Church buildings, Corona Virus and the New York Occasions | The trade
The New York Times has just published an article entitled, "Churches were desperate to reopen. Now they are a major source of coronavirus cases."
Headlines are of course chosen by the editors and do not always tell the whole story.
However, the leather continues: ""The virus has infiltrated Sunday services, church meetings and youth camps. More than 650 cases have been linked to reopened religious institutions. "
The Drudge report now refers to the article with the ominous heading "Churches are now the main source of distribution …".
As someone who is committed to ensuring that churches take COVID seriously and whose church has not yet met, I have read this article with great interest. And after reading it twice, I can say that this article seems to tell a different story than its title.
For example, they report:
More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events in the United States since the pandemic began. Many of them broke out last month when the Americans resumed pre-pandemic activity, according to a New York Times database.
That's 650 since the pandemic started. In the United States, 3 million people are now infected.
In addition, there have been 60,000 cases in America in the past two days. That's almost 100 times the 650 cases the New York Times reports in churches – since the pandemic started.
The article contains some good and insightful reports. However, there are some unhelpful parts, even beyond the heading.
Let me unpack some of the more obvious problems with the article.
First, the churches worked together.
The churches have been remarkable partners in the fight against the corona virus, with the vast majority closing their meetings across the country. Yes, there have been some outliers, but their lack shows the churches' cooperation with officials during this pandemic.
The churches were mostly partners of the health authorities and took every small step carefully.
Second, exaggeration does not help anyone.
It's strange (at best) to use words like "major" and "erupted" when describing 650 cases. You could easily write an article with the headline: "Of the 3 million cases, only 650 are related to churches."
The heading is misleading on this point. Having 650 cases in my county may be news, but 650 out of three million cases at a national level is a heading looking for a story. The real story is this: churches gather and there are remarkably few infections.
Third, the article understands the obvious.
In fact, it buries something very important: "… some of the most recent cases appear to have occurred in churches that did not need masks or kept members apart." For example, 236 cases in Oregon have been linked to a church in that state.
The Pentecostal Church of the Lighthouse in Island City apparently did not follow the basic protocols:
The Oregonian / OregonLive reported that a deleted video from the church's Facebook page showed "Hundreds of believers singing, dancing, and jumping around" at a church service on May 24, despite the governor's order to restrict meetings
This one church (out of 300,000 churches in the country) made up about a third of the total in the NY Times article.
To be clear, every case is important – every life is important. But making churches a problem doesn't come from data.
It is worth saying again that I was one of the most careful. I hosted an early Facebook Live (viewed by nearly 200,000 church leaders) calling on churches to take the crisis more seriously. My church is not gathering. I warned the churches not to hurry.
We were careful because collecting is a riskier activity. It is inside. There are a lot of people. So we have to take it seriously, and there are so many churches.
And that's the story that was overlooked.
Fourth, this type of article causes people to reject important information.
I am a subscriber to the New York Times. Good journalism is important.
And good journalism needs context. There are over 300,000 churches in the United States, the vast majority that are performing amazingly well in their COVID response.
Articles like this recall why the Knight Foundation and Gallup found in a 2018 poll that Americans' trust in the media continues to decline. Most adults have lost confidence in the media. Articles like this do not help to restore the trust of church leaders.
Do not get me wrong. Collecting is risky and the correct protocols must be followed. But the churches do this. Pastors care for their people and have mostly shown the balance between gathering and security well.
Will there be an outbreak in a church that follows the rules? Yes. there will be. Just like there will be colleges that will meet this fall, and in Amazon warehouses, large stores, and workplaces. This disease is insidious and spreads easily. So we have to continue to be careful.
However, articles like this lead to a false narrative about churches and places of worship, which means that people do not trust their reports about religion and ignite rather than inform them.
Reading the answers to my original tweet is revealing. The Times is already being written off by many people of the faith. However, I am not one of those who shout "wrong news". However, when stories are badly framed, there are ramifications.
After all, this article just misses the point.
The article contains the opposite of its heading. Some churches have made some bad decisions and this has led to the spread of the community. But even in these cases, based on the data in history, your chance of getting the virus in church is remarkably slim.
And if you make wise decisions, it's even lower.
The picture used for the NYTimes article comes from a calvary chapel. The Calvary Chapel that I visited on Sunday is more representative of its network of churches in particular and most churches in general. They literally have cones between each car (unlike in shops), clearly defined areas where people can gather, health and cleaning teams, and more. You follow the rules and follow the correct protocols. (See update at the end of the article.)
We all recognize the difficulties we face today, whether it's churches, jobs, schools or sports. Such inflammatory articles do not help anyone, but can harm both the subject and the source.
The New York Times is a place for serious journalism, and much of that story is good work – the quotes, the personal stories, and more. However, it frames the story in a way that is not helpful and ultimately misleading.
The New York Times must take the churches and their work to protect their own people seriously.
Note: The churches of the Calvary Chapel play a prominent role in the New York Times article. On Sunday I visited the Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa (the founding church of the Calvary Chapel movement). Your church gathered for all state and regional mandates, down to the last detail, to park one place apart. They have seven zones, all with ushers, health workers, cleaners, etc. I will report more on this in a future article.