Over the last few days, I have been getting a number of questions from Georgia Baptists regarding the coronavirus emergency orders from the state and local governments. There is no doubt that the health and safety of our citizens does constitute a compelling reason for the restrictions that are being made in our state and nation. Here are a few examples of questions I am receiving.
1. Why aren’t abortion clinics closed?
The information I have received from the Governor’s staff was that the emergency order did not ban elective procedures. For example, in Texas, the ban included elective procedures and then guidance was issued banning abortions as well.
2. Can churches do social ministries under an emergency order with the coronavirus?
Governor Kemp’s staff said that if the volunteers of those social ministries can meet in groups of less than ten or make sure they stay six feet apart, they are okay. But they are urging everyone to abide by good personal hygiene standards. For example, have hand sanitizer available if you do have meetings or groups gathering, please don’t have any physical contact, and stay home if you’re sick or even feel mildly ill.
The difference may come when there are LOCAL emergency orders. If the local emergency order says you can’t meet and do certain things, then the state can’t override that order. It could be different in each county.
3. How do local orders differ from state orders on churches?
Please realize that regulations in local communities will not necessarily be the same in every community. There are a number of determining factors in understanding how restrictive these emergency declarations are.
First of all, it has to with what can be considered a “business.” This is important because if churches are not mentioned specifically, they will more than likely be listed as a business. Then, you must see how a business is defined. If they are defined under “for-profit or nonprofit,” then more than likely those are the guidelines you will have to follow.
Secondly, you will need to find out what the “Essential Activities” are. It is under this section that you will find out what activities are legally allowed in your area. This is where you can identify the various social ministries in which you can be involved. Essential activities under ministry of a local church could be things like providing food, shelter, social services, and other necessities of life. It could also include delivery of groceries, goods, or services directly to residences.
Lastly, you will need to look under the section dealing with “public and private gatherings.” If the declaration does not allow any public or private gatherings of 10 or more people outside of a private residence, it can be understood that even church services are not allowed. Therefore, this requirement is more restrictive than the state, which allows for meetings of up to 10 where social distancing (six feet) is maintained.
Note this example of an Emergency Declaration of the Hart County Board of Commissioners concerning COVID-19, passed March 24.
It did not mention churches by name. Here is an Emergency Declaration for Peachtree City that does include churches by name and the activities included.
Also, Alliance Defending Freedom has published a video informing us of some of these things. It is important that pastors be in contact with their local officials. If there is some need of legal action, we can contact ADF. I do believe we are maintaining a balance in what the state government is doing.
Finally, tonight there will be a Town Hall meeting with Governor Kemp at 8 p.m.
Anything we could do to promote this would be very helpful. The enemy is the author of confusion and the facts at a meeting like this would go a long way in dispelling any myths. Here is the Governor’s press release and a list of websites to be able to watch it.
Here is the information communicated today from his Facebook page: “Tonight at 8 p.m., I will participate in a live, statewide Town Hall along with the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, the Georgia Department of Insurance, the Georgia Department of Public Health, and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to inform the public on what our state is doing to combat #COVID19.”
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. You can find more resources to assist your church and planning for the coronavirus by visiting gabaptist.org/covid19.
Thank you to everyone in leadership that are helping to defeat the spread of this deadly coronavirus! God bless you all!
This story was updated at 9:19 p.m. Thursday, March 26.
Mike Griffin serves as Public Affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.