Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials spent the lead-up to Holy Week begging pastors to ignore President Donald Trump's previous directive.
Trump announced last month during a Fox News interview that he wanted to end lockdowns by Easter, which he later walked back, but the vice president, who is ostensibly leading the White House coronavirus task force, and other senior administration officials wanted to make sure religious leaders understood what the president wanted, reported Politico.
“We want to both encourage them to keep the faith and to encourage them to maintain social distancing,” one senior White House official said. “Now is the time to lean into the guidance, not to lean out.”
Pence and his team organized conference calls to their evangelical allies to stress the importance of social distancing, fearing the blowback if Trump allies held Easter services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Administration officials on those calls told pastors the president was calling for national sacrifice to halt the outbreak's spread, after some of Trump's religious allies drew negative attention for holding church services in defiance of stay-at-home orders.
“I’ve been privy firsthand to what the White House and this president are doing," said South Carolina pastor Mark Burns, who took part in one call, "and he is very serious about protecting Americans and slowing the spread."