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Scott Dalgarno: Don’t reopen Utah based on wishful thinking

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) The angel Moroni statue, silhouetted against the sky, sits atop the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Jan. 3, 2018.

Churches are reopening in Utah. Should this be reason for rejoicing? For praise?

I am writing this on VE day — the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe in World War II. Sadly, the parades and commemorations scheduled for that day will not be held.

The victory makes me remember the evacuation of British troops from the beaches of Dunkirk and the jubilation of the British when the boys were rescued. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was rightly aghast at such premature celebration.

“We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory,” he said. “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

It seems to me that many Utahns are similarly declaring victory and reopening their churches prematurely. Has it not been noticed that deaths are still happening? More telling than that, the number of new cases are rising daily by 2.7%.

As a pastor of a Salt Lake congregation, I am underwhelmed by the judgment of our state leaders. I applauded their quick action to do what could be done initially to flatten the curve. Now they seem all too willing to toss away their wisdom. Based on what? Wishful thinking?

The non-religious accuse those of us in church communities of the same thing — wishful thinking. Fair enough. It’s true, I can no more prove the existence of a loving God than any of our detractors can prove there is none. Let me hasten to add, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

But, come on. Let’s be reasonable. Why are our leaders so happy to surrender the obvious good the shelter-in-place orders have done?

Estimates of national carnage due to this virus have already boomed from an estimated 60,000 to 134,000; more than twice as many. Would they be fine with 200,000? If this means they will lose two friends or family members, which two are they willing to part with, I wonder? And for what? A second wave of infection will bring with it a second wave of job losses and a worse economic future.

When I try to imagine what worship in our churches will look like if we were to reopen now, it frankly depresses me. I would imagine tiny numbers, no older people, no choirs. Singing might happen, but it won’t be safe. Passing of the peace will be done with a wave. We can do much better online.

We at Wasatch Presbyterian have intentionally prolonged the season of Lent. Those who view our recorded video worship services on-Iine can see that I am still wearing a purple liturgical stole. We are doing this because we are looking forward with all our hearts to an Easter worthy of the one who we believe was raised from the dead. I imagine that the delayed Easter we eventually will celebrate will be more meaningful than any we have ever celebrated in our lifetimes.

The leaders of our church and of a good number of other mainline churches in our state feel the same, I know, and none of us are willing to sacrifice any of our beloved church family members on the altar of mere wishful thinking.

Scott Dalgarno

Scott Dalgarno is lead pastor at Wasatch Presbyterian Church in Sugar House.

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