On Religious Discrimination

A friend asked me for an opinion on SCOTUS knocking out California’s restrictions on church attendance. I think they did that for New York some days ago too. I have observations more than opinions.

Churches present particular dangers that box stores, liquor stores, and tattoo parlors do not. We rely on volunteer greeters and ushers. We don’t often have professional custodian help on weekends. Our people tend to be huggers, kissers, and congregators. Especially at weddings and funerals. We linger at worship more than most of us shop. Especially the long-preaching services with lots of music. We don’t have automatic doors like grocery places. We inspire emotion, if not reverence, in comparison to materialism and other cultural virtues.

There are objective reasons why churches should be treated differently. Some are more restrictive. Some may be less so. I think I’ve mentioned here that the Catholic bishops of my former state assembled their own pandemic guidelines for approval as part of the overall package for the governor. I can report that only two or three small changes were made to the phased system of reopening.

I don’t know how the bishops of New York or California got together or didn’t to submit pandemic proposals to their governments. Maybe the input wasn’t welcomed. Maybe they sat back until shutdowns were announced. Maybe they complained about manicures and haircuts.

I will say that if most bishops are thinking along the lines of something I heard, we might be in trouble no matter how many people are permitted at worship. Once you cut the obligation factor, maybe people will find they don’t miss Mass all that much and won’t bother to come back.

That would be a tragedy. Mostly because we’ve offered people so few positive reasons to celebrate Mass. Like good preaching. Good music. A welcoming community. A sense of mission and purpose. Real demands on their lives.

As a long-time church minister serving on the front lines of worship, I’ll make a frank admission. If people won’t come back because they don’t think we have anything more to offer than a sense of obligation, we deserve our shrinking and empty churches. Religious freedom is a smokescreen argument. People are free not to come to church. Once every Christian realizes that, then the hard work is on us. Not them. And we will have no real scapegoats. Not the government. Not Sunday morning breakfast in bed with the Times. Not the kids’ sports obligations. Not a loss of a sense of sin.

And you know what? That’s the way I want it. Give me the challenges of encouraging people to come to Mass and keep coming back. If I can’t handle that, it’s time for me to retire.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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