Whether churches, mosques and other religious houses should be reopened for worship is a sensitive topic that sparks off debate ever since the beginning of the lockdown. This is made more sensitive because Nigerians are too religious. It is then left to ask if churches, mosques, temples and other religious houses should be left closed until the country is considered safe enough for the citizens to attend large gatherings.
Speaking of large gatherings reminds one of the arguments tabled by Bishop David Oyedepo of Living Faith Church Worldwide, aka Winners Chapel International. Bishop Oyedepo accused the government of a malicious attitude towards churches. He said that it is suspicious for the government to reopen markets and allow hospitals to work while churches are closed down. He also claimed that churches are healing places, which provides better positive results than hospitals.
Whatever arguments Bishop Oyedepo’s statement may draw out, it will be good if we look at it critically. But then, this article is not to critique his statement and opinions, but to bring to light the pros and cons of reopening churches. However, it will be good if Bishop Oyedepo understands that the government did not only ban churches from gathering; mosques are also affected.
Pros of Reopening Religious Worshipping Houses
Though people are afraid of the spread of COVID-19 that may result from large gatherings, such as the ones seen in religious worships, it will be good to know the benefits of those gatherings to the people. Apart from offering opportunities for people to gather, pray, and receive miracles, these houses give rooms for:
- Mental, Emotional and Psychological Wellbeing
A woman said at the beginning of the lockdown that she needed to go to church more during this period than in any other time. From what I gathered, she was afraid of her life and that of her family, especially as she listened to all the fake news and information about COVID-19 that were circulated through the internet. She believed the virus is a sign of “end-time” and so the one place she will want to be when “rapture” comes is in the church. But alas, the church’s door was closed to her.
The truth is that religious gatherings, preaching and other activities that take place in these houses give their worshippers hope. A lot of people attend churches to find succour. Some go there because they hoped to get help, and I am not talking about material help here. So like Bishop Oyedepo said, worshipping together also heals. And right now, Nigerians need to heal; not from COVID-19 but from its devastating emotional, mental and psychological effects.
People have already developed the habit of attending religious services on a weekly or daily basis. This habit has been a life-long one for many people. They already have it in their routine that on this day of the week, they have to dress up, go to this house, stay with other worshippers and pray together. This normal routine changed since April 1, 2020 and it has thrown a lot of people into confusion. They felt incomplete because they stayed at home on the days they were to go out, doing almost nothing. Reopening worshipping houses will, therefore, help in returning stability and normalcy to the lives of many Nigerians. They will no longer feel as if they are in a period of war.
- Sharing Palliatives
The best way to reach out to the needy in a society is through religious houses. They always know members and non-members that come to them for financial help (at least churches do that). This could explain why Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra State and PDP Vice Presidential candidate, decided to donate his COVID-19 palliatives through religious organisations and hospitals. He already knew that these people will not keep to themselves what is meant for the needy. Keeping these houses open will also encourage members that wish to help the poor to do so. Government can also consider sharing the 20k palliatives through these organisations instead of using the controversial ways they do so now.
Cons of Reopening Religious Houses
There are reasons why these houses should not be reopened, until religious leaders provide a guarantee that they will do whatever they can to ensure that their parishioners are not endangered. Apart from the insinuation of many Nigerians concerning the reasons behind the demands for reopening of religious houses, here are major problems I foresee:
- Social Distancing Issue
Someone said churches can actually ensure social distancing by demanding that a fewer number of people sit in a pew. This might sound wonderful but it can only work in churches with large buildings or few parishioners. This problem also applies to mosques that are usually overcrowded.
- Time and Duration
Some religious organisations are in positions to choose the time of service suitable to them. This means they can decide to fix as many services as possible in order to observe the social distancing guide. However, Islam does not give its faithful that right to choose. This means that mosques will always remain crowded because all the Muslims around must gather at a particular time to pray. This poses a problem because it will discourage social distancing.
Another thing worth noting here is the duration of service. It is not that staying a few minutes or a few hours around a COVID-19 carrier makes a difference, but the shorter the stay the better. However, most religious services last more than 3 hours and the faithful are expected not to complain. It is then left for these organisations to make necessary adjustments to their services and then see what next to do.
- Faster Spread of COVID-19
A doctor once explained on Twitter that it is easier for COVID-19 to spread in an enclosed place than in an open space. This, as he explained, is because in an open space, there is a possibility that the wind will blow the virus away and scatter it in minute quantities so that it might not have contact with all the people around. But in an enclosed place, if a positive person sneezes or speaks, the virus is not sparing anybody around him/her. If the fan is blowing, the virus will spread even to a wider radius. The doctor claims that this is why people that attended board meetings with positive patients are easily infected. This is the major problem religious houses will face. This alone makes it very risky for these houses to be reopened.
Most of us need the succour and stability provided by worshipping and praying together. We know it will be good for us to go back to our normal lives. But then, considering that it is unsafe out there makes one wonder if religious houses should be reopened or not. It is, however, left for these religious leaders to convince the government that they can manage situations if given the opportunity.