MADISONVILLE, Ky. (KT) – A Kentucky Baptist pastor says Gov. Andy Beshear isn’t telling the whole story about a church in Hopkins County that has been blamed for spreading the coronavirus, and it is giving the entire region a stigma.
Kevin Maples, the pastor of First Baptist Church Madisonville, said the government singling out churches clearly violates the Constitutional rights of separation of church and state.
Beshear has made multiple references during his daily briefings to the revival at the Hopkins County church, which Maples didn’t identify by name but did say wasn’t Southern Baptist. The governor has said, “from one revival in Hopkins County we’ve seen 54 cases and six deaths.”
Maples said while those numbers may be true, the church’s revival service was March 15 before there were any mandates from the state or before the Center for Disease Control recommended groups of 10 or more not gather.
The following day, after Gov. Beshear closed restaurants and bars, the church canceled the remainder of the revival services, he said.
“As he tells the story, he leaves out key details, such as time frame,” Maples said. “He left people to assume the church was meeting last week after everybody else had closed. On that Wednesday before (March 15), the governor recommended that churches not meet. That was the first action out of his mouth. Nobody I know took him seriously because he hadn’t closed any businesses.”
He said the church in question shut down the revival, “going above and beyond any executive order,” the day Beshear did close restaurants and bars. “They really should be commended for that,” Maples said. “None of us are disease experts. Give people some credit for trying to do in good faith the best thing they could do in the moment.”
Maples said Beshear implied it was more dangerous to go to church even when the malls, theaters and gyms remained open.
“I’m not going to claim to know his motives – he may have had very good motives – but I think he needs to be more respectful of churches.”
Beshear mentioned the Hopkins County revival on April 9, four days before Easter and more than three weeks after it happened, as an example of what can happen with mass gatherings. He reported then of the 54 confirmed cases and six deaths linked to the revival.
The Hopkins County Health Department said the revival service spurned cases in Warren, Muhlenberg, and Clark counties. A nursing home in Hopkins County was also tied to the services, the health department said.
Beshear cited it as an example of how easily the coronavirus can spread in a community or even multiple communities, as he tried to convince churchgoers to stay home on Easter.
Maples said the constant reminders from Gov. Beshear of the Hopkins County church’s revival has bled over to the rest of the Madisonville community, even though churches throughout the region were complying with guidelines and having online services only.
Madisonville has been a particularly hard-hit community with the coronavirus, but Maples said many cases have come from GE, which is an essential business because it builds military aircraft parts.
“What people say in response to that is someone who attended the revival went to GE and spread it,” he said. “I’ve not heard anybody in leadership blame GE for the spread of the virus and I’m not saying they’re at fault. But there’s some faulty logic here. No one asks who brought it to the church? If you’re going to track back to where everybody got it, you have to look back further than the church.”
Maples has compassion for the church and its members who are grieving while having to endure negative publicity heaped on them by the governor on multiple occasions.
“Nobody in that church wanted to make anybody sick or have them pass away,” he said. “I wonder if he has thought about how people who attend that church or live in the community feel about the attention drawn upon them?”
Maples said churches in Madisonville have followed the CDC and state guidelines since the executive orders were handed down.
“We live in a democratic government with a Constitution,” he said. “We don’t have the freedom to do anything we want to do. We still have to follow the law. I don’t think any church needs to be meeting. That’s not the issue. Everybody in our region believes that. I told some in our area if anybody is meeting in-person, I will be glad to call them and try to reason with them.”
On a social media post, Maples said this: “No one in Hopkins County wanted to get this virus or spread it, let alone die from it. The governor needs to stop blaming them for it.”