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City Light Church livestreams a service from a warehouse in Rochester Hills, Michigan on March 15, 2020. Photo courtesy of City Light Church

Evangelical Medical Association Urges Churches to Stay Home; Raises Concern About Vaccines

By Bob Smietana

For months, the leaders of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA) have urged churches to social distance, wear masks and do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19. Yet the association of 20,000 evangelical health care professionals, says those guidelines have often gone unheeded.

“Despite these efforts, CMDA is saddened to learn not only that many churches have ignored our guidelines but that congregants have become infected with SARS-CoV-2 as a result of those decisions,” the organization said in a statement titled “A Plea to Our Churches,” released Friday.

The statement was written by C. Christopher Hook, a bio-ethicist at the Mayo Clinic, and Jeffrey J. Barrows, the CMDA’s senior vice president of bioethics and public policy.

The group is now calling on churches to stop meeting in person and to move their services online. Church members can still read the Bible, sing hymns and take part in online services from the safety of their homes.

“We believe the church is a major priority in our lives, but it should not become an idol by itself. Loving God with all our heart, mind and strength is our first priority, and it can be done with our families outside of church,” the statement reads.

Most Protestant churches moved their services online early on in the pandemic, according to a survey from LifeWay Research. An August report from Pew Research found that about a third of congregations of all faiths were closed, while just over half were open with restrictions. Few were operating the way they did before the pandemic.

Churches in California and Nevada have gone to court, claiming that restrictions on large group gatherings are unconstitutional. Megachurch pastor John MacArthur has urged churches to continue meeting in person, and his congregation, Grace Community Church (GCC), has continued to defy public health orders that ban large group meetings.

In early November, there were five confirmed cases of COVID at GCC. But last week, the church said public health officials had cleared GCC of an earlier COVID-19 outbreak and lifted all outbreak-related requirements and restrictions on the church.

The CMDA statement mentions government restrictions in passing. But it focuses on the duty that congregations have to love their neighbors.

“Choosing to put off gathering together as a church is a statement of love,” the statement reads. “Voluntarily choosing not to gather allows us to make a statement that is not overshadowed by a government restriction.”

Ethical Concerns about Vaccines

The CMDA has also raised ethical concerns about COVID-19 vaccines, including those developed by Pfizer and Moderna, both of which may soon be available to the public. Those vaccines were developed using cells originally derived from an aborted fetus in the 1970s, according to the CMDA website.

The CMDA’s site links to an advocacy campaign for what it calls “ethical vaccines.”

“It is vitally important that in speeding toward a vaccine for use by all Americans that we ensure sound ethical parameters that will actually allow all Americans to use the vaccine,” reads a sample letter to federal officials. “Vaccines tainted with the use of cell lines from elective abortions cannot be used in good conscience by millions of life-honoring Americans, since the vaccine is produced through a cell line developed by the taking of human life.”

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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46 thoughts on “Evangelical Medical Association Urges Churches to Stay Home; Raises Concern About Vaccines”

  1. My concern is that some surveys are showing that up to 40% of church attendees will not return. We are called to a much higher “law.” If your church is able to provide distancing and masks and whatever else is needed, I believe maintaining community is a first priority.

    1. It’s a shame you, and many others, don’t express the same concerns for healthcare workers who are PLEADING for people to stay home and practice social distancing. They are overwhelmed by work demands and have to witness some really sad things.

      If this is all a big government conspiracy to limits the rights of church, then healthcare workers are in on that mass media manipulation too!

      I’m seeing reports all around the country of hospitals running at or near capacity. While most people who contract the virus avoid death, quite a few are discovering long-term complications from the virus. It doesn’t seem like just another variation of the run-of-the-mill FLU/cold to me.

      I’m sorry that it’s hard to (temporarily) give up in-person community that means a lot to you (and others). It’s not easy, but staying home is one of the kinder and loving things you can do for your community.

  2. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

    Hebrews 10:24-25

  3. Covid has a 98-99% survivability rate. Enjoy your Thanksgiving with your loved ones. Gov’t exist to protect your rights, not your health. Gov’t doesn’t have the authority to force you to celebrate as it wants.

  4. The most unbelievable sentence award goes to:
    We believe the church is a major priority in our lives, but it should not become an idol by itself.

    Did they really just say that?

    1. Yes, that’s what they said, and they’re right. We worship the Almighty God, not a church. It should not become an idol by itself. Do you not believe this, Aaron?

      1. I’m afraid it has become an idol when I see 40+ people showing up for choir practice and it’s hard to get 3 for evangelism. From my view church has become too cloistered with it’s Bible study and music and not outward enough. I wonder if God isn’t using this pandemic to get us out of our buildings.

      2. I believe it is naive to think that the strong desire of God’s people to attend church be considered idolatry. Not only are we commanded to gather as a people, but we need the fellowship of the saints.

        If fear of a virus that is proving not to be deadly to most if causing churches to close, then I’d argue that health and safety are the idols, not attending church.

        1. Aaron, it’s actually Biblical that some are not in church for the right reasons. Matt 13 the wheat and the tares parable and Matt 7 when Jesus said of judgement day that he will reject many who call him “Lord.” I’m not discounting what you say. It is a godly desire to want to be with others who love the Lord. Blessings to you this Thanksgiving week.

    2. And the false teaching award goes to this sentence: “Choosing to put off gathering together as a church is a statement of love.”

    3. Actually it looks like you deserve that award. God unleashes something on our world that essentially shut downs what we call church services all over the entire world at once, and some people actually are foolish enough to never even consider why God did this? This is unprecedented, and yet there are so many who just want to ignore it and keep having their church their way? Who says that what is going on is something that pleases God? What if most of what is going on is about narcissists and pleasing them or people? Do you think God is pleased when we disobey Him and make services all about making the front man happy or the room full of pew sitters? Have you not read what happened before to God’s people when they served idols? Have you not read about their priests and what they were doing? What will it take for people to start asking these questions? An atomic bomb going off in a city in the Bible Belt full of churches? Is what is going on today really making God happy? Then why is He steering much of it into fiscal bankruptcy?

      The statement about idolatry is the most sane and rational statement I have found in all of these comments. It is something that they do instead of becoming disciples actually following Jesus and not some talking head or foolish denomination.

      1. Amen, Mr. Jesperson, and thank you.

        I once heard, decades ago, a Godly preacher, state:
        “Everything is contingent upon, where one is Spiritually.”

      2. Mr. J,

        It’s sad how you are asking all these questions and assuming you know the answer. You aren’t using scripture as an argument for anything.

        Yet, we have in scripture God’s design for the church.

        I would encourage everyone to read the statement by the Grace Church (LA) elders on A Biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open

        The church America has become weak. This is the time for pastors and teachers to be shepherding the flock away from fear and anxiety. The gathering of God’s people in these times will be crucial for us as time marches on. We must prepare because the time is coming when it will be invariably harder to meet. If we aren’t meeting because of a virus like this, then we definitely won’t meet when it gets harder. This is just a test drive.

        Wake up, Church.

        1. A wonderful MacArthur fanatic! No surprise. He is one of the most obvious examples of what I am talking about. A malignant narcissist who is abusive, arrogant, rude and foolish. His fans are certainly idolaters just like the followers of the Pharisees of old. Fans who will not look at the rust and bad fruit of their beloved wicked godman. He has make himself a millionaire $elling a gospel people like that make them look and behave more like the Devil than Jesus. He does not care about anything other than having his fans praise him live and in person each week. His condemnation has been spoken of in many texts for millennia. I wish this jerk had no followers but people love how his abrasiveness and cockiness. Jesus nature is not what appeals to such folks unfortunately.

        2. Aaron, if you truly believe that a time is coming when the church can’t meet then the solution is not to keep meeting in large easily identifiable buildings but to train believers how to meet in homes in small groups and fly under the radar so that Disciples of thrive and the church survives.I have worked overseas with the severely persecuted church most of my adult life. I have helped train believe how to navigate it and survive.I do NOT see such preparations among believers in churches in North America right now. In fact, the current insistence of churches on having people continue to gather in large buildings under the teaching of celebrity pastors will be a serious liability in the future which you envision.

  5. Attend if you want to attend; stay away if you want to stay away. About half and half in our church are attending and half are staying away. Our offerings have forced us to reduce our budget significantly for next year. I’m with those who want to attend, and attending has never been an idol for me. Attendance has been a lifeline for my fellowship, service, and worship. Do a lot of older people die of the flu? Do some younger people die of the flu? Do we shut down schools and churches because some people (a very tiny number) die of the flu? Then, why should we shut down for COVID–also a relatively small number.

      1. Tom, we need to know how that number was derived. People who died with Covid or from Covid. It was my understanding that at the outset of this, anyone who died with Covid, even if it was the result of cancer, or some other terminal illness was listed as a Covid death. In our local hospital anyone who has Covid is listed as a “Covid patient.” There are 13 individuals in ICU with Covid though there are 50 Covid patients listed. One of those is a woman who went into the maternity ward to give birth and tested positive for Covid without any other symptoms. She is listed as a Covid patient. Not sure about all the rest, but it shows the fact that we need better numbers rather than just throwing out a number.

        1. Does the fact that positive Covid cases are skyrocketing across almost all 50 states? Does the fact that ICU beds are filing up fast with critical lack of beds is quite a few states? Yes the vast majority that get covid will have mild symptoms and recover. However there is a percentage of folks that need hospitalization, an ICU bed, and a ventilator if their condition is critical. This is causing a severe strain on hospitals. Be patient until vaccines are available.

          1. Joe, I think you are putting a tremendous amount of faith in vaccines. My brother who is a research doctor in a major University Hospital told my aged parents some years ago (they are mid 90s now) not to get the flu vaccine. I’m sure he will indicate the same with this Covid vaccine. We don’t know what the long term effects of the vaccine will be. We also have the dilemma as indicated in the above article that a couple of the vaccines are produced with “fetal tissue” (aborted baby parts). A pharmacist friend of mine who gives flu shots said he wouldn’t be getting the vaccine and he doesn’t get the flu vaccine. We do need to live smart. Individuals who are high risk do need to take special precautions. However, we are also seeing the effect on individuals and families who are experiencing set backs in their faith as a result. May God grant us wisdom.

          2. The number of deaths in the country as a whole are down this year.
            COVID – 255,000 out of 335,00,000+. The survival rate is 99.05- 99.07%.
            80% of positive tests are inaccurate.
            Very few hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID. South Dakota for example has only 8% of beds being used by COVID patients.
            Church is about community. We need to meet in person. You won’t die one minute before God has chosen for you.
            Enjoy life. Don’t live in fear.

          3. The Chinese (oh yeah) tests aren’t even meant to diagnose COVID19. That’s why there are so many false positives. We’re seeing more and more brave health care workers denying the statistics the mainstream media shove in our faces. They’re stating their ICUs are nearly empty but if you die in a hospital your death MUST be certified as corona. Of course this plandemic was also aimed at taking out churches. No doubt about that. The Health secretary where I live said as much. He stated that those who decline being vacccinated WILL be restricted in several ways. All kinds of bells should be ringing now. But if you fail to hear them perhaps this will help you: the vaccine will contain a chip which will (supposedly) aid in tracking corona hotspots AND may be used in the future to store other types of information such as your bank account. I don’t believe the Lord was the author of the plandemic but it’d be wise to use this time in our lives to draw really close to Him. Attend church to fellowship because it won’t be long before hell will be established on earth. Across the pond we’re already discussing things such as being locked up, enduring torture for Christ etc. I don’t understand that y’all aren’t because if Biden has truly won the Presidential elections America as we know it is finished. God bless you.

          4. Very late to the party here, but I just want to make sure no one is misled by Denise’s statistics. First of all, the number of deaths this year is not lower than average/expected…not really sure where she came up with the information. Overall, since February of this year, we’re seeing about 112% of the expected number of deaths based on the last few years of data.

            This “Very few hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID” thing is completely unsubstantiated…here’s some data for those curious about the truth:{query:{q:!NM},view-graph:{graphOptions:{hooks:{processOffset:{},bindEvents:{}}}},currentView:!grid,graphOptions:{hooks:{processOffset:{},bindEvents:{}}}}

            Also, only 8% of ICU beds occupied in SD???

            Also, “don’t live in fear”…so no seatbelts, no washing your hands, no…preventative measures at all?

            As believers, we follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who manifests TRUTH. At best, Denise was misinformed. At worst, dishonest. We have to be faithful to the truth and not give into the father of lies.

      2. Yes. I agree with you, Tom. And 250,000 is even more significant if you have lost a friend or family member to COVID – and have watched them suffer.

        1. Science is a silly thing. Seems vaccines seemed to eradicate polio, the measles etc just fine. The Pfizer covid vaccine is a mRNA vaccine that is quite interesting. I’d suggest you read up on it. I will definitely get the vaccine once it is available. Covid will only be minimized if most folks get vaccinated. good luck! Totally agree to pray for wisdom from God.

        2. Re what Kate says…
          We don’t need to live in fear. America has a destiny God designed for her. He wants to realign us to His Design. He wants the Church strong. He wants Revival.

          Get up and pray, Church!
          Don’t worry about this virus—
          Pray He expose all corruption, in government, in our Nation, and all over to the Light! The enemy cannot stand against King God Almighty who laughs in the Heavens. You have the authority, Church! Shout loud and decree and declare the King’s authority over everything, for Lord Jesus gave it to us in His name.

          1. Ms Sabrina
            I detect Pentecostal jargon and practices in your reply but, anyway, I want to make it clear I’m not frightening anyone. I’m very much a realist and like to call a spade a spade. What I wrote is what is occurring now. Where I live all kinds of emergency meetings led by the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary are held to put laws in place that will take our freedom away or at the very least seriously curtail it. At the moment they’re focussing on that dangerous vaccine of course. They’re seeking to make it mandatory and because people have been subjected to utter fear for over half a year they’ll continue trusting the government.
            As for God’s design for America, we already know she will lose her influence. It must happen so the ‘United Sates of Europe’ can take her place with Rome at the head of the world once more. (Perhaps you’ve noticed how invested the Marxist pope, Francis, is in establishing that one world government.) After that we’ll see more of the Lord’s predictions come true. I’m sorry if you think God’s design is to restore the USA at this time or soon(ish). It is not. I’m not trying to discourage you but we should pray according to His will or else we are wasting our time. Now, President Trump didn’t want to burden taxpayers with yet another war but, Joe Biden does not share that mindset. He will plunge America into an abyss because he’s a puppet, he can be bought. The devastation of our beloved America is a given. She’s the only nation that was founded under God and therefore she must be destroyed. This is me keeping it real, colloquiacally spoken. We are living in exciting times so pray for strength that we may all endure till the end!

  6. Heb 10:25
    24And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds. 25 Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 26If we deliberately go on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins remains,…

  7. My church has streaming and video taped services that can be accessed on line. We have had in person services for several months now with strict guidelines. Every other row is empty and people or family groups must have three auditorium type seats between them. And all people must be masked unless on the platform at the mic. I’m not aware of any explosion of covid cases in the congregation. There are some but not a huge number. When we are in our campus buildings on nonservice days, social distancing and mask wearing is practiced. To mandate closing down altogether when a church is doing all it can to prevent covid spread, I think is not advisable.

  8. Since the CMDA has raised an ethical concern about the vaccine, I’d like to know what they advise pro-lifers to do once it’s available. The specter of numerous Christians refusing the vaccine, which is essential to achieving herd immunity, is unappealing and on the face of it would be a poor testimony. I’m interested in others’ thoughts on this.

    1. It’s unappealing Pam? To whom? Those who are perishing (not my words, taken from my bible)? And a poor testimony? No, it’s consistent (Jep). I don’t like aborted fetuses, neither does my bible. Nuff said.

  9. Good question, Pam. Do those who take an ethical stance against this vaccine also refuse to patronize all stores and establishments that donate to Planned Parenthood? I appreciate the principled stance … but needs to be consistent. In the end, there are many of these ethical dilemmas in our society, and with Paul we should allow for each to follow their own conscience without judgement or disunity

  10. Susan Vonder Heide

    Whereas, once upon a time, meeting together clearly meant literally meeting in close physical proximity, today there are other ways of meeting together like phones and the Internet. It is nice to physically meet together when that is possible and practical but if there is a good reason not to do that for a season (or even permanently as is the case with many elderly even pre-covid) there are other ways of connecting with other Christians in the church and they should not be discounted.

    1. Meet in person if you feel led. Do it online if you prefer. We have the freedom to meet, and we can be wise using appropriate precautions, and we can ask the Holy Spirit how to lead us there.

  11. Great comments, yes Covid is very survivable but it still kills quite a few people, those that survive can have lasting damaged to their lungs , heart and brain.

    As a full time nurse I do struggle with the line of aborted fetuses. Most likely I take the vaccine, probably as I have the ability with my job to be a super spreader as I am in contact with many people.
    I don’t really have an other way to help my patients.

  12. I have modified my views. As adults, we know how to take care of ourselves now that we have much more information. One size does not fit all. People have to work and make a living. There is no bailout for small business. Those who work for government get to keep their jobs. Those at high risk can be taken care of and if they need to stay home, so be it.

    We survive Covid-19 but are schizophrenic in the end. People face depression, suicidal thoughts, and are devastated at not being able to work and provide for their families. Violent riots are allowed but not meeting at church? Enough is enough.

    1. Yes I don’t understand covid-deniers such as Kate, Don, Denise and others. The idea that the vaccine injection will also include a chip is just not true. Perhaps they would see the reality of the situation if one of their loved ones died from covid. Maybe even then it would not have an impact. They are gonna believe what they are gonna believe. It is just so sad that government leadership completely mismanaged the covid crisis. This many people did not need to die.

      1. Isn’t it silly to call those people “Covid-deniers?” Maybe they have critically thought about this and aren’t convinced by the statistics and stories thrown out by the mainstream media which has its own bias and agenda.
        There is a virus. To some degree it is being overblown to drive fear. People are likely manipulating the crisis for their own agendas.

        The real issue to me is not the pandemic, it is the response of The Church. We don’t need to be led by fear. We can grieve the deaths and the deaths from despair. Yet some of them died without the Lord.

        We can be wise. We can PRAY. God’s used this to refine us.

        As for sick loved ones, my mom tested positive. Thankfully she’s okay. What’s worse is the boredom she suffering from being stuck in a house. That’s hard on the old folks who seem to get it…being alone.

        Yet I’m not afraid. I know she will be okay. She knows the Lord and I can trust God with her and show me how to love her through the quarantine period.

        And if you are stressed about the Pandemic, then pray. Pray for Truth in #, legitimate tests, vaccines freely given, untainted by chips or aborted fetus cell lines. Pray for fear to be bound and support and provision for affected families/people. Pray that people respect each other. Pray for people to know Jesus as savior and get closer to him.

        If you want to intercede there, good.
        God uses prayer!

        Cover all those affected in any way by this virus with your Blood and Love, o Lord.

    2. CM,

      Perhaps people would give you an ear if you were not dismissive. But I do not think you are interested in a discussion.

  13. As a healthcare provider and former member of CMDA (oops- time to renew!), I don’t fully agree with the stance by the CMDA writers as described in the article here, but I do understand where they’re coming from. A large church in my community eschewed all precautions, and ended up with a bunch of ill COVID- positive people, including some health professionals I work with, who then had to take 2 weeks off of work. Which meant the rest of us who had followed precautions got exposed to COVID and then had to pick up the slack. Not good.

    I don’t think all churches need to shut down in-person services completely, but I do believe that all should enact reasonable precautions out of love. Activities such as wearing a mask and social distancing cost little to nothing, cause little to no risk for the majority of people, and just might help to keep the rate of transmission slow enough that hospitals can keep up. I wish churches would stop being negative about restrictions and get creative. Meet outside where passersby can see. Create “house churches”. See if your local hospital can use volunteers or needs supplies. Sew masks and gowns. Send cards or care packages (with approval) to hospital staff to encourage them. The gospel will not be snuffed out by a mere pandemic or a short period of restricting indoor meetings. But whether the church responds in anger or in love will leave a lasting impression on many.

    Also please be considerate of those of us on the front lines caring for COVID patients. It is an extremely stressful time, and very discouraging to hear people eschew precautions. Your choice not to take precautions may never directly affect you. But it affects me, my colleagues, and of course our patients. It means my family member who is a nurse in a hospital overrun with COVID patients must work extra shifts and gets less time at home with her children over the holidays. If (when) i get COVID, my colleague will have to work extra to cover me (and vice versa). COVID took the life of a beloved physician I worked with, and it put my healthy friend (who works in an ER) in the ICU. When patient numbers increase and health care workers and/or hospital capacity decrease (for any reason, COVID or not), care becomes suboptimal. Do folks really want to be cared for in a hospital without enough beds, staff and supplies? Of course not. I’ve experienced that and it is not pretty. I’ve heard Christians say that if they are supposed to die from COVID, they’ll just die and go to heaven. Trust me, dying from an illness is not that easy. It typically involves prolonged suffering, which many of us are not accustomed to, and people end up going to the hospital anyway. I’ve seen it. Please love the body of Christ by doing your part to help.

  14. I’d like to apologize to all for any sarcasm or negativity I exhibited in my comments to this post. Will you forgive me? It was not my intention to do that, but I realize now I may have done that.


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