LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Nearly 700 Christian ministers in the UK have called on political leaders warning about the side-effects of “unnecessary and authoritarian restrictions” imposed on society to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The signatories said they are “troubled by policies which prioritize bare existence at the expense of those things that give quality, meaning and purpose to life.”

The letter was sent to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson; First Minister Mark Drakeford of Wales; First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland; and First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill in Northern Ireland.

The UK went into lockdown on March 23, including closing houses of worship to the general public. In June, places of worship were opened for private prayer, while public worship began again in late June and July, depending upon the locality.

A recent uptick in coronavirus cases has caused a reimposition of restrictions to varying degrees across the UK, and there are growing fears a second lockdown might be on the horizon.

The clerics warned the national and regional governments that “increasingly severe restrictions are having a powerful dehumanizing effect on people’s lives, resulting in a growing wave of loneliness, anxiety and damaged mental health.”

The letter said this particularly affects the disadvantaged and vulnerable and is eroding “precious freedoms” for everyone.

“We entirely support proportionate measures to protect those most vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2. But we question whether the UK Government and the devolved administrations have it in their power either to eliminate this virus or to suppress it for an indefinite period while we await a vaccine. And we cannot support attempts to achieve these which, in our view, cause more damage to people, families and society – physically and spiritually – than the virus itself,” the letter reads.

The clerics are especially concerned about the effects on public worship in the country and emphasized the positive role it plays in society, adding “we must not be asked to suspend Christian worship again,” since it “would cause serious damage to our congregations, our service of the nation, and our duty as Christian ministers.2

“As we live in the shadow of a virus we are unable to control, people urgently need the opportunity to hear and experience the good news and hope of Jesus Christ, who holds our lives in his hands. The supportive relationships that churches nurture between people are vital, and simply cannot be dispensed with again without significant harm. And most of all, we know that regular gathering to worship God is essential for human life to be lived to the full,” the letter continues.

The church leaders add that they are applying rigorous hygiene regimes in their places of worship, as well as enforcing social distancing and other safety procedures.

“As a result, church worship presents a hugely lesser risk of transmission than pubs, restaurants, gyms, offices and schools; and it is more important than them all,” the letter says.

“We therefore call upon the Westminster and devolved governments to find ways of protecting those who truly are vulnerable to COVID-19 without unnecessary and authoritarian restrictions on loving families, essential personal relationships, and the worship of the Christian Church,” it concludes.

The signatories of the letter include ministers from all of the major Protestant denominations present in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. So far, no Catholic clerics have signed the document.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome