Anchorage is hunkered down for the entire month of December, impacting a wide variety of religious observances. Christmas, Hanukkah and other observances, whether celebrated religiously or secularly, will not be the same this year, because meeting in large groups for worship services, parties, or even family gatherings presents the lethal danger of spreading the coronavirus.
How are people of faith to reconcile traditions of gathering with the commandments to protect and care for others? Community gatherings are immensely important to the life of faith, and the suggestion that they should be temporarily sacrificed should not be taken lightly.
But any religious practice must always be seen not as the end, but as a means to an end. We do not pray simply to pray, but to connect with the divine. We do not read sacred texts simply to read them, but to allow them to inform and inspire us. And we do not gather simply for the sake of gathering, we gather to nourish souls and to create communities of love and service.
It is this deeper purpose that makes the decision clear: We must not take or encourage actions that put lives at risk. In most cases this means no gatherings this holiday season. Though it may seem counterintuitive at first, it is even more absurd to imagine that our faith would have us take action that cause sickness and death, in the service of a God who is purportedly commanding us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot claim to love God if we do not love our neighbors, and we cannot claim to love our neighbors if we harm them. Gathering this year is hanging our neighbor and therefore stands in opposition to the meaning of worship, the meaning of Christmas, and the meaning of faith itself.
Some have cited the Constitution, saying that it guarantees our freedoms of religion and free assembly, and therefore we ought to be allowed to gather, despite government-imposed regulations. And perhaps this is true. But we are appealing to a higher authority and a deeper question. The question we should be asking now is not “what are we allowed to do,” but rather, “what are we supposed to do?” How can we most honor our faith by caring for others? Or, to paraphrase the words of the first question a human asks God in the Bible: Are you your brother’s keeper?
— Janice Park
on behalf of Alaska Democratic Party Faith Caucus
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