While it may seem faith-based organizations and cultural institutions are moving away from each other, it represents a unique opportunity to not buttress a worldview but build better bridges.
This was the assessment I came to after spending two years working for the state of Nevada, building faith-based health partnerships to address disparities such as HIV.
COVID has impacted our world and revealed a deeper rift between churches and our government. Two recent U.S. Supreme Court actions have resulted in not only a divided judiciary, but pitted states against houses of worship. Churches believe it is their duty and right to gather, while public health officials believe it is their responsibility to severely limit those gatherings during a public health crisis.
The question no one is asking is what role can houses of worship play in the current pandemic that other organizations can’t? What role do 1,700 Nevada congregations play in ending a pandemic that has killed 160,000 Americans? To say none is to ignore the vast influence and resources of Nevada’s faithful, which number in the millions of people.
As we wrestle with how far public health can dictate worship, here are some suggestions from my experience in both public health and the pastorate:
1. See Churches As Assets, Not Liabilities. Changing this perspective builds a table to which invite faith leaders, sharing the data and concerns and resources with those equipped to influence the majority of citizens in implementing social distancing and taking directives seriously.
2. See Pulpits As Platforms. For faith leaders, our pulpits are protected and cherished above most else because from it we expound and teach God’s word. What if we saw our pulpit as a means to teach our congregation on the effects of COVID, giving them practical ways to love neighbors and protect themselves? What if it was under our authority disease data was disseminated and framed?
3. See Buildings As Bridges Not Bastions. Churches have long felt marginalized by governing officials, especially when it comes to their building and ability to gather. The truth is churches possess vast and strategic real estate throughout the state in locations public health officials have few inroads.
What if churches became sites of COVID-19 testing and vaccine implementation? What if public officials were invited under the authority of the leadership to share the struggles and needs of containing this pandemic? What if we built better bridges instead of bulwarks?
4. See Governments As Partners Not Rivals. For my brothers and sisters, we have an enemy and I would contend it is not the men and women placed over us in authority to administer justice and maintain order. For too long, we have demonized the ones trying to care for us, even if they do it imperfectly and at times with partiality.
What if we sought to partner with cities, counties and our state to identity disparity and health needs? What if pastors led the charge during public crises instead if taking a back seat to directives and gathering limitations?
5. Build the Table. Faith-based organizations will not come to the table unless a table exists, where their concerns are not misconstrued as financial greed but genuine love for their people. Everyone, from the governor to the newest deacon, care deeply for Nevadans but struggle to connect without compromising. Humble phone calls, meetings and partnership initiatives are the raw materials for great relationships between those in power and those with influence.
While others see this great cultural divide and settle for taking shots, why can’t we learn to build better bridges? Partnership always costs something, but paying that price to better serve those we care for is a tradeoff anyone would make, if they can simply find the courage to do so.
Fred Kingman is lead pastor at Prodigal Church.