Covid, Churches, and "Standing"
Last Wednesday, May 27, the Spokesman published an article entitled, "Restrictions loosened on religious services in Spokane, other Phase 2 counties," in which the Phase 2 guidelines for such gatherings were laid out:
"The numbers in the limitations [no more than 50 people or 25% the buildings' capacity, whichever is smaller] do not include the staff from the religious organization, who should wear personal protective equipment when appropriate. The facilities should be cleaned and sanitized frequently.
Participants must follow social distancing rules, so no physical contact between participants and no communal sharing of food or beverages is allowed. They must wear face masks, even when singing, and no choirs can perform."
(Note that most or all of these guidelines have been pointedly ignored by Pastor Ken Peters' of the Covenant Church for the last four Sundays.)
In view of our improving understanding of the spread of Covid-19, these Phase 2 guidelines are entirely reasonable. Pushback against these guidelines seems at best ill-informed, at worst. profoundly stupid.
Jim Camden, author of the Spokesman article, quotes comments from a number of faith leaders, all of who expressed support for the guidelines and judged the guidelines reasonable and prudent. Then Mr. Camden adds:
But Mark Miloscia, executive director of the Family Policy Institute, called the limitations disappointing after churches have been closed for more than two months.
“Tribal casinos, big box stores, even pot shops have less regulations,” Miloscia, a former state legislator, said during a video on Facebook. “We still have the First Amendment.”
First off, people sing, hug, shake hands, and gather in clusters in churches, not in casinos, big box stores, or pot shops. Mr. Miloscia's comparison is thoroughly off-base. And what gives this man and this "Institute" standing to be quoted as representative of the faith community? Why isn't his opinion relegated to the Letters to the Editor page?--monetary backing, a divisive political agenda, and the internet.
The Institute has a professional looking website, The Family Policy Institute of Washington. (But professional-looking websites may be had for a few hundred dollars investment.) The Institute’s featured “Team” consists of just two people. Mike Miloscia is the “Executive Director” (over a staff of one?). His bio details experience as a state legislator, politician, and lobbyist, not as a faith leader. Among five of the group's "Issues" on the website are "religious freedom, parental rights, and marriage," all hot-button topics routinely exploited for political gain.
To merit quotation as an authority one might reasonably expect the commenter to be supported by prominent institutions and people of the community for which the commenter claims to speak. The Family Policy Institute's listed endorsements consist of written statements by 22 people with a smattering of titles, one “Rep.,” one “Dr.,” and three pastors. Of the pastors two are associated with west side Assembly of God congregations and one with the West Seattle "Calvary Chapel" (based on web searches of their names).
The website gives no indication of the Family Policy Institute’s funding sources and no explicit endorsements by any religious institutions (apart from personal endorsements by the three fundamentalist pastors noted above). The money comes from an unspecified source. The Family Policy Institute is also a "lobbyist employer" listed with the WA State Public Disclosure Commission as "Family Policy Action," at the same address in Lynnwood WA as the institute itself.
Mr. Camden responded to an email inquiry about his inclusion of comments by Mark Miloscia, writing, "The Family Policy Institute is a very active organization that lobbies for certain issues that would generally be described as conservative Christian: they are opposed to abortion, same-sex marriage and assisted suicide and recently have been vocal in their opposition to the comprehensive sex education legislation. They have some strong supporters among the evangelical Christian communities...His comments were part of the story as a way of offering different voices of reaction to the new rules."
I understand Mr. Camden's wanting to offer different voices, but the leap from the opinions of faith leaders who are actually responsible for the details of opening houses of worship in phase 2 to the opinion of a political operative responsible only to unspecified funding sources is a jarring shift. That Mr. Miloscia does not speak for all Evangelical faith leaders is already evident in Spokane from the contrasting comments and actions of Pastor Ken Peters of Covenant Christian and the Reverends Wittwer of the Life Center here in Spokane on the re-opening of in-person services
As we try to re-open during the Covid-19 pandemic (and at other times as well) it is important to sort out who is given standing to rile us against one another. The Family Policy Institute of Washington ought not be allowed a voice without better scrutiny of whom--and whose money--it represents. Setting up with a name and a fancy website seems to be the Family Policy Institute's prime claim to legitimacy. The broader religious community does not subscribe to Mr. Milosocia's political belligerence. He should send in a letter to the editor, not be offered standing as an authority on how the Evangelical Community feels about Phase 2 regulations.
Keep to the high ground,