Faith in lockdown flies out the window when churches reopen

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Faith in lockdown flies out the window when churches reopen

Tuesday’s decision makes it almost impossible to justify the other lockdown rules

News editor
President Cyril Ramaphosa says the government always strives to put people's lives and dignity first.
taking it on the chin President Cyril Ramaphosa says the government always strives to put people's lives and dignity first.
Image: Supplied

At 6.57pm on Tuesday night I sent a text message to one of my editors, confidently predicting the outcome of the president’s address to the nation.

“Headline for our story tomorrow? ‘Grin and prayer it: Ramaphosa says no to churches opening’,” I said, trying to be funny (or punny, maybe) as we prepared for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address on a national day of prayer and consultations with religious leaders.

I was confident that there was no way churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other places of worship would be allowed to open under level 3 of the lockdown. After all, we’d just been warned that a massive spike in cases was coming, and Ramaphosa himself told us on Sunday that as the economy opened it was our actions that would “determine the fate of our nation”.

As individuals, as families, as communities, it is you who will determine whether we experience the devastation that so many other countries have suffered, or whether we can spare our people, our society and our economy from the worst effects of this pandemic,” he said.

So 48 hours later, he wouldn’t allow churches to open, would he? Nah. Not going to happen. The risk would be too high.

It was at that exact moment that I lost my faith in our national lockdown.

I mean, we already had a case in the Free State where a Divine Restoration Ministries church service was regarded as ground zero for cases in that province. ACDP leader Rev Kenneth Meshoe, ACDP MP Steve Swart and preacher Angus Buchan and his wife Jill were among the dozens of people who tested positive for Covid-19 from a single church gathering.

I logged in and I got ready for my news-editing shift to cover the speech when the statement came: “Places of worship may reopen.”

It was at that exact moment, not 45 minutes after my message to my boss about religious leaders having to “grin and prayer it”, that I lost my faith in our national lockdown and our government’s ability to pull it off.

I have been a vocal supporter of the lockdown, and even as comments from ministers have watered down the message, I remained a backer. The rules were there to save lives, and I believed that. There would be economic hardship, no doubt, which has hit me personally, but the plans brought the initial death toll down, slowed the initial spread down, prepared our hospitals, and that kind of thing. It made sense.

But I no longer feel that way.

Tuesday’s decision makes it almost impossible to justify the other lockdown rules. Churches are known for hugging, handshakes and congregational singing, and some even share the elements of the communion bread and wine off the same platters. That’s a recipe for a Covid-19 spread.

But cinemas, for example, can’t open even though people don’t share food there, don’t sing in unison (unless it’s the best musical ever), and don’t hug everyone they see at the door.

If churches can open, so can cinemas. The risk is the same, if not less, inside a cinema.

For the record, I believe neither should be open. Public gatherings should not be allowed under any circumstances. And I say this as a Christian boy, born to a pastor father.

The whole point was to reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread. On Tuesday night, that point was missed by a long way.

A government flip-flop is seldom a good thing, but I can only pray that this terrible decision is reversed before the laws are gazetted ahead of June 1. If not, funerals are likely to be the end result of a religious gathering – and Zweli Mkhize has warned us about how easily the virus is spread among the mourners.

If Jesus came to bring life, Tuesday’s rules are likely to bring death. And we cannot grin and bear it.