The following is a post I wrote in the form of a letter to our president, Mr. Donald Trump, to work through the issues that emerged after hearing him tease the country with using Easter Sunday as a visual symbol for America’s return to a supposed normalcy.
Dear Mr. President,
I felt the need to write you at this critical juncture as we Americans come together as a nation to fight the deadly coronavirus. I was disturbed on Monday when you telegraphed your hopes that America would return to normal and that Easter services could be packed on April 12. You said that you thought “this would be a beautiful time.”
The same day that you were hinting that we were coming out the other side of this, our presbytery was informing the people of our churches in our jurisdiction to go into quarantine. We set a tone that it was time to physically, emotionally and spiritually prepare to settle in for a protracted period until further notice. Your premature hopeful tone clashed with our “batten down the hatches” tone.
I appreciate your desire to get back to normal as quickly as possible. I don’t think anyone wants to stretch this even one hour longer than necessary. But I am deeply disturbed that you have ignored all of the scientific evidence in order to use Easter services purely as an optic. It makes for great TV. It’s a “beautiful” plot line for a movie script. Movie scripts have a deep impact on people’s imaginations, but they have no impact on a fast moving, deadly virus. There is a reason that we have science and the arts. It is imperative that we don’t confuse the two right now. There are life and death consequences to the decisions that we make in this time.
I write to you as one who has been a religious professional for over thirty years. I have been a local pastor for much of that time and now serve as the executive of a region of churches in the Pacific Northwest. Easter is what we call a “high holy day” in the church. I can see that you recognize that as you imagine how beautiful it would be to have our sanctuaries once again packed with millions of Christians on this special Sunday. I admit that it would make for a tear-jerker, 60 Minutes Special that night.
But for us Easter is not just a Sunday. It is a lived reality. As one of our pastors, the Rev. Dr. David Hutchinson, posted this morning, we are “Waiting for Easter” this year and Easter will be the first Sunday we are back face to face and singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” Lent and Good Friday are just going to last a little longer than we expected.
You see, Mr. President, Easter for us is not a specific date. It’s a lived experience and a season of life. Easter will not be on April 12, Mr. President. Easter this year will be when grandparents can once again hug their grandchildren. Easter will be when we accidentally brush up against a neighbor and say, “excuse me” instead of shuddering in fear. Easter will be when it once again becomes normal to sit next to each other at high school basketball games, concerts on the grass, and in a cozy theater. Easter will be when we step aside and let the elderly woman get the last package of toilet paper on the shelf. Easter will be when our doctors and nurses don’t have worry that they might die just for doing their jobs. Easter will be when we toast each other at our favorite pub or bar.
I am disturbed, Mr. President, because your voice and your office hold incredible weight. In fact, you may have the most powerful pulpit in the whole world and billions of people depend on what you say and what decisions you make. I am disturbed because you have put me in a very awkward position. I also hold a position of authority, not nearly to the degree you do, but I have 96 churches, hundreds of pastors and nearly 14,000 members who take my recommendations seriously. Our presbytery has recommended that we hold no in-person worship until further notice. With only one notable exception, there is no medical expert or government official who is indicating that the worst is over and that we can start preparing for a beautiful Easter Sunday. Mr. President, you are that one lone voice who is not in touch with reality.
I am disturbed, Mr. President, because those of us in leadership positions have to make recommendations to our churches and their pastors in this time. They want to know, “Do we continue to worship online or should we be following the President’s lead on this and start preparing for Easter celebrations?” I am disturbed, Mr. President, because you leave me no choice. I must recommend that our churches continue to remain closed to in-person gatherings until medical experts and our own city, county and state governments lift restrictions. If I am asked why I am not taking my cues from the overly hopeful tone that you have set I will have to be honest: “I am sorry, but I do not trust our president to have the judgment to keep us safe, to be honest with us, and do what is right for our country.”
I wished it weren’t so, Mr. President. I do not relish the thought of crossing the man who is considered to be the most powerful person in the world. But there are thousands, hundreds of thousands, and potentially millions of people’s lives that are on the line, depending on the decisions that you and I make. I can live with defying you. I can’t live with the thought of thousands of people dying for a staged “beautiful Easter Sunday” made for Sunday night television.
Mr. President, I can promise you that Easter will come!
It just won’t be on April 12 this year.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades
Ah! Well put, and with no sugar coating!! Thanks!elise prayzichnewberg
Straight forward and to the point. I’m sharing to my FB page. Thank you Brian!
Well said. I hope someone reads it to him. His attention span is only the first two lines
I sign my name to this letter in 100% support of my Executive Presbyter.
Rev. Dr. Scott T. Crane, Pastor
I think you took the president’s statement to serious.he was only trying to give a little hope.of course he will listen to the professionals when the time comes.he seeks their advice every day.I cannot think of anyone that could do a better job on this situation than the president has done.other than Jesus.I ask myself why would anyone want to be president
My concern is “of course he will listen to the professionals when the time comes.” I can’t say I feel the trust in this Potus as you do.
Hi Walt, What I need is some direction from our national leaders about what is happening so that our churches can plan for Easter. If Trump is not serious he should say that: “I would love to see this happen by Easter, but everything I am hearing from my medical advisors tell me that that is not going to happen.”
Or maybe when you’re not getting the information you seek on how to advise your congegational leaders (who’s discernment abilities you don’t seem to have much confidence in) from the president’s soundbites you can, oh I don’t know, look somewhere else rather than write a self-righteous partisan scorning of the president in the guise of an open letter which I suspect you know he will never even hear about.
I agree with you. I think he meant it in a good way, with Easter being the Day our Lord and Savior arose from the grave. President Trump is a Christian and he was just saying if that could happen then why not this virus????
Thank you, Brian. Well written, courageously said. You should send copies to Oregon leaders, too.
It’s not really that courageous to criticize the president when 90% of the media and probably an even higher percentage of his fellow leaders in the PCUSA are doing the same thing. If he would apply the same righteous indignation to the democrats who have just as much, if not more, to be critical of then he would be showing some courage. That would be going against the grain. Anybody can yell into an echo chamber.
You have said what many of us are thinking. Thankyou
Meredith and Roy.
Amen to that!
Maybe you should re-direct some of that condescending righteous indignation to the so-called leaders in congress like Schumer and Pelosi as they impede much needed aide to the very people who need it the most all so they can sneak in to the stimulus bill things that have nothing to with the coronavirus like funding for windmills, Planned Parenthood, and emmissions standards. Yeah I am sure the small business owners etc in your presbytery who are losing more money everyday over this feel much better as you ignore Pelosi and Schumer’s antics as they continue to tie up the help these people need, but are lecturing the president simply for trying to be a little optimistic.
My concern is what do I tell my congregations about worship on Easter Sunday. Do I listen to the medical establishment, local and state officials, national leaders? Ideally all of them would be on the same page and make my decision easy. When they aren’t on the same page it leaves with having to decide who I trust and who I don’t.
Can the pastors and/or deacons in your presbytery not be trusted to do their own discernment? Or do they simply wait for you to tell them what to do? Or why can’t you speak to what you see as the president’s overly optimistic statement and speaker Pelosi and Rep Schumer’s blatant obstructing of much needed aide? PCUSA leaders have never hesitated to speak to politically partisan issues that have nothing to do with congregational issues so any claim to avoiding speaking against democrat foolishness because you want to focus only on issues that are church related falls flat. But hey whatever you have to tell yourself in order to justify your obvious partisanism in the guise of pastoral care.
They were the only ones fighting for relief for tbe working people,etc.
Tbey tbe dems onky ones putting some rulrs about the money not being a Golden parachute for CEO’s OF the large corporations .
It is complete nonsense to say that democrats were the only ones fighting for relief for working people.
Easter comes everyday in every born-again spirit filled believers life! He is risen and is alive in me !He must increase I must decrease all to the glory of God! Let’s pray for our president and wisdom to prevail and that we shine as light love and salt! Many are churched but are not walking as the church, oh lord Jesus cause us to repent as a nation and turn to you! To reach out in truth and stand for His love and allow the Word of God to build us up and convict us so we might be your servants!✝️❤️
Well written. My sentiments exactly. Thank you for expressing what many are thinking.
I hope you sent it! I support you as well.
Well said Brian, I too hope you sent it!
I did send it, Rod. Worth trying.
Easter will come and April 12 will this year be a reminder of the fear in which Christ’s first followers faced that first Easter morn. The tomb was empty as our sanctuaries will be. The little band who had staked their all with Jesus were confused and dismayed by the events of the week just past. They did not know what to make of the tomb. It was not til Pentecost that that found their voices and began to tell the good news they had received. The calendar this year offers us a chance for deep reflection on Easter and its implications for us.
Beautiful theological reflection on this, Paige. I will ponder this in my heart. Thank you.
This is very well written and I totally agree. I am a catholic. I don’t believe it matters how a person practices their faith. We are all blessed by the same God.
Rev. Brian Heron, I believe that your own strong personal bias colored what you heard over two days of press conferences, the language that you use and how you specifically responded. You of course might say the same of me but a bit of personal reflection might be in order on both our parts.
W. Carl, Thank you for your gentle and wise response and an invitation to be self-reflective. You are right, I do feel strongly. You also have invited me into an important part of my character–to be self-reflective. I intent to honor your suggestion. Blessings…Brian
The President was passing a long hope that we can beat this and with perseverance it will happen sooner rather than later…and with God’s blessing. He does this to provide a source of comfort that people will not lose their retirement savings, homes, savings and will go back to work. Instead of blasting the President , why not organize prayer chains across America for us as a country and for this good man that has not slept and is working tirelessly on behalf of everyone. He navigates people that have not provided him with cooperation or support. Pray Reverend. Pray that God will forgive us for our not standing together and not tending to the commandments. Pray that we learn by our mistakes. Pray for our children and our souls.
Also pray the hatred of this President will cease. Those with a pulpit , platform , should be sharing forgiveness, hope , love , helpfulness to their fellow man. Easter will still happen, wake up , sit in your yard and witness the sunrise , enjoy the meaning. Let the moment be your church…
Thank you so much for your eloquent and honest letter to the President. I am a former nurse, married to a practicing physician, an Elder in the PCUSA. Your words and concerns ring true. Thank you for your courage in writing them. I am grateful beyond words for your leadership.
Thank you, Sarah. I tend to write what is on my heart trusting that if it is on my heart it is likely on other people’s hearts as well.
I am grateful and humbled by your email.
Peace, courage and grace to you in this time…