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We have never stopped being the church

Note: Pastor Quann is one of many Pastors all over the city of Philadelphia who agreed to this letter in response to comments from the 45th President of the United States of America.

On the Pronouncement of the Essential Quality of Churches and the 45th President of the United States of America.

The nation’s 45th president on Friday declared the essential nature of churches, mosques, synagogues, and houses of worship at the outset of his White House press conference.  In his pronouncement that “governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now – for this weekend,” the president has failed again to provide wise and careful guidance to an anxious, polarized, and dangerously unprepared nation.  Instead, we call upon the president to develop and lead this nation with a coherent safety, health, and economic plan based upon both science and decency.  The nation is in sore need of a massive Marshall Plan effort that encourages Americans and fans the flames of optimism rather than stoking the ancient embers of division.

With common voice and moral clarity, we fundamentally reject this or any other president’s declarations with respect to the fate or qualities of churches.  No king, prince, president, or civil entity may command households of faith in America to either shutter or open.  None may tell us or our people what to say.  America, in its founding documents and revolution, has already cast off the shackles of kings who sought to control churches, establish state religions, and silence priests and preachers.  We counsel and encourage the president to read the writings of our nation’s founding fathers who vehemently opposed the usurpation of divine prerogatives from individuals and the establishment of religion for the purposes of the goals of princes or monarchs.  The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers all contemplated the inherent and essential dangers of presidents who felt they could command churches or states to do their personal or political bidding at their whim.  Moreover, the president should read for the first time or review again the 10th Amendment and prerogatives and powers left to states and individuals.

For the African-American community, faith in the one God of the universe has never been optional.  It has always been essential.  Our sojourn, survival and safety have depended upon the abiding presence of God.  For a community that has had its churches burned in the both the south and north, had its pastors hung and assassinated, and had its legitimacy questioned, faith in God has always been essential.  This truth is self-evident.  Indeed, “if it had not been for the Lord on our side, where would we be?”

Now more than ever, we are resolved as pastors, priests, imams, and rabbis that we will be guided by almighty God, science, reason, responsible and trusted public health officials, and the best interests of our flocks to return when, how, and why, and where we choose, and not at the prodding of mercurial presidents or  petulant princes.  Our independence and intelligence are why we have outlasted slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, redlining, gentrification, and why we will also outlast you, Mr. President.  Our God is why we will triumph over these times, COVID-19, record national debt, depression-era unemployment, and division unlike we have seen since the Civil War.

We will return to church at an appointed time of God’s making and our choosing.  Know that while we have not been at church, we have not for a second stopped worshipping and praising God.  Do not worry, the “Black church” will return to its churches, and when we do, we shall remember those who were watching and working for our best interests. Likewise, we shall absolutely remember those who worked against us at our moments of greatest need.

“We have never stopped being the church”.  In solidarity we stand.