A group of nearly 50 local religious leaders criticized state Sen. Douglas Mastriano in an open letter this week, saying he twists the meaning of Bible scriptures to support his opposition to restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We, the undersigned Lutheran pastors, deacons, and theologians serving in Adams and Franklin counties are deeply concerned about recent declarations by State Senator Doug Mastriano,” begins the letter, which was first published Wednesday as a full-page ad in the Gettysburg Times. “He is blatantly critical of local church leaders whose congregations prioritize communal health and well-being over ‘individual freedom.'”
Mastriano, a Republican whose district includes Adams County and parts of Franklin, Cumberland and York counties, told the Public Opinion through a spokesperson on Friday that the contents of the letter are misleading and that the governor’s coronavirus restrictions have caused confusion for many people.
Since the start of the pandemic, Mastriano has been outspoken about his view that face masks and other health and safety recommendations infringe on people’s rights. He’s frequently shared videos on his Facebook page to promote his views directly to constituents (he noted in his statement that he usually deletes videos so information is up to date).
Story continues below the embedded letter.
The clergy called out these “fireside chat” videos and a specific interview with Mastriano on Youtube, saying the senator called churches that abide by the advice of medical professionals and government officials to avoid large gatherings “uncourageous.” They added that a scripture he used to support his view that wearing face masks should be a personal choice actually promotes taking actions that benefit the well-being of all.
“The senator’s interpretations of scripture and (Martin) Luther’s actions in the Protestant Reformation are taken out of context to serve his political agenda,” the letter reads. “In short, they are inaccurate, and it is unfortunate that one who bears responsibility for over 270,000 citizens in our area displays such disregard for honest and accurate dialogue about a life and death matter for those he has sworn to serve.”
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The letter goes on to provide what the clergy believe are other examples of Mastriano custom-fitting scripture to his own agenda. They specifically allege the senator has encouraged his constituents to go “church shopping and hopping” if their church’s leaders host virtual services.
In his statement, Mastriano said much misinformation about the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions has been floating around. For some people, it has not been clear that churches are exempt from the requirement that indoor gatherings be limited to 25 people. Whether churches can convene is among many questions Mastriano said his office receives every day.
In response to the letter’s “church hopping” allegation, Mastriano said he “simply” meant that if people want to attend church but theirs is not open, they could consider going to another that is hosting “in-person services.”
Mastriano said he would prefer the clergy behind the letter instead address a number of other state issues and legislation, from abortion to funding for emergency responders.
“The fact of the matter is not one of those who signed the letter made any effort to discuss their concerns with the Senator,” said Mastriano’s spokesperson. “These misguided clergy members used their religious positions, and non-profit status, to launch a political attack against a Senator in contravention to both Matthew 5 and Romans 13. Therefore, their malicious attack can be discounted as not sincere or viable.”
Mastriano won a special election just over a year ago for the 33rd District Senate seat. He is likely to win re-election to the seat in the heavily-Republican district this November.
Read Mastriano’s statement below:
Unfortunately, as a result of the unclear edicts imposed by the Wolf administration, there has been ample misinformation about churches.
The administration has done very little to address the confusion, and transparency has reached an all-time low.
During a recent press conference, state officials admitted that churches are not subject to the unenforceable 25-person requirement instituted by the Governor.
(It is important to note that the Governor himself has publicly defied this group-gathering edict).
As you can imagine, our office receives hundreds of inquiries every day about the flawed rules being imposed by the administration.
These inquiries include, but are not limited to, whether church congregations can gather, whether business can open, whether families can convene to celebrate holidays, whether masks are a state law, why unemployed residents have waited four months without unemployment compensation, and whether people can have a glass of wine before or after their meal, etc.
Specifically, regarding churches, many denominations and congregations have developed unique ways to hold services…despite the Governor’s order not applying to their groups.
Many congregations have met outside or conducted online worship, and many churches have resumed Sunday services, albeit with limited social distancing capacity.
Senator Mastriano has simply pointed out that, if Pennsylvanians want to attend church, in person…and their church is not open…then they may want to consider attending another church that is conducting in-person services.
You asked about the ad in the Gettysburg Times. It was disappointing to see a group of clergy members react so negatively to the Senator’s daily Fireside Facebook chats.
First, the Senator appreciates that they are watching his daily videos. These daily briefings were launched when the flawed Emergency Declaration was implemented in mid-March, as a way of enhancing transparency, and providing constituents with the most current and accurate data on Harrisburg’s response to COVID.
As a reminder, the Governor has not consulted with or engaged in dialogue with the General Assembly throughout the course of the Emergency Declaration.
Also, the Governor is fighting a subpoena in court, which would show the criteria utilized (if any) to shut down what he deemed as “non-life sustaining businesses.”
Senator Mastriano believes transparency is necessary now, more than ever.
We would challenge those misguided members of the clergy to find any lawmaker…in any state…as transparent as Senator Mastriano.
Second, we would rather see those pastors unite to address important state issues and legislation: such as saving unborn babies; lobbying against using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions; advocating on behalf of religious groups participating in adoption services (the Wolf administration opposes this concept); vocally supporting the jobless state residents that have not received their state-authorized unemployment benefits…many have been waiting four months; addressing the Governor’s lack of transparency; properly funding our police officers and fire departments; providing food, clothing and shelter to the poor that have been adversely impacted during the COVID-19 crisis; speaking on behalf of congregation members that cannot afford the state’s skyrocketing property taxes; and taking a stand against government overreach, which impacts the everyday rights of Pennsylvanians.
Sadly, the misinformed clergy members that penned the misleading ad have been silent on those important issues.
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus directs his disciples to personally address any offenses with a fellow believer in private if there is a concern.
The fact of the matter is not one of those who signed the letter made any effort to discuss their concerns with the Senator.
These misguided clergy members used their religious positions, and non-profit status, to launch a political attack against a Senator in contravention to both Matthew 5 and Romans 13. Therefore, their malicious attack can be discounted as not sincere or viable.
Amber South can be reached at email@example.com.