Author archives: Quena Gonzalez

Open the Doors? The Vast Majority of Churches are Not Defying Government Orders

by Quena Gonzalez , David Closson

April 9, 2020

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a story on churches that are continuing to meet despite most states having banned assemblies of more than 10 people. The article cites only seven churches, yet suggests a nationwide pattern of recalcitrant Protestants who are defying government orders and continuing to meet.

But is this portrait accurate?

At first glance, the Post’s claims seem to be backed up by data from a respected polling firm. The article cites LifeWay’s recent report on whether Protestant churches are meeting. To be fair, the top-line numbers in LifeWay’s chart are striking; one religion reporter cited the 7 percent figure and mused, “if this is still happening in areas that have had outbreaks, it’s a serious, serious issue.”

Three questions need to be answered: Did Protestant churches defy government bans on public gatherings? Are a large number of churches continuing to meet in person? And, if not, what are they doing instead?

Did Churches Defy Government Orders?

The answer is, by and large, no. A quick search for recent news stories reveals that most of the headlines are traceable to a handful of high-profile churches, some of which (including at least two churches featured in the Washington Post article) stopped meeting weeks ago.

These findings are backed up by the LifeWay report, which notably only covers the month of March. Many states did not impose bans on public gatherings until only very recently, and according to the Washington Post, “more than a dozen states” exempted churches from stay-at-home orders as late as April 5th. State orders lagged behind the CDC’s March 15th recommendation to pause all gatherings of more than 10 people. Even so, the LifeWay data show that the sharpest drop-off of in-person meetings was on Sunday, March 22nd, suggesting that most churches took the CDC’s nonbinding recommendation (announced the previous Sunday night) seriously.

State bans on public gatherings were soon followed by stay-at-home orders, but according to a New York Times timeline, only nine states had a stay-at-home order as of Monday, March 23rd. By then, 89 percent of Protestant churches had stopped meeting. Furthermore, many state bans on public gatherings were amended several times and would have initially applied only to large churches. For example, Maryland initially banned gatherings of more than 250 people on March 12th; its March 16th order banning gatherings larger than 50 would not have applied to churches with fewer than 250 attendees that met on Sunday, March 15th.

This is an easily-overlooked point: Small congregations, which make up the vast majority of American churches, tend to be overlooked in media reporting in favor of megachurches. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research, for example, cites research indicating that half of all churches have an attendance of less than 75, that 59 percent of non-Catholic/Orthodox churches have less than 100 attendees, and that the average church size for all churches is 186. The Hartford Institute also estimates that there are 314,000 Protestant churches in the U.S., of which less than 1 percent are megachurches.

Stay-at-home orders rolled in throughout March: By Thursday, March 26th, 21 states had stay-at-home orders. By the following Monday, March 30th—one day after 93 percent of Protestant churches did not meet in-person—20 states still did not have statewide stay-at-home orders.

The study cited by the Washington Post does not necessarily support the notion that a significant number of Protestant churches were meeting in defiance of government orders.

Are a Large Number of Churches Continuing to Meet?

Less data exists on how many churches are currently meeting. However, despite the implication by the Washington Post story that this is a national phenomenon, the available data suggests that an overwhelming majority of churches are abiding by the CDC’s recommendation and are not holding in-person services.

LifeWay’s report only covers the month of March, but a deeper dive into their data is instructive. According to the report, 64 percent of churches met in-person on March 15th, 11 percent on March 22nd, and 7 percent on March 29th. Significantly, the report also shows that only 45 percent of churches with more than 200 attendees met on the 15th, fewer than 1 percent met on the 22nd, and 0 percent met on the 29th.

In other words, more than half of all churches with congregations numbering 200 or more had ceased meeting in person by the middle of March, 99 percent of them were not meeting by the fourth Sunday, and a statistically negligible number were meeting by the last Sunday of the month.

Clearly, churches still meeting after the end of March are statistical outliers. Yet the Washington Post story suggests that a significant number of churches are still meeting in defiance of government orders, despite strong evidence to the contrary. The very few churches that are still meeting are attracting outsized attention from the media.

How are Churches Adapting?

Instead of flaunting the government’s orders and continuing to meet in large groups, churches across the country are adapting to serve their congregations and communities in creative ways. For example, many churches are using live-streaming technology such as Zoom, YouTube live, and other streaming platforms to hold weekly services and prayer meetings with their members. Others, such as 3D Church, in Lithonia, Georgia, Genoa Church in Westerville, Ohio, and Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, are holding “Drive-In” services where members stay in their cars and listen to a message delivered by their pastor from a small stage (or even from a forklift!) near the front of the parking lot. These services allow churches to meet while still maintaining social distance and honoring the government’s ban on public gatherings.  

Churches are also looking outward, seeking ways to serve their communities in tangible ways despite limitations on public meetings. For example, Faith Life Church in New Albany, Ohio, has delivered lunch to nurses and doctors and has provided meals to needy people in the community. Resurrection Lutheran Church, in Juneau, Alaska, and Canyon Hills Friends Church in Yorba Linda, California, are running food pantries in their communities, and I-Town Church in Fishers, Indiana, set up a pantry at a local school. Trinity Church in Temple, Texas, set up a “prayer tent” and prays and ministers to anyone who pulls into the parking lot. OpenDoor Church, in Burleson, Texas, created a national hotline for people to call in to receive prayer or to submit requests for help with grocery shopping. Even smaller church plants, such as the Oaks Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, are providing free childcare to healthcare workers and buying groceries for those in need. 

Other churches are focusing on helping vulnerable people groups. St. Paul Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is serving refugees with their food bank, and River City Church in Montgomery, Alabama, is providing showers and laundry services to the homeless. Still others, like the Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama, are serving their community by opening a virus testing site at one of their church campuses.  

These stories, and many others like them, represent the response of the vast majority of churches to the pandemic. Although the hearts of believers around the country are heavy because they cannot meet with their brothers and sisters on Easter, it is encouraging to see so many congregations walking in obedience to our risen Lord while also obeying Scripture’s mandate to honor governing rulers (Rom. 13:1-7).

Valuing Life, Economic Productivity, and Human Flourishing in the Age of Coronavirus

by Quena Gonzalez

March 27, 2020

At this writing, every governor has issued an emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus and almost all are recommending or requiring that non-essential businesses be temporarily closed. This is, predictably, wrecking havoc on the economy; weekly jobless claims have shot up to a record 3.3 million. For policymakers committed to protecting human life and promoting human flourishing, this raises a dilemma: How do we balance protecting human life (by slowing the spread of the virus) with promoting human flourishing (by avoiding unnecessarily crippling those same people economically)?

The concern for human life is real: The current data suggests that the novel coronavirus is much more contagious than, say, the seasonal flu, which the CDC estimates caused nearly half a million hospitalizations and more than 34,000 deaths in the 2018-2019 flu season. We’ve all seen the government warnings about the coronavirus, that the most at-risk populations include people aged 65 years or older and people with underlying medical conditions.

But the concern about human flourishing is real, too: We are called to work, and we are commanded to provide for our families, to care for the poor, and to contribute financially to the work of the church. Forbidding wide swaths of the workforce from working has spiritual as well as economic implications. Furthermore, the current government-mandated economic shutdown disproportionately impacts the poor, many of whom either work for hourly wages or in the service sector; often, those least able to afford loss of income have born the economic brunt of “shelter in place” policies.

Faced with the threat of a tsunami of sick patients overwhelming our health care system, our initial national response has tended to err on the side of protecting human life. (As a committed pro-life activist and the parent of a young, at-risk child, that makes a lot of sense to me.) But I’ve noticed an emerging debate between people who are beginning to question the wisdom of an ongoing total economic shutdown and those who continue to argue that we must protect human life, almost at any cost. The debate is exceedingly difficult because of the asymmetric nature of the threats: the immediate or near-term loss of life to hundreds of thousands on one side, vs. the medium-term loss of livelihood to potentially tens of millions on the other. Unsurprisingly, the debate seems to be escalating rapidly along partisan and ideological lines, with both sides talking past each other.

What is a pro-life policymaker to make of this?

Yuval Levin (former executive director of the President’s Council on Bioethics and special advisor for domestic policy to President George W. Bush) brings a welcome, calm evaluation in The Atlantic of where we are, and suggests a broad direction for next steps (emphasis added):

America has mobilized against the coronavirus in some impressive ways. Although we have faced problems and failures—the botched testing rollout, the immense challenges now confronting the health system—we have also seen an extraordinary transformation of our way of life in short order. People have largely accepted the necessity of social distancing and the burdens of shutting down huge swaths of the economy. We have seen real models of leadership, particularly at the state level. And even members of Congress have been working together and negotiating.

But so far, that mobilization has lacked a strategic framework—a clear medium-term purpose toward which our efforts are aimed and against which they are judged. Policy makers need to think about our response to the virus in terms of two steps: a hard pause, followed by a soft start. The pause is absolutely necessary, but so is the careful and gradual return to normalcy….

It is not yet possible to move from the hard pause we have taken to the soft and gradual resumption of normalcy. But it is essential that such a resumption be the goal of that pause. We all need to do our part to let the health system make it through the hardest, most intense period of critical cases. But the aim of public policy should be to have this period last weeks, not months; to let people keep their place while we go through it; and to enable a gradual, soft, uneasy return to work, school, commerce, and culture.

Some of what policy makers have already done has helped advance this cause, and some of it has been confused about its purpose. A clearer, well-articulated strategic framework for policy could help decision makers tell the difference, assess their options, make hard choices, and lead the way.

The whole piece is to be commended.

Ross Douthat Exposes the Abortion Hypocrisy of the Left

by Quena Gonzalez

September 18, 2019

The inimitable New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently wrote a column titled, “The Abortion Mysticism of Pete Buttigieg: How the party of science decided that personhood begins at birth.” Read the whole thing here. It’s a master-class in opinion writing.

In a single, cohesive essay, Douthat pulls together several disparate threads to demonstrate the Democratic Party’s abortion extremism, including Pete Buttigieg’s recent comments that perhaps “life begins with breath,” the recent firing of Planned Parenthood’s Leanna Wen over the politics of abortion, and last weekend’s revelation that Buttigieg’s hometown abortionist had stored over 2,200 dead unborn children in his home.

The only thing I might add is that Democrats do not actually draw the line on abortion when, as Buttigieg suggested, the baby draws his or her first breath. Witness Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the Democrat state legislators who in 2019 undid or blocked protections for abortion survivors in New York, Illinois, and North Carolina, and came harrowingly close to doing so in Virginia and New Mexico. Witness the House Democrats who may soon vote for the 100th time to block protections for abortion survivors. When it comes to abortion, no baby is safe from the Democrats unless he or she is wanted by his or her mother.

While the destructive force of the sexual revolution rolls on to enthusiastic cheering from the Left, its unfortunate casualties—both unborn and born children—are discarded.

A New Pro-Life Law in Missouri Was Partly Blocked. Here’s What You Can Do.

by Quena Gonzalez

August 29, 2019

On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked parts of Missouri’s “omnibus” pro-life law. Here’s what you need to know, and what you can do about it. First, what does this law say?

Missouri’s “Omnibus” Pro-Life Law, HB 126

This spring Missouri legislators introduced a slew of pro-life bills; these were largely rolled up into a single bill (hence the term “omnibus”), House Bill 126, which was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson on May 24th.

Here are the parts of the law that Planned Parenthood challenged:

  • Bans an abortionist from doing an abortion at the point when medical science indicates the unborn child is capable of feeling pain in the womb (20 weeks*), except in cases of a medical emergency for the mother, and requires that every effort be used (including the attendance of a second physician) to preserve the life of the baby (188.375)
  • Recognizing fetal heartbeat and other markers of fetal development (188.026), it bans an abortionist from doing an abortion after 8 weeks (188.056), 14 weeks (188.057), and 18 weeks (188.058)
  • Bans abortionists from doing an abortion if the mother is motivated by the sex or Down syndrome diagnosis of her baby (188.038)

(Each of these bans is “severable,” meaning the law was written so that if any of the bans at 8, 14, 18, and 20 weeks is struck down by a court, the remaining provisions stand. The clear legislative intent of the bill was to force the federal courts to consider each ban individually, in order to ban as many abortions as the courts will allow.)

Here’s what else the law did that Planned Parenthood didn’t challenge:

  • Expands parental consent to require other-parent notification for minors seeking abortions (with an emergency clause) (188.028)
  • Requires abortionists to first tell mothers that their unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks (188.027)
  • Requires that all informed-consent materials be made available to women referred for an out-of-state abortion (188.033)
  • Increases the amount of medical malpractice insurance that abortionists must carry (188.043-44)
  • Increases reporting requirements for abortionists to include the gestational age, method of abortion, results of test for fetal heartbeat, etc. for each abortion (188.052)
  • Extends the existing 50 percent tax credit for donations to pregnancy resource centers (135.630)
  • Bans all abortions (except in cases of certifiable medical emergency for the mother) if Roe is overturned, or the Constitution is amended to permit this provision to take effect, or if Congress passes a law which would permit this provision to take effect (188.017; see also bill Section B)

All of the unchallenged portions of the law, as well as the ban on sex-selective or Downs diagnosis-motivated abortions, went into effect Wednesday.

What Did the Court Do?

On Tuesday, a federal district court preliminarily enjoined the first two provisions of the law mentioned above, preventing any of the bans on abortion at 8, 14, 18, and 20 weeks from going into effect while the law is being litigated in court. A preliminary injunction is not a final ruling; it means the judge finds it likely, at this stage, that—among other factors—the enjoined provisions will cause “irreparable harm” to Planned Parenthood, and that under current Supreme Court precedent those provisions will probably not be allowed to stand in the lower courts.

What Did the Court NOT Say?

The preliminary injunction is not a final ruling, and the judge could change his mind and rule differently based on further evidence or argument.

The judge declined to block the ban on sex-selective abortion and abortion on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis, at least for now.

And he did not enjoin those portions of the law not challenged—notably, an expansion of parental notification, two important expansions of the informed-consent law (making sure abortion-minded mothers have as much information as possible), increasing reporting requirements and insurance requirements on abortionists, and extending an existing state tax credit for donations made to pregnancy resource centers.

Perhaps most notably of all, Missouri’s post-Roe abortion ban is now on the books, looking forward to the day when Roe v. Wade (which improperly injected an abortion “right” into the Constitution) is overturned.

What Can I Do?

Average Americans do not have as much of a direct role in the court case, but you can always pray for justice to prevail, and for the travesty of abortion in America to become unthinkable. Missourians can also click here to thank their elected representatives for protecting life and passing HB 126!

Virginia’s War on Women

by Quena Gonzalez

June 6, 2014

Pro-life activists are used to hearing the trope of the so-called “war on women,” twisting compassionate efforts to save mothers from trauma and babies from death as somehow not in women’s best interest. So there is a certain tragic irony when pro-choice officials like Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe get caught actually lowering medical standards for women.

Three years ago pro-life members of the Virginia General Assembly passed a law requiring minimum safety standards for abortion facilities in the Commonwealth. The abortion industry fought the standards every step of the way, even after the grisly details of Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors in Philadelphia put a national spot light on abortion practices, and even after Virginia Health Department inspections — mandated by the law — revealed dirty equipment, bloody exam tables, and other sub-standard conditions in abortion facilities across the Old Dominion.

The newly-elected Governor’s claim to champion “women’s issues” is belied by his instructions to the Board of Health to re-examine the new abortion facility standards. Gov. McAuliffe is exercising raw political power to water down protections for vulnerable women who find themselves in the tragic position of seeking an abortion.

Victoria Cobb of the Family Foundation of Virginia captured this irony in her notes from the Thursday meeting of the Virginia Board of Health:

The Virginia Board of Health today took no action as it learned that a review of abortion center health and safety standards has already been initiated by the Commissioner of Health at the request of Governor Terry McAuliffe. The Board met in Richmond and heard a brief review of the process that will take place over the next several months.

In my testimony during the Board’s public comment period, I urged the Department of Health to close down the Virginia Beach abortion center of the notorious abortionist Dr. Steven Brigham, the same plea I made at a press conference outside that facility on Tuesday.

You can read more about our press conference here in a story from yesterday’s Virginian Pilot.

And, you can read more about Steven Brigham and why we believe he should be prohibited from owning or operating abortion centers in Virginia here. You can read my complete press conference remarks here.

At today’s Board meeting, members learned that the Department of Health will conduct a review over the next several months of Virginia’s abortion center health and safety standards adopted just last year. The review will be completed by October 1, but the Board will not likely take any action on what the Department recommends until December. At that point, the Board could reject the Department’s recommendation, or begin the arduous 18-month process of redoing the regulations.

For over 20 years abortion centers in Virginia went unregulated. After legislation was passed in 2011 requiring the Board of Health to adopt health and safety standards, it took two years before the standards were finalized. Since the initial inspections of abortion centers began in 2012, over 300 violations have been found. Multiple abortion centers had bloody and unsterilized equipment. Multiple abortion centers had untrained staff. Multiple abortion centers misused drugs. The list goes on and on.

Incredibly, the same abortion industry that fought for two decades against health and safety standards, including opposing legislation in 2011 that would have required only licensing, inspections and emergency equipment, now claims to want “reasonable regulation,” but asserts that the current standards are too strict. The industry gave Terry McAuliffe $2 million of hush money during his campaign in hopes that he’d reverse the standards. Honestly, how strict can the regulations be if someone like Steven Brigham can still own or operate two abortion centers in Virginia?

Our hope is that the Commissioner of Health and the Board members do not allow themselves to be bullied by Terry McAuliffe and the abortion industry, and keep the current standards in place.

So, will the Virginia Board of Health go along with the Governor’s war on women? (Click here to read comments submitted by my FRC colleague, Arina Grossu.)

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