The Washington Post is reporting that The Church of God in Christ, which is the largest African American Pentecostal denomination, is taking a particularly tragic beating from COVID-19. According to the paper’s reporting, at least a dozen and as many as 30 bishops and prominent clergy have succumbed to the disease.
Michigan, New York and Mississippi have all been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and all feature a prominent concentration of Church of God in Christ churches. Leaders like famed Detroit preacher Phillip A. Brooks, Mississippi Bishop Timothy Scott, and Michigan’s Bishop Robert E. Smith Sr. and Bishop Robert L. Harris have all passed away after reportedly contracting the virus.
Several recent denominational conferences were tied to coronavirus outbreaks, including the Historical Louisiana First Jurisdiction meeting in Shreveport, Louisiana. and the Kansas East Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Ministers and Workers Conference in Kansas City, Kansas.
In addition to those meetings, data suggests that systemic inequalities in the American healthcare systems is rendering black Americans particularly vulnerable to severe and lethal cases of COVID-19.
“This is a moment of real crisis for them,” Anthea Butler, a University of Pennsylvania religious studies scholar, told the Post. “It will upend the axis of leadership in a way they may need to think about, including how do we put in younger people.”
“This will change the ecosystem of black church life. It’s showing the inequities of health disparities and economic disparities in the black community,” Butler continued.
On Thursday, presiding bishop of the denomination, Charles E. Blake Sr. released a video imploring churches to stop meeting, saying “I’d like to take this opportunity to unequivocally state that all Church of God in Christ local, district, state and international gatherings should absolutely cease.”
The Church of God in Christ has more than 6 million members across the U.S.