I’m tired. So, so tired.
Throughout this pandemic, I’ve frequently felt that it’s better to be more cautious than necessary than to take unnecessary risks. This is why I wear a mask when walking by others on the sidewalk, even though the risk of getting sick while passing someone outside appears to be very low. If there’s something we can do to be more safe—especially when it takes relatively little effort—why not do it? Humans are important to me, and I don’t see any reason to risk either my health or others’ lives.
Which perhaps helps explain why I’ve been so baffled at many religious leaders’ response to this pandemic, particularly evangelical religious leaders. Remember, these are individuals who claim to care so deeply about human life that they want to ban abortion and assisted suicide. Does anyone else remember Terry Schiavo? Schiavo’s doctors had determined that she was brain dead, and her husband wanted to remove her life support and allow her to pass. Evangelicals rallied across the country and even asked the Supreme Court to intervene—all to save the life of one woman, on the false claim that she wasn’t actually brain dead.
So what the hell happened?
It’s time for every church in America to defy lockdown, quarantine and any other orders related to this virus. People need to be in Church. They need to fellowship with other believers. They NEED hope. They need Jesus. Stop cowering to the government. Stand up and fight.
— Abby Johnson (@AbbyJohnson) November 14, 2020
How did we get here?
Remember, Abby Johnson’s claim to fame is that she once worked at Planned Parenthood and is now a pro-life activist and the darling of the Right. How the heck is this pro-life? It’s not! It’s absolutely not!
Look, I get that we have to find a new normal. I’m not saying that no church should meet in person—and no state in the country has current orders that churches can’t meet in person (although this might change, given our frightening current trajectory). The issue I have is largely that individuals like Johnson often reject making even the smallest changes to save lives.
For example, mask mandates. I was relieved when my parents’ state implemented a mask mandate—only to learn that even though masks were required, many of those attending their church ignored the order entirely and broke the law. And for what?
Conservatives get very very annoyed with Black Lives Matter protestors for shutting down roadways because that’s breaking the law and in Romans the Bible says Christians should obey the Law. But that all goes out the window here? What gives?!
Here’s another example: singing. I know of at least one church—not an evangelical church—that is still holding its services without singing. Why? Because singing is dangerous. It increases the amount of particles people emit from their mouths and thus increases the risk that, if someone in the congregation has COVID, they will spread it. We’ve know that singing poses an increased risk of spread since early March, when one person at a choir practice in Washington state infected nearly their entire choir. But when I asked whether my parents’ church had considered not singing, they seemed confused by the question.
I have a friend whose aunt and uncle caught COVID from attending a church conference out of state in October. Attendees gathered inside, without masks, without distancing, and sang—a lot. This is a willing and wanton risking of lives.
This is the opposite of pro-life.
Again—I get the need for human connection. I really, really do. I understand why so many churches chose to resume meeting in person over the summer, and I understand why many will want to keep meeting in person. What I don’t get is the unwillingness to put in place even the smallest safeguard—and the willingness to treat flouting the rules almost like a sort of sport, or a way to one-up the liberals. (Viruses do not care about your politics!)
I know, I know. There are reasons for all of this. One is that as Democrats have made trusting science almost a part of their political platform, evangelicals and Republicans alike have long questioned science, and have even demonized scientists. Many evangelicals are young-earth creationists, for example, and many Republicans are into climate change denial, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they are so willing to question science here, too.
Still … if I centered my whole schtick on being “pro-life,” I feel like I wouldn’t be quite so quick to thumb my nose in the face of a deadly pandemic! Do they not have the foresight to realize, on purely self-centered grounds, that ignoring the most basic safeguards during a deadly pandemic will make any future claim to being “pro-life” appear duplicitous and false. (To be sure, evangelicals’ claim to being pro-life has long been specious. A group that is truly pro-life would focus less on banning abortion than on preventing abortions through better access to birth control, or on providing a social safety net for parents.)
This pandemic isn’t something that needed to be political in any way shape or form. It ought to be straightforward. Evangelical churches had the opportunity, during a once-in-a-lifetime (knock on wood) pandemic, to do the right thing and put their members’ health and wellbeing in front of all else. Their reticence to do so is not surprising, but it is maddening.
During a global pandemic that has swamped healthcare systems, the church should be doing its best to protect people; instead, in many cases it has become the thing from which people need to be protected. This is not something I will forget.
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