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The New York Times says COVID-19 is ‘surging’ through churches — as opposed to bars, marches, stores, etc…

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The NY Times falsely claims that Churches Are a Major Source of Coronavirus Cases. The article is good roundup of 650 cases, a small fraction of even daily cases. Does the screaming headline inflame anti-religious bigotry?

\u2014 (@nycreligioninfo) July 8, 2020

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Soon after the word “coronavirus” started dominating headlines around the world, your GetReligionistas started trying to communicate a pair of ideas that we thought journalists needed to “get” in this age of advocacy journalism.

Part I: It was perfectly valid to cover the relatively small number of religious groups — most of them totally independent Pentecostal and evangelical congregations — that were rebelling against government COVID-19 safety laws and recommendations (even when local officials were treating religious groups the same way they were treating stores, bars and other public institutions).

Part II: The bigger story was the cooperation that the leaders of most major religious institutions — from Catholic bishops to Southern Baptist megachurch leaders — were showing. In recent months, many of these religious groups have cautiously opened their doors to small groups of worships, once again following state and local guidelines.

Would that work perfectly? Good question. Here’s another: Will anything work perfectly when dealing with a virus that scientists and public officials are still struggling to understand?

Oh well. Whatever. Never mind.

This leads us to this epic headline in The New York Times, of course:

Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are a Major Source of Coronavirus Cases.

The virus has infiltrated Sunday services, church meetings and youth camps. More than 650 cases have been linked to reopened religious facilities.

Now, we are going to need a definition — right up top — of the word “major.”

How many cases are we talking about that have been shown to be linked to worship, in comparison to bars, big-box stores, beaches and, oh, massive public demonstrations? So here is the overture:

PENDLETON, Ore. — Weeks after President Trump demanded that America’s shuttered houses of worship be allowed to reopen, new outbreaks of the coronavirus are surging through churches across the country where services have resumed.

The virus has infiltrated Sunday sermons, meetings of ministers and Christian youth camps in Colorado and Missouri. It has struck churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.

Pastors and their families have tested positive, as have church ushers, front-door greeters and hundreds of churchgoers. In Texas, about 50 people contracted the virus after a pastor told congregants they could once again hug one another. In Florida, a teenage girl died last month after attending a youth party at her church.

More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities, according to a New York Times database.

OK, 650 is a significant number. Is this happening in independent congregations, for the most part, or in churches that are operating under strict protocols set by higher-ups in their faith traditions (based on civic guidelines)? Hold that thought.

Think about this: How does “650 cases” over several weeks that are said to be linked to services and events compare, statistically, with the overarching trends that are seeing COVID-19 cases rising rapidly. A week ago, Axios noted that new case numbers had hit 50,000 in one day.

Might there be some other settings that are more important than churches in this surge, just looking at the numbers?

Oh, wait. Might this have something to do with news templates linked to Donald Trump, white evangelicals and “religious liberty” and all that? Back to the Times:

While thousands of churches, synagogues and mosques across the country have been meeting virtually or outside on lawns and in parking lots to protect their members from the virus, the right to hold services within houses of worship became a political battleground as the country crawled out of lockdown this spring. In May, the president declared places of worship part of an “essential service” and threatened, though it was uncertain he had the power to do so, to override any governor’s orders keeping them closed.

But now, as the virus rages through Texas, Arizona and other evangelical bastions of the South and West, some churches that fought to reopen are being forced to close again and grapple with whether it is even possible to worship together safely.

Once again, that second paragraph is valid. I worship in an Eastern Orthodox parish that is proceeding with great caution. If our very low local case numbers hit a certain point, established by our bishop (reacting to state and national guidelines), we will scale back to smaller gatherings and digital streaming.

Frankly, the bigger local story is how to open Dollywood and prepare for University of Tennessee football.

Once again, how big is the church “surge” story, in comparison to others? Read that screaming Times headline, once again.

Even in many major religious groups, leaders continue to ask that their congregations be treated the same as other local institutions. Please see this material at the top of a new Baptist Press report:

Hershael York, the pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., believes churches have been “unfairly singled out for both negative examples and also for enforcement of rules that were not being applied to other institutions.”

York doesn’t understand why churches are being held to different standards than the retailers around them.

“We’ve not been belligerent in any way,” York said. “But when we were allowed to go back, for instance, we were told we could only have one person in a bathroom at a time and then the bathroom had to be cleaned after each use. Well, my question was, why wasn’t Walmart told that?”

These statements were made in a newsworthy setting, the Kentucky House of Representatives Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee

Here’s another bite of that testimony:

“It just seemed that between the Catholic Conference and the Kentucky Baptist Convention you could get a lot of consensus,” York said. “I did not see signs that the governor’s office was actively reaching out toward these large church groups and saying, ‘Hey, let’s come up with a plan together so that we can take ownership of this and be partners in this thing.'”

York says Buck Run is working to comply with Phase 2 guidelines by holding three weekend services to accommodate seating capacity restrictions and cleaning and sanitizing between each service.

“I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the health and safety of the people,” he said. “The people I serve are my neighbors, but I would like for churches to be a part of the conversation and to not be asked to carry an onerous burden that is unreasonable and certainly more than anyone else is being asked to carry.”

That’s another valid story.

But that isn’t a headline that, with one or two leaps of Times logic, is linked to The Tweeter In Chief, right?

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