Evangelical Leader Cites 'Growing Angst' With Guv's Covid-19 Response

May 23, 2020

A group of Chicago-based evangelical leaders plans to seek a virtual meeting with Gov. J.B. Pritzker because of “growing angst” about the rules he has set for religious gatherings.

"We've together asked the governor to kind of open a conversation where we might be able to have input and conversation with the health department so we can follow the science and open at a later date, not this Sunday, or probably even next month, but at a later date in a safe way. But right now, there's been communication with businesses, have been communication with academia, but not much communication with church leaders. We think that's an essential.''  said the Rev. Ed Stetzer, who is the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Pritzker’s administration has set arbitrary numbers for services that don’t consider the varying needs of worshipers, Stetzer said.

Stetzer made those comments on the same day President Donald Trump called for reopening places of worship nationwide.  Stetzer says, like the governor, faith leaders want to keep their congregants safe.    

“But, at the same time, if you just basically say, we don't have any idea when and there's no foreseeable future which you can gather, I can tell you it's hard for us as faith leaders to say to other faith leaders and our congregants, let's just not worry about this when Illinois has the strictest opening pathway in the nation, and is not communicating with many of its churches,” he said. 

Stetzer said he expects other Chicago faith leaders, such as the Rev. James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church and the Rev. Wilfredo De Jesús, also known as Pastor Choco, to join him in contactingt he governor.

“There is a significant and growing angst among many, many church attenders and many religious leaders, that if we don't have that conversation, I'm afraid that's going to cause people to make decisions in a void of information,” Stetzer said.

The Pritzker administration has set parameters that don’t take into account the circumstances and situations of individual churches, said Stetzer, who is the interim teaching pastor Moody Church in Chicago, which has a capacity of 3,750. “The question for us is not 50 people, it’s capacity. Could we gather following protocol as laid down by the state by our county and state health departments in our city? Could we gather with a 25% capacity with people practicing social distancing and masks and more? I think that's the conversation we need to have.”

Catholic church leaders came to agreement with the Pritzker administration about services during the COVID-19 crisis, but it didn’t take into account Stetzer’s concerns, he said.

Pritzker has repeatedly said he is taking the wishes of religious leaders into account. 

He tweeted Friday: “Outdoor faith services, including but not limited to drive-in church services, will be welcome in Phase 3, and we continue to collaborate with faith leaders to ensure they can hold services in safe and creative ways that allow for worship while protecting their congregants.”

At his press briefing Friday, he said, “I know worship is as essential as food and water for most of us.”