Dear Governor Noem,
Allow me to begin by commending you for your careful decisions in handling the recent COVID-19 crisis. Many leaders have made sweeping decisions in light of shoddy computer modeling. You, on the other hand, have managed to weather this crisis without setting your own hair on fire. My sincere thanks goes out to you.
In addition, you have not demonstrated the high-handed and tyrannical bravado of men like NY Mayor De Blasio who’ve threatened to close churches permanently if they continue to hold services. I also just read that the mayor of Louisville, KY is prohibiting drive-thru Easter services. I appreciate that you are not walking in the same tyrannical folly.
You have been right to call on all South Dakotans to pray for our state. There is truly one and only one Person that can deliver and preserve us and that is the Father of our Lord Jesus (Acts 17:26-28).
I’m writing today to plead with you for more of the same. As a happy South Dakotan I’m asking you to make your decisions based on solid facts rather than questionable computer modeling. I would plead with you not to be intimidated by the loudest and most alarmist voices (i.e., most of the voices out there right now) that have trusted in computer models to dictate their response to the virus. These models cannot account for the total number of actual cases or the total number of all those already recovered and immune. These models do not make distinctions between those who die with COVID-19 and those who die from COVID-19. Nor do these models account for differences in healthcare systems/facilities.
And yet, it seems that so much of our decision making in this country has been in response to these projections (projections that are being frequently being adjusted). While the virus is an undeniable threat, I would urge you to also recognize the threat to our religious and civil liberties.
While I have no doubt you wish to preserve and protect our constitutional right to assemble, you also have to recognize that every decision you make sets a precedent for the future. Your successor, or their successor may one day use something called a crisis (which isn’t really a crisis) to infringe on our right to assemble and worship. As a leader you have been given this moment to protect not only our rights but the rights of our grandchildren by modeling a value for our constitutional right to assemble for worship.
Please do not let sentimental roaring lead you into believing a false dichotomy. My skepticism about computer models is not a lack of compassion for people. A desire to see people gather for worship is for the good of people. A desire for a healthy economy is a desire for the good of the people. It is not callous to make choices for the good of the economy. A good economy is good for the people in it.
So, today I am specifically pleading with you to officially declare worship gatherings as “essential services”. If not immediately, at least by May 3rd. Will you trust us to use wisdom to decide when it is right for our congregation to begin meeting again? May 3rd might come and we will decide it is not right to begin meeting again. My point is that when May 3rd comes along it might be more important to show South Dakotans that you value, not only our people’s health but also our people’s liberty.
Consider the model of Texas Governor Greg Abbott who declared, “Essential services’ shall consist of everything listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 2.0, plus religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship…”
The value of the weekly church gathering is of inestimable value to the whole community. In our weekly gatherings we assemble to sit under the authority of the resurrected Lord Jesus. Under his authority we are stirred up to “love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). We are exhorted to be good citizens and honor every one (1 Peter 2:13-17). When we gather we pray for our community, state and country, including leaders like yourself (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and we understand these prayers to be heard by a holy and just Father who is more than able to answer (Daniel 4:35). Our lives have been transformed by the good news of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Our hope is founded on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the news we gather to proclaim and this news changes lives in our gathering. Of course, these things can happen on a small scale if we can’t gather, but when we gather it means there is likely to be more prayer, more good works stirred up, more love for others kindled, and more lives transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. This is absolutely central to our identity as a people. South Dakota needs more of that – not less.
Governor Noem, as Christians we recognize the responsibility of the government to practice justice and defend her people (Romans 13:1-7). In recognition of your authority we have happily obeyed the call to “flatten the curve”. Now, I’m asking you to use your authority to affirm that it is essential to assemble so that we might worship the Lord Jesus, proclaim his Lordship, build each other up, and proclaim good news to the hopeless and hurting.
In your service,
Pastor Cory Kitch
*My views expressed here are my views alone and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or the church’s leaders. This is a personal post, expressing my personal opinion.