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COVID-19: Church leaders would do well to obey government’s order to save lives

By Chris Irekamba
29 March 2020   |   3:38 am
• ‘I Don’t Think Any Sensible And Responsible Church Leader Will Expose Members To This Pandemic’• ‘The Government’s Order Is For Our Safety, The Public Safety, This Should Be Understood And Underlined.’ • ‘We Believe That The Directive That People Should Not Come Together In Large Gathering Is Good, Which Is Why We Accepted That…

• ‘I Don’t Think Any Sensible And Responsible Church Leader Will Expose Members To This Pandemic’• ‘The Government’s Order Is For Our Safety, The Public Safety, This Should Be Understood And Underlined.’
• ‘We Believe That The Directive That People Should Not Come Together In Large Gathering Is Good, Which Is Why We Accepted That Rule’

Last week, there was drama in some places of worship in Lagos and Ogun states. The Guardian gathered that law enforcement agents, who were sent to monitor compliance with government’s order over the Coronavirus pandemic, closed some churches that violated the directive. But didn’t the Bible urge obedience to those in authority, as they are put there by the Lord? What are these church leaders telling their congregations? What are the implications of this action? CHRIS IREKAMBA reports.

‘I Don’t Think It’s Good Enough For Parishioners’
(His Eminence, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)
I think the people that disobeyed are in the best position to answer why they took the line of disobedience, because the instruction to them was very clear. I don’t know why they disobeyed. I told some of them that approached me before last Sunday what they should do, because the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and government directives are clear. I told them to ensure that worshippers are not up to 50 and that they should also maintain the rule of social distancing. I advised that they might even divide their members into appropriate numbers, which means pastors may have to spend the whole day in church ministering after 50 have gone away. They were to ensure that the rule passed by CAN and the government were strictly adhered to. If after all this, anybody still disobeyed and allowed people to gather in large numbers, then that person should be asked where he got that culture from because the Bible doctrine is clear enough.

I think some of these churches are also backward in terms of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and as such, to do online service becomes a serious problem. I don’t expect to see or hear that what happened last Sunday repeats again.

They are to bear the consequence, not CAN or government. The danger is that many people such pastors think they were helping are not being helped after all. If one person is infected, you can image how many people will contract the disease, and the chain continues.

So, I don’t think it is good enough, even for the parishioners. You have been meeting with these members weeks after weeks, and if at this period of emergency, you are not able to meet with them, will what you’ve imparted to them all this while not be enough to sustain them? Even before government’s release came out, CAN had advised churches on what to do. When the Secretary of the Federation called me and wanted to know what we were going to do, I told him we’ve sent out our own release and I forwarded a copy to him.

We are on this together and have followed international practices to curtail the spread of this pandemic. However, like I explained to somebody, it is possible to force a horse to the river, but you can’t force the horse to drink, because you are not in control of its mouth. Some people feel nobody can tell them what to do, and they do whatever they like.

But if the law catches up with them, they are on their own. For every action, there is always a reaction. We are praying that the Lord will help us find a solution to this problem.

‘It’s Not Only Dangerous For Those Who Go To Church…’
(John Olorunfemi Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja)
TO obey public authority or those in authority is not a blanket order, which is why Apostle Paul never said whatever government said must be obeyed. You will obey government if what government is saying is right and within its jurisdiction.

In respect of the government’s directive, they are not telling us how to worship. It is not their duty to do so. It is the duty of religious leaders to act according to their different traditions, and to give guidelines as regards how to carry out their worship.

For instance, in the Catholic Church, our major act of service is the holy mass. So, most of the directives we’ve sent out is in regard to the holy mass, and how churches that conduct holy mass should go about it. Of course, they have other arrangements they make for themselves. What government said and which religious leaders I know seriously agreed upon is that in this situation, that the gathering of people like we normally have in churches, with thousands of people coming together and so on is not the right thing to do. It is not only dangerous for those who go to service and who think that because they have the blood of Jesus will not be affected. It is also dangerous, for instance, for those who have been infected to mingle with people in places of worship, as well as other citizens. So, this is a case that they must also think of others and not only themselves. And we believe that the directive that people should not come together in large gathering is good, which is why we accepted that rule.

We believe that government’s directive, following that of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and especially seeing what is happening in countries like Italy and Spain, among others, anybody who goes around saying we can go to church as much as we can and nothing will happen is telling lies, because it has happened to those who have been going to church. And so, we should not be stupid and God does not want us to be stupid. He wants us to do our best to keep alive and we shall do so.

The Pope has given us a good example in the Catholic Church in this matter. The Pope has already stopped congregation. At St. Peter’s Basilica, all is empty, but the Pope continues to say mass. He continues to give instructions and what we call ‘general audience,’ though the audience is passed through the media. We are also doing the same thing. Here in Abuja, we’ve told all parish priests, those who have the technical-know-how to continue to say mass everyday and stream it to their members, who can follow it on their cell phones. We are also informing people about the opportunities they have on television; to follow mass online, while those who can go online can also follow the Vatican website.

These are things we did not bother so much about before, since people were able to go to church. But now that we are in this kind of situation, whereby we are unable to go to church, we are to look for other ways. In this case, we have an exploded ‘generalised emergency’ and the only point I would like to make is that we should not equate gathering for worship with gathering for clubbing or night clubbing or even football or political rallies. When people gather for worship, they gather to pray. People believe that prayer also has a role to play in helping them to banish fear; to give them courage to face the pandemic. Many of us believe that God is still able to act in this matter, and that it is not useless to be asking God to help us in this matter. There are those who don’t believe in God. If you don’t believe in God, you cannot ask for prayer. It is only if you believe in God that you will ask for prayer. Prayer doesn’t, however, mean we should ignore basic rules of precautions.

For instance, last Wednesday, the Pope asked all Christians to join him at 12 noon in saying ‘Our father…’ And on Friday at 6 0’clock, he also asked that we joined him for half an hour to pray. We are praying, but at the same time, we take precautions because if we don’t, we will be sending ourselves to heaven prematurely. If you are so sure you are covered with the blood of Christ, please think of others who may not be covered with the blood of Christ.

‘I Believe There’s Faith In God, But Nobody Should Tempt Him’
(His Eminence, Dr. Samuel Uche, Prelate, Methodist Church Nigeria (MCN)
I WILL not judge them yet because so many people were taken unawares by the alarming rate of the spread of Coronavirus. While some thought it was a joke, others did not take it as something very serious. But let us watch and see what happens today (Sunday). I don’t think any sensible and responsible church leader will expose his members to this kind of pandemic. Yes, I believe there is faith in God, but nobody should tempt Him. Since the disease is spreading, government is not closing churches; rather, it is trying to save its citizenry.

So, I would say this is an emergency and I enjoin everybody to comply with what government is doing. I believe this new disease will be handled the way Ebola was. It is a passing phase. It will not come to dwell in Nigeria; it will go. Churches operating online is the best for now. We believe before Easter, it will be reviewed and the report then will be that those who tested positive are now negative, and there is medication to treat the disease. Government will then also review its case.

After all, churches pray for the government. I would advise that church leaders comply with government’s directive, and give those who disobeyed the benefit of the doubt; that they didn’t understand the magnitude of the pandemic that is with us. For now, the thing is spreading at an alarming rate, especially in Lagos.

‘Govt’s Directive Is To Avoid The Spread Of COVID-19’
(Archbishop Joseph Ojo, General Overseer/Presiding Bishop of Calvary Kingdom Church International, Lagos)
UNDERSTANDING is the first thing that those who violated the order should underline in this situation. The government’s order is for our safety, the public safety. This should be understood and underlined. It is for the generality of all of us. Nobody can tell who is infected and who’s not.

The measure is to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Government was wise enough. I heard the announcement via the social media that churches should observe social distancing, as well as limit members to a certain number. Some people understood it properly, while others didn’t. Those who were sent to go round and ensure that government order was obeyed didn’t understand it.

Government didn’t close the church. Rather, government said you should not gather more than certain number of people at a time. If people can use their understanding like we did, all will be well. We just had one-hour service. We spread the chairs and nobody talked, nobody shook hands. We just had short word of exhortation and regulate how things should go. But there are people that believe government’s order was to close churches and so went to churches and were fighting them. People should understand that it is for our safety and in that wise, it is good to obey what government said. It is 50 people at a time. Members don’t come at the same time. Rule number one: don’t shake hands. And as the service finishes, you leave and another set of people comes in. That was how we operated.

The earlier we obey, the shorter the period of the pandemic. Someone who disobeys is not having the heart of the people. The Church, for example, is people-oriented. So, if you care about the health and lives of your people, then you should obey. If you don’t obey, then you’re playing with their intelligence and not thinking of the repercussion of disobedience. But government officials must practise it first, by showing example with themselves. Government should close the state Assembly because members of Lagos State House of Assembly are more than 50. The markets are also there. In fact, they should have been the first places to enforce this order before coming to churches. If you stop churches from gathering, you are stopping churches from praying and prayer is a very good way of resolving this thing.

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