The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns the First Amendment right of Americans to believe as they choose and to exercise their religion as they choose. When COVID-19 invaded American shores, officials thought it was expedient to shut everything down except those things that are “essential.” This included churches.
Police and fire departments are essential for obvious reasons as are numerous government offices. Groceries stores are considered essential because they provide food, but Mom and Pop stores and other small businesses were not considered to be essential. I questioned why alcohol stores and marijuana shops are essential until I learned of the horrors of withdrawal from the substances.
Many churches recognized the dangers caused by large groups of people gathered in an enclosed place. On March 12, 2020, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suspended all public gatherings of church members worldwide “until further notice” and closed all meetinghouses. All Sunday meetings and mid-week meetings were cancelled for more than 300,000 congregations. In addition, all temples were closed.
General Conference was held with less than ten people in the small meeting room and several million people watching via the internet and televisions stations. My congregation continues to hold “ward devotionals” via the internet with presiding authorities, speakers, and musical numbers remaining in individual homes.
An interesting tidbit about the buildings being closed is that it means that missionaries, like my grandson, cannot enter the buildings for their early morning exercise. My grandson loves to play basketball, but he was forced to find another way to get his exercise.
Other churches had “drive in services” with individual families coming in their cars, parking in the church parking lot, and listening to the sermon over the radio. Still other churches stayed open to meet the needs of their members.
When the nation was ready to reopen, the churches that were closed slowly prepared to reopen. Our temple services are limited to small groups of people for live husband and wife sealings for couples where both were previously endowed. There are no other temple services being held at this time. Sunday meetings are slowly being reopened, but not in my area yet.
Some states with Democrat governors ordered churches closed even though other segments of society were reopening. President Donald Trump declared that churches are essential and should be allowed to reopen.
This declaration brought mixed feelings from members of my family. Several of my children said that they prefer home church because it brings such a sweet spirit into their home. The husband in each of the homes holds the Melchizedek Priesthood and a current temple recommend. This means that he can officiate with a sacrament service for his family. Most of the homes have at least one son who holds the Aaronic Priesthood and can bless or pass the sacrament. In addition to the blessing of partaking of the sacrament each Sunday, they share music, talks, and testimonies, and they develop stronger spiritual intimacy, drawing the family closer. Being able to hold home-based church has kept many members of the Church of Jesus Christ healthy spiritually.
Why does Trump consider churches to be essential? Churches teach faith in God, and faith in God brings hope. Hope helps people to endure difficult situations and gives them spiritual power and emotional health. The lack of hope is one reason why some people commit suicide, something that has increased due to the isolation. This is the reason that churches are essential, or at least the opportunity to exercise religious beliefs.
In the 1830s, French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville came to America to discover “the greatness and genius of America.” These were the early years of the new nation known as the United States of America, and Tocqueville traveled across the nation in his quest. He later wrote the following words in his book titled Democracy in America, a book that many people consider to be the greatest ever written about America.
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers -- and it was not there … in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there … in her rich mines and her vast world commerce … and it was not there … in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
Tocqueville discovered that “the greatness and genius of America” is in her churches. It was the churches and their faith in God that gave the early American colonists the power and the strength to break away from Great Britain. It was divine intervention that helped the ill-prepared but willing American army to overcome the army and the navy of Great Britain, the most powerful nation on earth at that time.
Trump recognized the power found in the churches and deemed them to be essential. They are essential because they teach faith in God and help ordinary people to bring the power of God into their personal lives.