When I was younger, my parents would often say to me, “Mitch, it’s time for a come-to-Jesus meeting.”

When they conveyed that sentiment, they communicated a reality that we needed to be honest about the issue of that particular moment.

When it comes to the novel coronavirus (the COVID-19 virus), the church needs a come-to-Jesus meeting.

Canceling worship services, gatherings and conferences might seem dire, but the church must face the reality of the possible consequences of ignoring warnings from scientists.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced this week that COVID-19 is now categorized as a pandemic.

The director said, “In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.”

NPR reported that WHO is “deeply concerned, both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction” by world leaders in response to the outbreak.

At the time of this publication, government and private industries enacted the following actions: flight restrictions from foreign countries, restricted gatherings of 250-plus people, NBA suspends season, NCAA will play tournament without crowds, music concerts have been canceled, Episcopal churches in Washington, D.C., have canceled services, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina canceled their annual gathering, and colleges are moving to online classes.

In addition, EthicsDaily has been in Washington, D.C., this week attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Advocacy in Action conference.

Meeting with legislators and staffers, one truth is certain: The federal government is extremely concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the restrictions and actions across the board, the church needs to take this crisis seriously. Let me offer the following suggestions for churches and people of faith attempting to address this crisis:

First, please pray regularly.

Pray for healing of the inflicted. Pray for protection of the vulnerable. Pray for the doctors, nurses and scientists on the front line combating the virus.

Pray for leaders to make the right decisions to prevent the spread of the virus. Pray for those workers who will lose income because of work stoppage.

Second, practice thorough and regular hygiene.

Wash your hands regularly. Do not touch other people. Don’t touch your face.

Maintain a safe distance from others. If possible, work from home and limit travel.

The only way the virus will slow down will be if good people make good decisions for a period of time.

Third, as U.S. citizens, we need to encourage our federal, state and local governments to enact safe and sensible policies to reduce the impact of this virus.

We need to work together to make certain the death toll remains low. COVID-19 does not care whom you vote for in an election. It will infect you, regardless of whether an “R” or “D” is by your name.

Finally, churches, synagogues and mosques need to consider seriously canceling worship services for the next two weeks, at least.

The vulnerability of elderly members (boomers, that means you!) is a stark reality. Jesus would not want any member to get sick with this virus and potentially die for the simple purpose of one or two meetings.

This is not an issue of, “We’d rather be safe than sorry.” This is about life and death.

Worshippers, your church is very worried about your health, but they are also worried about losing income from suspending services for two weeks.

Please let your pastors, rabbis and imams know you will continue to send your tithes and offerings. Please let your clergy know that no gathering is worth the potential of inflicting a member with this virus.

It’s absolutely acceptable and responsible to suspend services for a week or two.

We are already hearing from churches, synagogues and mosques around the world that are putting teams together to address this crisis.

Crisis teams are a good start, but clergy and leaders need to know it’s acceptable to suspend services.

In other words, they need to hear this serious message from their congregants, the people they love and respect.

Churches who already have online streaming of their services can broadcast their weekly sermons for members through these venues, while congregations that don’t could look to social media platforms like Facebook that offer live streaming options.

People of faith, it’s time for a come-to-Jesus meeting.

The scientists and physicians are telling us COVID-19 is deadly seriously. We need to pray, lean on our faith and act responsibly.

Let’s be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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