DALLAS — Dozens of churches in the Dallas area will remain closed, conducting services remotely, even though Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has given them the go-ahead to re-open. And pastors throughout Dallas joined in an op-ed letter in the Dallas Morning News to explain why choosing not to reopen yet is an act of religious freedom too.
In updated "Guidance for Houses of Worship" issued by the governor's office on Monday, churches and synagogues are considered essential services that can open for services again provided that parishioners maintain proper social distancing of at least six feet apart, unless they are members of the same family attending together.
But Senior Pastor George Mason at Wilshire Baptist in Dallas explains that won't happen at Wilshire just yet.
"We're going to take our cues from our County Judge Clay Jenkins," he said in an interview with WFAA.
In an opinion piece published Tuesday morning in the Dallas Morning News and co-authored with Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El, the faith leaders make the case that while some have complained that closing churches is a violation of religious freedoms, that choosing not to reopen is an act of religious freedom too.
"Our main point," said Rabbi Stern, "is to refute the notion that staying closed was an abandonment of faith and rather to express the notion that staying closed was an expression of faith."
In the letter, written beneath the picture of a church door with a closed sign on it and the article headlined "An insult to religious freedom? Hardly", they openly "applaud the courageous steps" that state and local leaders have taken to help keep them and their congregants safe.
"We all long to return to our houses of worship," they write. "But our commitment to the health and well-being of our communities takes precedence."
They believe that while smaller, perhaps rural, churches could be able to open safely with social distancing recommendations being enough to keep parishioners safe, that larger urban churches might not be able to do so as effectively.
"I think it's really difficult, especially for larger congregations," Pastor George Mason said, "to figure out how to make that work in a way that really protects people at the same time."
"The saving of a life is the fundamental value that overrides all others," said Rabbi David Stern. "And that's why we landed where we did in this letter."
Neither Stern nor Mason has a target date for worship services to resume in person. They say they will continue to offer remote worship services and take guidance from local officials before they choose to have their congregations gather together again.
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