Philadelphia Pastor Warns Congregation Trump's Push for Churches to Reopen Is 'Political Pandering'

A Philadelphia pastor has warned his congregation that President Donald Trump's order for churches to be allowed to reopen immediately is "political pandering," and that science still suggests it's not safe to gather in large crowds.

Trump on Friday pushed for the reopening of churches across America that have been closed amid the pandemic to stop people gathering and worsening the coronavirus outbreak. "Allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now for this weekend. If they don't do it, I will override the governors," the president said at the White House. "In America we need more prayer, not less."

Senior pastor Alyn Waller, of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, home to one of the city's largest African American congregations, told his 31,000 Facebook followers in a video on Saturday that Trump's move is "political pandering to the right, extreme right-wing, to make a point for their votes."

We have never stopped being the church. #yourvotematters #enontab

Posted by Rev Dr Alyn E Waller, Senior Pastor on Friday, May 22, 2020

Waller maintained that while the church is "essential," it is more than just a Sunday morning in-person service. "If your church was closed because you could not worship in a sanctuary, then you weren't being the church," he said.

The pastor also informed his congregation that he will continue to hold services through Zoom and Facebook Live until health authorities deem it safe to gather in large groups. "The truth of the matter is the science still suggests that it is not safe to gather in large crowds," Waller said.

In a statement to Newsweek, a White House spokesperson said the the right to worship without government interference is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. "The Trump Administration will always protect that right and continue to partner with states to ensure congregations are properly protected as restrictions are responsibly eased," the spokesperson added.

Waller was not the only faith leader to have pushed back against the president's order this weekend. Reverend Jesse Jackson and about a dozen other Chicago faith leaders called for churches in the state of Illinois to remain closed. During a webinar, they said in-person services should resume when medical experts say it's safe--not when Trump demands it.

"People are dying," Jackson reportedly said during a webinar. "We're inclined to follow these doctors advice."

America's battle over in-person church services is the latest public opinion divide amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Following Trump's remarks, many churches across America did open their doors this weekend, some flouting state lockdown rules. Religious proponents of reopening argue that if marijuana is considered "essential" in some areas, so should religious gatherings.

U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the briefing room after he made a statement at the White House on May 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty