Amidst all the bad news and the rising death toll of this global pandemic, Christians are still marking Holy Week and preparing for Easter. It’s not often, however, that such aspects of faith are explored on network television, even during normal circumstances. So it was refreshing to see CBS This Morning on Monday focus on two preachers “spreading the Gospel during this pandemic.”
Correspondent James Brown spoke to Pastor Craig Altman of the Grace Family Church in Tampa, Florida. He explained the decision to close: “We realized love is really protecting people and protecting the vulnerable. That really drove our decision to say, ‘You know, we want to do our best not to injure our community in any way.’”
Reverend Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York told Brown that Easter will not be stopped by the coronavirus: “I know that God will provide. That our people will get on the internet, they'll tune in to virtual services, and even those who can't get to their churches will tune in to us.”
Pastor Altman cheered, “We're going to see a resurrection of our economy, of people's lives, and I know that God's going to get us through this.”
As people face such an uncertain time, religion seems to be penetrating even usually secular MSNBC. Last week, anchor Craig Melvin asked Pastor T.D. Jakes to pray on air:
Our Father and our God, we bow our heads to you in humility, understanding that we are not competent in and of ourselves to handle this kind of global calamity. We look to you, Lord, to be the source, the strength, the help, the light that we need, strengthen our first responders, strengthen even our broadcast people, strengthen all of us whose lives have been devastated and disrupted and give us the peace that passes all understanding. In Christ's name we pray, amen.
A transcript of the CBS segment is below. Click “expand” to read more.
CBS This Morning
8:21 AM ET
GAYLE KING: As Christians begin holy week leading up to Easter Sunday, many churchgoers are preparing to attend services virtually, not in person. A few pastors have defied government orders to stop holding gatherings of more than ten people. But most places of worship, we're happy to say, are following the rules. CBS News special correspondent James Brown spoke with two prominent preachers about spreading the Gospel during this pandemic.
REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS: So this is our congregation for today.
JAMES BROWN: For years, Reverend Calvin Butts has preached in front of thousands at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church. But for the past three weeks, preaching has been a solitary affair at this landmark sanctuary in Harlem, New York.
CALVIN BUTTS: We decided to do virtual services after we heard the projections for the number of cases that are -- were expected at that time, and now we see it's become a reality. And we were convinced that the health and safety of our congregants comes first.
BROWN: As a speaker, how is it impacting you in your virtual presentations?
BUTTS: Well, it's a little difficult. You know, I'm from that call and response tradition, we want to hear somebody say "amen" or say "talk" or something. Even when I look out into an empty sanctuary, if the spirit comes, then I can present the word of God.
BROWN: Pastor Craig Altman of Grace Family Church in Tampa, Florida, has also taken to the internet to stay connected with his 11,000-member congregation. He, too, admits he had to make an adjustment.
CRAIG ALTMAN: I'll be honest, it's very difficult when you're in an empty room with no one there. You don't have the energy you would like.
BROWN: What was the decision making process to decides to go virtual versus having in high person services?
ALTMAN: We realized love is really protecting people and protecting the vulnerable. That really drove our decision to say, “You know, we want to do our best not to injure our community in any way.”
BROWN: Pastors Butts and Altman stand in contrast to some preachers who continue to hold in person services. Florida Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for violating health emergency orders. Yesterday, Louisiana pastor Tony Spell held Palm Sunday services despite being charged with six misdemeanors last week.
ALTMAN: Of course we want to believe that God can protect us. I think there's a balance between due diligence and concern.
BROWN: Reverent Butts says, at first, even he had to be convinced.
BUTTS: I wanted to say you can't stop us from worshipping, but someone had to really sit down and say, “Look, Calvin Butts, this is a serious matter.” Good religion goes best with some common sense.
BROWN: Pastor Altman says moving to online services during the coronavirus pandemic may prove to be a blessing in disguise.
ALTMAN: Now with the strictly online service we're hitting 45,000 households every weekend. So, we've seen a big expansion of growth.
BROWN: 45,000 online viewers, Pastor Craig?
ALTMAN: Yes. It's pretty amazing.
BROWN: As these two prominent preachers begin the most important week on the Christian calendar, both have a message of hope.
BUTTS: I know that God will provide. That our people will get on the internet, they'll tune in to virtual services, and even those who can't get to their churches will tune in to us.
ALTMAN: We're going to see a resurrection of our economy, of people's lives, and I know that God's going to get us through this.
KING: Boy, I can't wait for that. James Brown joins us from his home in Maryland. James, in a news conference on Saturday, President Trump mentioned that he's thinking about maybe allowing churches to meet in person on Easter. And listen, I think people need church, they want church at this time. But that seems to be a bit confusing. Even though we love a good call and response. What are your thoughts on that?
BROWN: Gayle, I'm sure you know, as well, that leadership is best delivered when they're in unison. There's a coherent message as opposed to one that could be confusing. I think the pastors we interviewed show they're trying to find that best balance. And I think Pastor Butts said it best, that religion is best served with common sense.