Because we do not know where the infections are coming from, the blame game is up again. In Europe it is pointed toward restaurants. Researchers from Stanford University and Northwestern University have used the mobile-phone data of 98 million Americans to model how the virus spread during the first wave of Covid-19 in the spring. The study, published in journal Nature this past week, showed that restaurants, gyms, hotels, cafes and religious organizations carried the biggest risk of spreading infections. This is because the virus tends to spread fastest in closed, poorly ventilated and crowded spaces. Apparently these researches have not been in any churches over the past six to eight months!
Churches are a convenient scapegoat for the increasing uncertainty about where people are getting this pernicious virus. They are convenient because churches tend to be independent and to lack the financial resources and media access to combat the charges laid against them. They are a scapegoat because religion is no longer the paragon of virtue and the necessity to life it once was. In fact, most Americans tend to believe that the best adherents are those who are skeptical about the religious claims of their faith and who pick and choose from doctrine the way people once made their way through a buffet line (before they became passe). The reality is this. Churches, at least most of them, have neither been full or poorly ventilated for a very long time. About the last thing people will economize on is their comfort that this applies to churches (most generally very well cooled and heated and cleaned). They are closed in one sense -- they have doors -- but they are not closed in. Most churches have high ceilings and a great volume and quantity of space per worshiper present -- more so than just about anywhere! You are more likely to be distant from folks in a church building than you are at Wal-Mart and yet people have not stopped shopping!
My complaint here is that this is shoddy reporting and shallow research. Instead of relying upon anecdotal evidence, they need to show up on a Sunday morning and see. Our building has every other pew roped off, individual seats spread out, and people are in close proximity to each other for barely a few moments during the worship time. We have four HVAC units going constantly in a building with a 37 foot high ceiling, wider than it is deep, and with 40% or more of our people wearing masks. If everyplace Americans went was as socially distant, clean, and well-ventilated as our church building, perhaps we would not be seeing such spikes. Outside of a few crackpot pastors and odd congregations here and there, everyone I know is doing everything possible to keep their members safe while they are in church on Sunday morning. Given the shrinking size of most congregations, I don't know of one pastor who is willing to write off any regular worshiper for the sake of making some kind of political statement. Not to mention the shortage of good givers!
Plus, how many people have been in church lately? A quick survey of the blogosphere shows that most Protestant congregations have a significant number of their people worshiping online. Those who have primarily inperson worship have had reduced numbers in the building. Lets be honest here. Churches are easy targets for explaining the unknown of COVID infections. But easy and convenient may not be accurate.