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Pastor urges Gov. Brown to tighten restrictions on faith-based gatherings as the Christmas season approaches.

COURTESY PHOTO - Chuck Currie As Christians near the Advent and Christmas seasons, the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases looms large for Oregon's faithful.

Gov. Kate Brown's public health and science-informed approach to the COVID-19 pandemic has saved lives. Of this, there can be no debate. (Unfortunately, viruses do not respect state borders. We need a national strategy for this crisis and at the earliest, help from The White House will not come before Jan. 20)

Brown announced a new two-week "pause" last week to help curtail new cases in Orgon. New restrictions on some businesses will be imposed. Gov. Brown said then that houses of worship, where some of Oregon's significant outbreaks have occurred, will not face any additional guidelines.

I would argue the opposite.

While most churches, synagogues, mosques and temples hold services online or keep appropriate social distance when services are held, too many are not.

Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Union County continued to hold services during the spring's stay-home orders. By summer, the church, which had hosted a wedding among other events, was the site of the state's largest outbreak .

The impulse to gather is understandable. Human connection is vital. We want to love on the people we care about.

Scripture teaches us that the "way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together. … If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing."

It is theological malpractice to hold services, certainly large services, during a pandemic. The price of admission to an in-person worship service should not be illness or death.

Churches will be under tremendous pressure from some parishioners to hold typical Christmas services. Expect to hear politicians, the same ones who have downplayed COVID-19 and politicized the pandemic by claiming restrictions on worship during the pandemic are an assault on religious freedom, demanding in-person Christmas services as well.

Along with public health agencies across Oregon, Gov. Brown should immediately engage with the state's diverse faith communities to set guidelines before Christmas becomes a super spreader event.

The Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister, lives in Northeast Portland. He taught religion and social health policy for students in Pacific University's public health program for the last six years.


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