Christian, Jewish, Muslim leaders join together in call to stop politicizing steps to slow coronavirus spread

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Thursday, April 2, 2020
Duke faith leaders join forces to support social distancing
Faith leaders at Duke University came together Thursday to talk about social distancing and religious gatherings.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Faith leaders at Duke University came together Thursday to talk about how believers can continue to grow together in their religion despite not being able to gather at places of worship.

Leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups at Duke University all echoed that the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging religious traditions.

Duke Divinity School Dean Greg Jones said it was important for all religions to stop politicizing faith. He said it was important to stop framing social gathering restrictions as a first amendment right or political power struggle.

"Plenty of evidence of when there have been gatherings, they have produced significant outbreaks," Jones said.

Because of that, he said all religions shouldn't be framing what's happening as government stopping religious gatherings. Instead it should be thought of as all believers working to protect their members who are most at risk.

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Rabbi Elana Friedman agreed and pointed to a principle in Jewish law known as pikuach nefesh. that translates to "saving a life." It's a principle that states the preservation of human life overrules any other religious rule.

"I think this is extraordinary time. It's a moment unlike any other...much of our focus needs to be tending to the flock, as they say," Friedman said.

With Passover on the horizon, Friedman said pikuach nefesh means people observing the holiday should do their best but "this is not the year to be strict; this is not the year to burden oneself."

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She said it may feel like adhering to recommendations of health experts forces people to break dietary religious laws or go against the spirit of the holiday (by refraining from inviting all who are hungry to come in and eat). But in the spirit of pikuach nefesh, taking precautions to protect lives is not a religious violation.

Imam Joshua Salaam, Duke University's Muslim Chaplain, said the virus is creating a whole new world of religious thought and religious traditions.

"I think it's at least good that it's opening up new doors of conversation," Salaam said.

As an example he talked about the growth of religious ceremonies happening online. He said at first it may seem wrong to not be physically together for something like prayer, but he's grown to see it has advantages.

He's noticed people who had never been to a service were participating online. He said the online service was easier and less intimidating for some people.

"Why haven't I been doing this all along," he asked himself, suggesting it might be something learned from the pandemic that continues after the threat subsides.

Rev. Bruce Puckett of Duke University Chapel also talked about the unfamiliarity of online worship services.

"This has not been ideal, surely...but at the heart of our life together is a calling to love each other with a self-sacrificial love," Puckett said.

He said practicing social distancing for Easter services is going to be different, but true believers will do the best they can to support each other even when it is not safe to be physically in the same location.