James River Church, a megachurch in Springfield, Missouri, is under fire after social media posts showed people without masks during special Christmas services at its four campuses last weekend. But it may not be the whole story.
Clay Goddard, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, told the “Springfield News-Leader” that seeing images from the weekend services was emotionally difficult.
“I was shocked and deeply saddened to see photos from the James River event over the weekend,” he said. “I can’t see those photos without also thinking of the images we’ve all seen of the impossible circumstances our hospitals are battling every day. Hosting a giant event without distancing or masking is irresponsible and insulting to the people on the front lines of this crisis, most especially the health-care workers who are overwhelmed.”
Hospitals in Greene County, where Springfield is located, are not battling Covid, however. The county has an infection rate of just 1 percent with a whopping only 20 percent of ICU beds currently occupied.
James River Church sent KY3 TV in Springfield a video of an announcement on Covid precautions they played before and during the entire event.
According to the television station the message read, “In order to keep people safe and in compliance with city ordinance we are asking everyone to wear a mask, unless you have a medical exemption, while you’re here in the building or on campus.”
Many attendees of the church’s numerous congregations have also taken to social media to defend the church and its members saying the images circulating online don’t tell the full story. They say most people were complying with COVID-19 guidelines and posted their own videos proving their point.
Some church members said it was just another opportunity for the media and health department to tell only part of the story and not allow all the evidence to be made public before they came to their conclusions.
In fact, the church broke no laws or county guidelines.
The church responded with the following statement:
“We take seriously the safety and health of those who attend our services. We have strongly encouraged masking and social distancing each and every weekend during this challenging season. For the Christmas services, additional services were added to further provide for social distancing. Going forward, we are committed to doing a better job of encouraging and maintaining the procedures necessary to keep people safe and secure.
Throughout the pandemic, in addition to encouraging masking and social distancing, we have done the following at each service to keep people safe:
1. Take temperatures at the door
2. Fog-sanitize our auditoriums
3. Multiple times per day sanitize the children’s areas and the common areas
4. Provide masks to everyone who attends
Our heart at James River Church has always been to minister to people in our community. During this pandemic we have helped thousands of people with food, financial assistance, counsel, and spiritual encouragement. Most of all we want people to know that God loves and cares for them.”
Missouri has not imposed a statewide mask mandate. If he becomes president, Joe Biden’s campaign has said he will implement a “seven-point plan” when it enters office. The seventh item on the list is to “implement mask mandates nationwide by working with governors and mayors,” according to a campaign website.
Many consider forced mask mandates from the federal government to be unconstitutional and the Supreme Court is already striking down certain state restrictions as they apply to religious gatherings.
Those court cases have stymied local efforts to restrict crowds from congregating, at least where religion is involved. In a 5-4 decision, the newly conservative Supreme Court of the United States recently sided with Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders in a dispute over religious ministry during pandemic times.
The nation’s highest court struck down capacity restrictions on houses of worship that were issued by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration, signaling that at least in some circumstances, religious freedoms protected under the First Amendment outweigh public health considerations.
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice