“It was made harder that churches were singled out and commercial businesses and athletic events were not mentioned,” Mohler said. “The state religion may turn out to be basketball after all.”
Many urban churches with large congregations are set up to live-stream worship services, but some smaller, more rural congregations are not set up to shift online.
“It’s going to be the responsibility of government leaders to be extremely clear when they are making these requests,” Mohler said. “Christian leaders will expect to be included in any recommendations but not singled out.”
The Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle suspended all public celebration of Mass, becoming the first Catholic archdiocese in the country to do so. However, the Archdiocese of Louisville said Wednesday that Archbishop Joseph Kurtz will not call for a diocesan-wide cancellation of daily or weekend Masses after conversations with the Louisville Department of Health and Wellness, according to an email from a spokeswoman.
The Catholic Diocese of Lexington has lifted the obligation for Catholics to attend Mass, Bishop John Stowe wrote on Twitter.
At least three rectors in the Episcopal Church from three separate states have been diagnosed with the coronavirus since they attended a denominational Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes conference Feb. 19 to 21 in Louisville.
The decision whether to suspend services in churches that are part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be decided by each congregation and a local body of authorities called a presbytery, according to the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, the stated clerk of the General Assembly for the mainline Protestant denomination that is based in Louisville.
“I agree with the governor that individuals should exercise extreme caution as it relates to public places, but this should not only be about church services,” Herbert said in a statement. “All public venues and events should be included in this, such as basketball tournaments and other events that draw thousands of people to our convention centers and meeting places.”
In a news release on Thursday, Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said that Mark Van Koevering of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington will honor the governor’s request to suspend worship.
“I am loathe to cancel services, but I do support the Governor’s recommendation and think that I must humbly ask our faith communities to practice a Lenten fast of public worship this week as a sign of love for one’s neighbor especially the most vulnerable,” Van Koevering told Curry.
Curry said that other bishops who decide to suspend worship have his support. He wrote that neither the rubrics of the denomination’s Book of Common Prayer nor the Canons of the Episcopal Church address the current public health emergency.
“The next 30-60 days at the least are simply going to be unlike anything we have experienced in recent history, even including 9/11," he said in a statement. "The dilemma of what we know and what we don’t know will continue to complicate our decision making and our lives.”
On Wednesday, the NCAA said it would hold its marquee basketball tournaments without fans, and the NBA suspended its season after a player tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes the disease covid-19.
Aaron Harvie, senior pastor of Highview Baptist Church, said that while he appreciates Beshear is taking the coronavirus outbreak seriously, he believes the governor has cast unnecessary fear and he has no plans to cancel his church’s services.
“If we shut down services, it would add to fear,” he said. His church has 7,000 members across three campuses in the Louisville area.
If there’s a mandate, he said, the church would obey it. But he questioned the governor’s recommendation.
“I’d ask the governor, was there a gathering of faith leaders? Who were your advisers?” he said. “These are areas that you’re treading into of which you don’t actually have direct responsibility or authority.”
Highview already live-streams its services, but that doesn’t replace physical worship services, he said.
“Technology is amazing for information, but it’s not so great with relationships,” he said. “We’re called into relationship with the Lord, and that requires our presence. That’s why we gather physically.”
Kentucky is among the top 15 most religious states in the nation, with 76 percent of adults in the state identifying as Christian and nearly 50 percent of them identifying as evangelical, according to the Pew Research Center.
During his gubernatorial campaign, Beshear highlighted his personal faith and his pastoral lineage; his grandfather and great-grandfather were Baptist preachers in the state. He is a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and serves as a deacon.
“I know that is a big step,” Beshear said about his request to churches at a news conference on Wednesday. “I know that some won’t agree with it.”
Eight people had tested positive for the coronavirus in Kentucky, Beshear said.
“I don’t believe whether you go to church during this period of time is a test of faith. I believe God gives us wisdom to protect each other and we should do that,” he said.
On Wednesday night, Mohler announced the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville that he leads will move to online education for the rest of the semester. He said churches are thinking ahead to Easter but most church leaders feel it’s too soon to make decisions.
“This is a humbling fact: We simply don’t know what the situation will be now or a week from now,” he said. “It would be irresponsible to make any plans with certainty about plans a month from now.”
As large public events have been canceled throughout the country and some states have placed restrictions on the number of people allowed in a gathering, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Wednesday that it will hold its major conference in April without any attendees in Salt Lake City.
Teddy Amenabar contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to include the news that the Episcopal Church Diocese of Lexington will honor the governor’s request to suspend worship. It has also been updated to note that The Catholic Diocese of Lexington has lifted the obligation for Catholics to attend Mass.