NYT tripped up trying to make churches the 'bad guys' on COVID

Thursday, July 16, 2020
 | 
Michael F. Haverluck (OneNewsNow.com)

New York Times building

Church leaders contend that an attempt by The New York Times to prove churches are a main contributor to the spread of COVID-19 backfired – and proved the opposite.

"[M]ore than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, [with] many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities, according to a New York Times database," said the NYT article.

Arguing one thing, proving another …

The statistics brought to light by the Times means that a miniscule fraction of 1% of COVID-19 cases in America were contracted during church.

"There are now 3 million people infected in the United States, [and] there were 60,000 cases each of the past two days in America," Wheaton College Billy Graham Center executive director Ed Stetzer wrote in his Christianity Today blog. "That's almost 100 times the 650 cases that the New York Times reports in churches – and that is since the beginning of the pandemic."

The infinitesimal number was further extrapolated by the public relations director of the Archdiocese of Denver, Mark Haas.

"This NY Times story is a joke. 650 cases = 'major source' of cases," Haas tweeted. "There are 3.1 million cases in the U.S. So that's 0.02%. The U.S. recently saw 60,000 new cases in a day, so the Church-related cases – over months – would only equal 1% of a single day."

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Dean Hershael York agreed.

"How many thousands of churches are meeting now? And the @nytimes finds 650 cases linked to only 40 religious institutions ... and that is a 'major source?'" York asked his Twitter followers. "Let's put the stats in context, folks! Why this relentless obsession with churches?"

Churches winning the battle vs. COVID

Since the coronavirus' inception, Stetzer has taken it seriously and is yet to reopen his church for in-service meetings, so he was confused by the article's confusing message.

"[A]fter reading it twice, I can say that this article seems to tell a different story than its title," Stetzer surmised before summing up the main gist of the story. "Churches have overwhelmingly been partners with health authorities and have carefully taken each small step."

And church leaders whose congregations have opened up to in-person services maintain that they have been adamant about adhering to safety guidelines.

"Our churches have followed protocols – masks, go in one door and out the other, social distancing," Cynthia Fierro Harvey – who serves the United Methodist Church in Louisiana as a bishop – told NYT.

Misrepresenting the norm

However, Stetzer stressed how the Times played down the fact that a significant proportion of cases linked to churches were recently reported from an exceptional few that strayed from the norm by not mandating masks or practicing social distancing procedures.

"A church in Oregon that did not social distance was linked to 200-plus cases," Christianheadlines.com noted from a Fox News report. "The pastor of a San Antonio church linked to more than 50 cases said he became too lax and that the church stopped social distancing."

Unlike the overwhelming majority of pastors in the United States, the Texas pastor failed to keep his congregants' physical safety as a top priority upon their return.

"People were lonely," he explained to KENS5.com. "They were out of fellowship for all the weeks we were gone, so I said, 'If you want to hug, it's okay to do it.'"

With these two incidents being far from the norm, Stetzer condemned the Times for attempting to fan the flames of its anti-church narrative with statistics that contradict its unwarranted – and unsubstantiated – claim.

"[M]aking churches out to be the problem does not come from the data," Stetzer concluded "Will there be an outbreak at a church that follows the rules? Yes, there will be. Just like there will be at colleges that meet this fall, and at Amazon warehouses, big box stores, and at workplaces.

"This disease is insidious and spreads easily," he added, "[and] that's why we need to continue to be careful. However, articles like this create a false narrative concerning churches and places of worship – causing people [to believe] that their reporting on religion can't be trusted … and it enflames rather than informs."

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