(STATEWIDE) - Concerned about the lack of an effective statewide response to COVID-19, Wisconsin religious leaders sent a letter today calling on the state legislature to work across political divisions to protect the people of Wisconsin.
The letter was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and signed by members of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, including 34 bishops, executive leaders, and pastors from Lutheran, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal, Orthodox and other Christian traditions.
“We write to you with grave concerns for the health and well-being of the residents of our state, and appeal to you to take immediate action,” the letter begins.
“Over time, we have watched caution and prudent decision-making informed by medical science and love for neighbor be overridden by politicization, pressure, and problematic behavior around the state,” it continues.
Noting the recent alarming increase in COVID-19 cases, the religious leaders say that “the lack of a coordinated statewide response to COVID has left clergy and churches in an untenable position.”
After statewide emergency orders were struck down in
Legislature v Palm, some local jurisdictions issued their own safer-at-home instructions and other emergency orders. Many of these have been rescinded over fear of litigation, while others are being challenged in court. Under these conditions, public health experts are not in a position to issue clear guidance. This results in confusion, distributes the negative tone of political disagreements far beyond their origin, and compromises the fabric of Wisconsin’s communities.
Pastors regularly hear of individuals who choose to wear masks and avoid large gatherings being screamed at, mocked, and threatened. Ministers have had to become experts in public health when medical information is constantly being updated. Clergy are under intense pressure to reopen church buildings, even when the infrastructure does not exist to do so safely.
“An ongoing pandemic requires a more significant response than individual choice, businesses choosing their own policies, or mobilizing local health departments,” the leaders insist. “We need a stronger solution in place to control COVID-19 than what we have had available to us since late May,” when the court overturned Governor Evers’ Safer at Home order.
Since the legislature has rejected the governor’s effort to deal with the pandemic, the letter states, “you have a clear moral imperative to act within the Legislative Branch to prevent further illness and death among Wisconsinites.”
The religious leaders ask the legislature to swiftly take several specific actions, including: Enabling the Department of Health Services to respond quickly to emerging public health needs; allowing statewide guidelines for business operations, including the possibility of a “Stay at Home” order and local requirements that are more stringent; providing economic relief; mandating affordable medical treatment; and ensuring safe elections.
The letter concludes by calling on the Legislature to overcome partisan and other divisions in order to fulfill its policymaking role: “We pray that you will examine your conscience and find a course of action which will allow you to work across political and other differences to meet these critical needs.”
Signing the letter were the Rev. Kerri Parker, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the Wisconsin Council of Churches Board of Directors, and the following signers:
Rev. Jane B. Anderson, Associate Conference Minister, Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ
Rev. Jim Arends, Bishop, La Crosse Area Synod - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Rev. Dr. Christian D. Boyd, Stated Clerk of Milwaukee Presbytery
Rev. Lorraine Ceniceros, Associate Conference Minister, Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ
Rev. Adam Clausen, Senior Leader, Life Center Madison
Rev. Sue D’Alessio, Director of Connectional Ministries, Wisconsin Conference, The United Methodist Church
Rev. Dr. Teresa Dulyea-Parker, Regional Minister & President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in IL/WI
Bishop Paul D. Erickson, Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Rev. Katherine Finegan, Bishop of the Northern Great Lakes Synod ELCA
David Groenewold, Lay Member, Greater Milwaukee Synod ELCA
Judy Jaggard, Presbytery Moderator of Milwaukee Presbytery
Rev. Michelle Henrichs, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Rev. Dr. D. Jonathan Grieser, Grace Episcopal Church, Madison WI
The Right Reverend Matthew A. Gunter, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac
Lisa Hart, Associate Conference Minister for Faith Formation and Justice Ministries, Wisconsin Conference UCC
Fr. Yeprem Kelegian, Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern)
The Reverend Joy L. Gallmon, DEd.Min, Pastor of St. Mark AME Church, Milwaukee, WI
Rev. Dr. Hee-Soo Jung, Bishop of The Wisconsin Conference, The United Methodist Church
The Right Reverend William Jay Lambert, III, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire
Rev. Dr. Rob MacDougall, Associate Conference Minister, Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ
Jeanne Mantsch, member of First Congregational Church UCC Port Washington
The Very Rev. Archimandrite Christodoulos Margellos, Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Madison Wisconsin
The Rev. Staci Marrese-Wheeler, Moravian Church, Northern Province
Rev. Gerald L Mansholt, Bishop, East Central Synod of Wisconsin, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Rev. Sarah Moore-Nokes, General Presbyter, Winnebago Presbytery
The Rt. Rev. Steven Andrew Miller, Bishop, The Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee
Pastor Bruce J. Nelson, President of the Western District Executive Board, Moravian Church Northern Province
Rev. Franz Rigert, Conference Minister, Wisconsin Conference, United Church of Christ
Rev. Peter Rogness, Bishop, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Rev. Chaz Ruark, Executive Presbyter of John Knox Presbytery, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rev. Valerie Showalter, Madison Mennonite Church
Rev. Dr. Laurie Skow-Anderson, Bishop of the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin ELCA
Rachel Yates, Presbytery Executive of Milwaukee Presbytery
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The Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC) is a network of Christian churches and faith-based organizations committed to working together across our many differences. Exercising holy imagination, we help one another make courageous choices that lead toward peacemaking, social and economic justice for Wisconsin’s most vulnerable residents, the vitality of the church, and the well-being of our neighbors. The Council connects 20 Christian traditions, which have within them approximately 2,000 congregations and over one million church members. Together, the members of the Council pray and work together for the unity and renewal of the church and the healing and reconciliation of the world.