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Pray congregation will quit holding services

Bishop Stanley Searcy, pastor of New Hope the Vision Center Missionary Baptist Church, held a Palm Sunday church service complete with communion and passing of the collection plate despite a statewide shelter-in-place order issued by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves.

Reeves’ order went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19 and specifically bans gatherings of more than 10 people, including at church services.

Searcy streamed his sermon live on Facebook as he threw out Bible verse after Bible verse to support his topic that the governor cannot tell him not to hold a church service.

Searcy mocked stay-at-home orders and questioned the faith of pastors and members of numerous other churches that are holding drive-in services and online only services in compliance with the federal, state and local orders.

Then Searcy offered a prayer asking God to build a hedge to protect Southwest Mississippi from getting the new coronavirus. Searcy also offered up a prayer for leaders, including Reeves and unnamed local leaders, even as his church service and sermon questioned their authority.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten admitted that as a man of faith he was struggling with enforcing an order for churches not to meet but said he would uphold his oath to enforce the law. Patten, who tested positive for COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago, also is a member of Searcy’s church and said he would talk to Searcy this week to try to reach a compromise.

Our nation’s Constitution grants us freedom of religion and the freedom to gather and to worship as we please.

As with most of our freedoms, however, they can be limited when they pose a danger to the overall welfare of the community, which is the reason for the shelter-in-place orders during COVID-19.

With the shelter-in-place orders, however, no one is saying you cannot worship, much less gather, but the specific type of gathering Searcy held Sunday — with 10 or more people in the facility — is the very kind of meeting Reeves’ order forbids.

Other churches are complying with shelter-in-place orders by holding drive-in services, which Searcy mocked in his sermon, and others are streaming services online, as Searcy clearly has the ability to do.

Searcy seems to have put himself not only above the law but also above the health and safety of his neighbors by defying the governor’s orders and mocking law-abiding people who are obeying the orders.

COVID-19 can incubate in a person for days, if not weeks, before any symptoms are apparent in that person. Meanwhile, that infected person can be spreading the virus to others, especially to the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

One person at a gathering such as the one Searcy held Sunday can get exposed to the virus and go back into the community and give that virus to untold numbers of people outside of that church before that person ever exhibits any symptoms. The governor’s order is only temporary. Once the pandemic subsides, people can go back to holding regular worship services, concerts, pool tournaments or whatever.

In the meantime, I pray that Searcy and his church members will not only remain healthy but also realize the danger, not only to themselves but also to our overall community, of holding regular church services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or scott.hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com.

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