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NYT Frames Faith: Calls Church “Major Source of Coronavirus Cases.”

Note: The paper has now edited the headline of their article in a refutation of it's ridiculous premise.


The attacks on faith in America is ramping up, as reported Covid-19 cases increases in the United States.

It began with Governor Newsom in California creating an order to ban singing in religious gatherings and now the attack is spreading through the Fake News Media. 

Everyone’s favorite rag, The New York Times just posted an entire article, titled“Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are Confronting Coronavirus Cases.”

A premice the rest of the article makes a mockery of. 

Here’s in part what they said:

Weeks after President Trump demanded that America’s shuttered houses of worship be allowed to reopen, new outbreaks of the coronavirus are surging through churches across the country where services have resumed.

The virus has infiltrated Sunday sermons, meetings of ministers and Christian youth camps in Colorado and Missouri. It has struck churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.

Pastors and their families have tested positive, as have church ushers, front-door greeters and hundreds of churchgoers. In Texas, about 50 people contracted the virus after a pastor told congregants they could once again hug one another. In Florida, a teenage girl died last month after attending a youth party at her church.

More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities, according to a New York Times database.

“There’s a very fine line between protecting the health and safety of people, and protecting the right to worship,” said George Murdock, a county commissioner in northeastern Oregon, where the largest outbreak in the state has been traced to a Pentecostal church in a neighboring county. “It’s one we’ve been walking very nervously all along.”

While thousands of churches, synagogues and mosques across the country have been meeting virtually or outside on lawns and in parking lots to protect their members from the virus, the right to hold services within houses of worship became a political battleground as the country crawled out of lockdown this spring. In May, the president declared places of worship part of an “essential service” and threatened, though it was uncertain he had the power to do so, to override any governor’s orders keeping them closed.”

While I'd love to go on a tangent over the absurdity of this article, CBN News does a fine job of doing it for me:

After finding 40 churches connected to around 650 cases of the coronavirus, The New York Times is calling Sunday worship services “a major source” of COVID-19 cases.

“The virus has infiltrated Sunday sermons, meetings of ministers and Christian youth camps in Colorado and Missouri,” reads the Times piece. “It has struck churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.”

Hershael York, dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Theology and pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, asked, “How many 1000s of churches are meeting now? And the [Times] finds 650 cases linked to only 40 religious institutions … and that’s a ‘major source?’” He then asked about the press’ apparent “relentless obsession with churches.”

Dan Darling, a Christian author and the senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters Association, argued the Times article “completely missed the point that churches voluntarily shut down for months” and there “wasn’t a ‘rush to open,’” as pastors “spent weeks creating complicated phases.”

Ed Stetzer, a church planter and a professor at Wheaton College, pointed out there are three million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and criticized the Times piece as “odd” for using 650 of those cases to suggest churches are a “major source” of viral spread.

Writer and Baptist preacher Alan Cross similarly rebuked the Times for its article, saying the reporting is “inaccurate” and “makes no sense.”

One pastor who spoke with the Times, Dan Satterwhite of Lighthouse Church in Pendleton, Oregon, told the newspaper the press has spent a disproportionate amount of time focusing on churches, while businesses that have served to spread the coronavirus have not received anywhere near the same kind of scrutiny from the media.

“I think that there is an effort on the part of some to us things like this to try to shut churches down,” he told the Times, adding that he appreciated President Donald Trump’s decision in late May to call churches “essential.”

The piece from the Times comes not long after California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed an executive order prohibiting singing in churches, as doing so could exponentially spread the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

Christianity Todayfurther pointed out the contradictions the article makes pointing out that hundreds of thousands of non-church related cases have occurred in a matter of days:

That’s 650 since the beginning of the pandemic, mind you. There are now 3 million people infected in the United States.

Furthermore, there were 60,000 cases each of the past two days in America. That's almost 100 times the 650 cases that the New York Times reports in churches—and that is since the beginning of the pandemic.

The article does have some good and insightful reporting. However, there are several unhelpful parts, even beyond the headline.

Let me unpack some of the more obvious issues with the article.

First, churches have cooperated.

Churches have been remarkable partners in the fight again the coronavirus, with the vast majority closing their gatherings all around the country. Yes, there have been a few outliers, but their paucity demonstrates the cooperation of churches with officials throughout this pandemic.

Churches have overwhelmingly been partners with health authorities and have carefully taken each small step.

Second, hyperbole helps no one.

It is strange (at best) to use words like “major” and “erupted” when describing 650 cases. You could easily write an article with the headline, “Of the 3 million cases, only 650 connected to churches.”

On that point, the headline is misleading. Having 650 cases in my county might be news, but 650 nationally out of 3 million cases is a headline looking for a story. The real story is this: churches are gathering and remarkably few infections are taking place.

Third, the article understates the obvious.

In fact, it buries something quite essential: “... some of the recent cases appear to have occurred in churches that did not require masks or keep members apart.” For example, 236 cases in Oregon were linked to one church in that state.

Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Island City was apparently not following basic protocols:

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that a deleted video from the church’s Facebook page showed “hundreds of worshipers singing, dancing, and jumping around” at a May 24 service despite the governor’s orders restricting gatherings

This one church (out of 300,000 churches in the country) accounted for about one-third of the total in the NY Times article.

To be clear, every case matters—every life matters. But making churches out to be the problem does not come from the data.

It is worth saying again that I’ve been one of the most cautious. I hosted an early Facebook Live (viewed by almost 200,000 church leaders) urging churches to take the crisis more seriously. My church is not gathering. I’ve cautioned churches not to rush to do so.

We have been cautious because gathering is a riskier activity. It is indoors. There are a lot of people. That’s why we need to take this seriously, and so many churches are.

And that’s the story that got missed.

Fourth, this kind of article causes people to dismiss important information.

I’m a subscriber to The New York Times. Good journalism matters.

And, good journalism needs context. There are over 300,000 churches in the United States, the overwhelming majority who are doing amazing in their COVID response.

Articles like this remind us why the Knight Foundation and Gallup found in a 2018 poll that Americans trust toward the media continues to decline. Most adults have lost trust in the media. Articles like this won't help in rebuilding trust among church leaders.

Don't misunderstand: gathering is risky, and proper protocols need to be followed. But, churches are doing so. Pastors care for their people and have represented the balance between gathering and safety overwhelmingly well.

Will there be an outbreak at a church that follows the rules? Yes. there will be. Just like there will be at colleges that meet this fall, and at Amazon warehouses, big box stores, and at workplaces. This disease is insidious and spreads easily. That’s why we need to continue to be careful.

However, articles like this create a false narrative concerning churches and places of worship, cause people to believe reporting on religion can’t be trusted, and it enflames rather than informs.

Reading the responses to my original tweet is instructive. The Times is already written off by many people of faith. However, I’m not among those yelling, “Fake news.” Yet, when stories are poorly framed, it has consequences.

Finally, this article simply misses the point.

The article provides the opposite of its headline. A few churches have made some bad decisions and this has led to community spread. However, even in these cases, your chance of catching the virus at church is—based on the data in the story—remarkably low.

And, if you make wise choices, it is even lower.

The picture used for the Times article is from a Calvary Chapel. The Calvary Chapel I visited on Sunday is more representative of their network of churches in particular and most churches in general. They literally have cones between every car (unlike at stores), clearly defined zones for people to gather, health and cleaning teams, and more. They are following the rules and observing proper protocols. (See update at the end of the article.)

We all recognize the difficulties we face today, whether we are talking about churches, workplaces, schools, or sports. Inflammatory articles like this help no one but may instead cause harm both to the subject and to the source."

The NYT aren't the only ones pushing this narrative either:

What we are witnessing is a desecration of the Constitution and an unbridled attack of faith in America, but most conspicuously in the media produced, Christian Churches. 

These media hit pieces and executive supression of faith in local governments are part of an unbridled attack on the 1st Amendment and on God.

Leftwing sympathizers, whether in media or in government, are callously impeding on the very institutions which bring us hope in this dystopian future they are trying to impose on us. 


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