Robert Jeffress: Coronavirus recovery — Time for churches to reopen. Here's how we're proceeding

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On May 22, President Trump observed, “In America, we need more prayer, not less.” In light of recent events, I couldn’t agree more.

Now, perhaps more than ever, Christians need to come together to pray for America. Our houses of worship are essential places providing essential services, and we must begin the process of returning to our churches in a safe way.

Almost every church in America has been shut down for months, even on Easter Sunday. The president pointed out that it is not right for some governors to allow liquor stores and abortion clinics to reopen but require churches to remain shuttered. When he boldly stood up for religious liberty by calling for America’s churches to reopen, that resonated with millions of believers around the country.

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After the president’s remarks, he called me and made it very clear that he’s not asking for churches to open capriciously. It ought to be done carefully, and it needs to be done now.

Of course, each congregation needs to make wise decisions according to their individual situations. At First Baptist Dallas, we have been very cautious about this.

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From the beginning, we have said that we are going to be data-driven, not date driven. We heeded the advice of our federal, state and local authorities. Recently, we observed an overall plateau in the number of COVID-19 cases in our area and a decline in the percentage of positive cases to overall tests. Based on these metrics, we prayerfully decided to partially reopen on June 7.

Our church opened at 20 percent capacity, using a reservation system. In our “contactless service,” we didn’t exchange printed programs or pass offering plates; instead, we provided receptacles for offerings and decision cards. We encouraged social distancing and placed hand-sanitizing stations throughout our campus. We also strongly encouraged everybody to wear face masks.

Unfortunately, wearing a mask has become a political issue for many people. It’s not a political issue; it’s a medical issue. It’s not about your freedom; it’s about keeping other people safe.

Some believers will remain in quarantine while others will be on campus, but we are all part of the same family — and someday soon we will be together again.

Some people say, “I feel comfortable not wearing a mask.” But it isn’t about you; it’s about other people. Yes, a mask may to some extent protect you from the coronavirus, but it’s more effective in keeping others around you from contracting it.

The New Testament is filled with principles that say we ought not use our freedom to hurt other people. Romans 14:7–8 says, “Not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord.” Philippians 2:3–4 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

What we do affects others, and we are to look out for the welfare of others. While you may feel OK about not wearing a mask, you may be around an elderly person or a person with respiratory problems who could die if they contracted this virus. That’s why we’re asking everybody to wear a mask so that we can protect one another as we worship together.

Now, just because churches begin gradually reopening doesn’t mean it is the right thing for every person right now. At First Baptist Dallas, we encourage those who have underlying health issues or feel they are especially susceptible to this virus to stay home and continue worshipping with us on our iCampus at 9:30 and 11 a.m. We will also stream our live services on our website.

Regardless of whether people worship with us in person or at home, they are an important part of our church.

In Ephesians 3:14–15, Paul said there is one family — the family of God. Some members of the family have gone ahead of us; they are in heaven. Some are on earth. But if we are believers, we are all part of the same family.

The same thing is true of our churches. Some believers will remain in quarantine while others will be on campus, but we are all part of the same family — and someday soon we will be together again.

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Now, we’ve seen that tensions are high as people begin to go out into the community. I think one word that needs to characterize the way we interact during this time is grace. All believers need to exercise grace, love and understanding toward one another, especially in this transitional reopening process.

But it’s clear that Christians across America are ready to get back to in-person worship in a safe atmosphere, and it’s time for our nation’s churches to reopen.

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