At least eight leading clergy leaders of the Church of God in Christ have died as a result of the COVID 10 virus. Others are in treatment for the virus. Many of these ministers attended funerals in Detroit and in Clarkesville, Mississippi; both these episodes were in the early days of the social isolation strategy associated with the pandemic. Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. has called for a global fast and season of prayer, citing 2 Chronicles chapter seven and verse 14. The Church, known popularly as COGIC, is in the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition, includes a largely African American population, and claims 12,000 churches and five million members throughout the United States, with headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary announced it is shutting down its entire program in biblical archeology, one of the largest in the country. The program includes a doctor of philosophy degree in archeology and counts five professors (all of whom have been terminated) and 25 current students. Although partly blamed on the Coronavirus pandemic, the school also noted that these academic programs and activities are “incongruent with our mission to maximize resources in the training of pastors and other ministers of the gospel for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention”. The seminary’s Tandy Institute for Archeology was started in 1983 with a $100,000 gift; the graduate program was launched in 2007.
The $2 trillion economic relief legislation passed by Congress and signed into law includes provisions allowing churches of all kinds to apply for (at local banks) and receive government-backed money to pay the salaries of ministers. This upends long-held understandings of constitutional law and will, no doubt, be challenged in courts around the country. It does, however, continue a 35-year trend of chipping away at the “wall of separation” that has prevented government from funding or regulating any element of religious life. Earlier legislation, upheld by the Supreme Court, has allowed tax dollars to flow to religious groups for such things as social services, building preservations, and disaster relief.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims are celebrating their annual festivals in very unusual ways this year because of the COVID 19 pandemic: Passover for Jews, and Good Friday and Easter for Christians this week, and Ramadan for Muslims in a few days. Of the three, Passover is more at home in a social-distancing environment, as much of their annual practice is designed for the home. Christians, especially, will need to find creative ways to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus as gatherings are forbidden throughout much of the Christian world. Ramadan is routinely a time of denial, so in many ways this worldwide period of negation is in keeping with the spirit of Ramadan.