.”
He said this is the time to have faith. “Faith is not for the good times; faith is for the times that make no sense, faith is for the moments we don’t understand. Faith is for the moments when it’s darkest.”
About the numerous lawsuits that are being filed by churches to stop enforcement of restrictions on churches to hold in-person services in various states, Gray said he supports efforts to flatten the curve.
“I am very practical in this regard. My faith is not confined to a building. I have no comment on what pastors desire to do or how they navigate their own congregations, but if I have an 80-year-old church mother, I am not going to bring her to a building to sit her next to a stranger who could be asymptomatic, who coughs once, and now, there is a disease in her lungs that ends her life prematurely just so I can say that I joined,” Gray said.
Some might say, “You lack faith,” he noted. But “it takes more faith to keep your doors closed as a nonprofit than to keep them open ... The faith that I have also informs me to make the wisest decision for most people. I don’t think the church should be the control group on how this virus transmits.”
On Saturday, a federal judge in North Carolina issued an order to allow indoor worship services, blocking Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s enforcement of restrictions on churches during the coronavirus pandemic.
Judge James C. Dever III noted that Gov. Cooper “appears to trust citizens to perform non-religious activities indoors (such as shopping or working or selling merchandise) but does not trust them to do the same when they worship together indoors,” according to The Associated Press.
“The Orders are not neutral laws of general applicability because they target Constitutionally protected activity, significantly burdening the Plaintiffs’ right to freedom of religion and assembly, establishing an orthodox form of religious exercise approved by the State, all the while providing broad exemptions for many other gatherings of more than 10 people that are not constitutionally protected,” read the lawsuit filed by the Rev. Ronnie Baity, founder and pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and president of nonprofit organization Return America.
A new poll by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 51% of Americans think in-person religious services should be allowed in some form. Only 34% say banning in-person religious services violates religious freedom.
Pastor Gray said in the interview that his church has seen growth in their online audience as well as “uncommon kindness and generosity.”
“We have been able to feed people in our community, we have been able to drop off groceries to the elderly. We are doing things that a church should do, so we are not confined to a building,” he said.