A county in California has ordered the closing of indoor worship services, as well as other secular facilities like gyms and shopping malls, to counter a rise in COVID-19 cases.
San Mateo County began the official closure of indoor church services at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, several hours before many worship services would have begun.
The County Manager’s Office explained that the shutdowns occurred because the county was put on a monitoring list for the coronavirus.
In addition to houses of worship, other entities barred from indoor operation include fitness centers, nail salons, shopping malls, and nonessential offices.
“We’ve been anticipating being added to the monitoring list as our case rate hovers above the state’s target,” explained San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy in a statement.
“It’s clear that COVID-19 continues to spread in our community and in the Bay Area. It’s vital that we all do everything we can — wearing face coverings, washing our hands, and avoiding gatherings — to slow and eventually stop the spread. These individual actions can make a huge difference.”
As of last Friday, San Mateo reported 5,544 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 119 deaths of which 80 were in nursing homes, according to CBS San Francisco.
A state with a high number of COVID-19 cases, California has garnered controversy for some of the measures it has taken to curb the spread of the pandemic, especially in regards to churches.
Orders by Governor Gavin Newsom have included banning most religious gatherings as well as prohibiting singing, seen by some to be comparable to coughing or sneezing.
Such measures have led to backlash. For example, the Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministries filed suit against Newsom over the meeting restrictions.
The suit says the governor’s order that bans all indoor worship services in as many as 30 counties also bans members from gathering at home for Bible studies in the affected counties.
“The Governor’s orders impose disparately onerous prohibitions and numerical restrictions on religious gatherings in churches, and even on in-home Bible studies, worship meetings, and life groups,” claimed the lawsuit.
“And the Governor has imposed these draconian restrictions on Plaintiffs while openly celebrating and encouraging mass gatherings for protests. The Constitution demands more and so should this Court.”
John MacArthur, pastor at Grace Community Church, announced that his congregation was going to be obedient to God's Word and hold in-person worship services.
Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of the ministry group 9Marks, expressed concern over churches following MacArthur without more discernment. He explained that churches can still meet outdoors and that, in past crises, churches have altered their worship patterns in light of national calamities due to government orders.
“Churches in coastal cities during World War Two accommodated evening black-out requirements in case enemy planes hit the coasts. Those churches didn’t insist the government had no right to ‘restrict our worship,’” wrote Leeman.
“In other words, just because you think God will ultimately vindicate your decision to disobey the government on the last day doesn’t mean it’s wise. You might have other options that avoid undue attention.”