Evangelical doctors’ group urges churches to halt in-person services amid COVID-19 surge

A national group that represents more than 20,000 evangelical Christian health care professionals is urging churches to halt in-person services as coronavirus cases surge across the United States.

The Christian Medical & Dental Association (CMDA) released a statement on Nov. 19 saying that the nation’s health care system is bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

“They are overworked because of the sheer volume of critically ill patients under their care and because many healthcare professionals have become ill with SARS-CoV-2 themselves," Jeffrey J. Barrows, senior vice president of bioethics and public policy for CMDA, wrote.

RELATED: Coronavirus cases surpass 60M worldwide, Johns Hopkins data shows

Barrows pointed to churches, celebrations and small gatherings with friends as the primary way health care workers were becoming infected with COVID-19.

CMDA previously released guidelines for churches to follow as the nation reopened from widespread shutdowns last spring, and since then, Barrows said the association has been “wrestling with the role God would have us play in this pandemic.”

Despite their best efforts, Barrows said the group learned that many churches ignored their guidelines and that congregants became infected with the virus as a result of those decisions.

CMDA urgently requested that churches strongly consider taking their services online and cancel in-person gatherings until the current surge of COVID-19 cases passes.

“Loving God with all our heart, mind and strength is our first priority, and it can be done with our families outside of church. It can be done via the gifts of electronic communication that allow us to join virtually with other church members. We are not being prevented from having Bibles, reading Scripture and singing songs of praise because we can do them at home and with the church through these virtual tools,” Barrows wrote.

RELATED: Arizona hospitals stop some transfers of out-of-state patients amid COVID-19 surge

Barrows clarified that the restrictions on meeting in person should not only be heeded out of a person’s fear of contracting the virus themselves, but in an effort to minimize the risk for others who are vulnerable to the virus.

“Choosing to put off gathering together as a church is a statement of love,” Barrows said. “Voluntarily choosing not to gather allows us to make a statement that is not overshadowed by a government restriction. It enables a church to proclaim to their locality that they care so much for their members, family and friends that they are willing to give up their right to gather together.”

RELATED: Some California counties winding down hotels for homeless; some in San Francisco are outraged

There had been over 12 million cases of the novel coronavirus reported and more than 260,000 deaths in the U.S. as of Nov. 25, according to data from John Hopkins University. Globally, more than 60 million cases of the virus had been reported, while 1.4 million deaths around the world had been attributed to COVID-19.

“It is tragic to see Christians become even more reviled because we appear to care only about our individual freedoms and don’t care that we may be contributing to others getting this illness because of our selfishness,” Barrows wrote. “As Christian healthcare professionals, we will voluntarily restrict our ‘freedoms’ for a time to help protect my neighbor."