Friday, April 10, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Crippling the Response

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Ah, the coronavirus! I was so determined not to go there in this space. Then it threatened to go on and on and on, and then it became such a feature of our current media experience as to be utterly inescapable. After that, it changed the way we do most everything, at least for the foreseeable future. And still we left the subject alone; after all, if you want the latest on COVID‑19, you can get that absolutely anywhere, right?

Tom: But then The New York Times started blaming evangelicals for “crippling our coronavirus response”, and there you are: turns out it was time to start talking about it here. Not being an expert of any sort, I don’t want to discuss the virus itself, where it came from, how it is spreading, and what might be done about it; nor do I want to speculate about what the total bill for fighting this thing will be. I simply want to talk about the church and its response to the crisis.

Defying the Bans

Katherine Stewart’s article is a wealth of misinformation, innuendo and straw-manning. There are points when I almost laughed out loud. But the part that involved a commendable degree of effort on the part of the reporter, and which seems to me most worth talking about together is this, Immanuel Can: Ms Stewart actually managed to find several examples of church leaders urging their congregants to ignore government-mandated lockdowns and limitations and show up for church as usual on Sunday. In the real world, I do not know of one Christian who is doing this. Every single church I know of has quietly complied with the directions they have received from the authorities, recognizing that they are not an attack on churches or Christianity, but something that, rightly or wrongly, is being done across the board with a view to the good of citizens generally.

Outside of this article, IC, have you encountered a single Christian who thinks flaunting these temporary guidelines is a great idea?

Immanuel Can: No. In fact, I’ve found Christians in general exceedingly quick to respond to the crisis, and in the most compassionate ways. It seems that because they understand, but do not fear, that this world can make such mistakes, they had less trouble than the general public in absorbing the idea that we are in a bad situation, and they immediately sought out ways to help out, supporting not only one another but their neighbors as well. Practical compassion happens very quickly in the Christian community, I’ve noticed.

Tom: It’s also notable how quickly and cheerfully Christians have gone about finding ways to meet together that don’t involve violating the “distancing” rules. Within days of the changes, YouTube was full of videos made by Christians in local congregations for others in their own churches that, thanks to technology, are available to be watched by anyone out there who cares to. Smaller churches were “piggybacking” on the Sunday morning videos of larger ones, and the evangelical community was coming together in very practical ways, as you’ve mentioned. The tone of all the videos I’ve seen has been relentlessly optimistic and compliant.

Picking on the Outliers

So when I read about pastors who mocked people concerned about the disease as “pansies” or planned on passing out “anointed handkerchiefs” to people who are panicking, I don’t think Katherine Stewart is necessarily making it up — there are some goofballs out there — but I also don’t think she’s made any effort to represent what is happening in the larger evangelical community. She’s picking outliers.

IC: Definitely. She’s doing what we call “picking the data to create the theory”. She shows she has absolutely no thought of investigating the evangelical communities themselves for real actions; she’s looking to cherry-pick the public declarations of whatever scattered loonies she can find, and then to use them to defend the proposition that all evangelicals are nutty. And I’m certain she knows that’s exactly what she’s doing. She can’t be a stupid person, because she writes coherent articles and has them reviewed by editors. So we can only say that she’s viscerally prejudiced against Christians, as are the editors who are not bothering to fact-check for her. It’s the only reasonable explanation left. Why else would educated people be content with resorting to such an obviously poor and limited data set?

Tom: That’s the only conclusion I can reach. After all, we have celebrities licking toilet seats on YouTube, and Gen-Z making a game out of licking banisters. Why not write an article about how Hollywood or the up-and-coming generation is crippling our coronavirus response? It’s because, as Stewart puts it, “Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.” Celebrities didn’t vote for the President, and Gen-Z didn’t vote, period, so Stewart has no bone to pick with those people even if their antics end up spreading COVID‑19 all over North America. What the evangelical movement has sown by voting for Mr. Trump in large numbers is the near-destruction of the Democrats, especially if the President is perceived to be successfully navigating a global crisis. Unfortunately for Ms Stewart, Mr. Trump has never been more popular.

Going Ballistic

IC: There was another interesting evangelical-hatred moment two days ago. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who escaped crack addiction through conversion to evangelical Christianity, announced that to help Americans, he is converting 75% of his factories’ production capacity to producing cotton masks at the rate of 50,000 per day to help with the COVID-19 epidemic. But then he made the fatal mistake of thanking God publicly for the Trump presidency and begging people to spend time with their families and their Bibles … and the Left went ballistic. Now, you might think that might be partly just ordinary anti-Trumpism, except that they’ve accused Lindell of “violating the separation of church and state”, and of an unforgivable introduction of faith and family values into the present situation.

Tom: God forbid. Oops. What would you say to the accusation that we’re being a little paranoid here, and that poor ol’ Progressives not really picking on us; they are simply panicked over COVID and striking out at anyone who is perceived to threaten their safety?

IC: If this were just about COVID-19, it would have started with the plague. But the pattern was already very well established. The Left sees evangelicals as the Deplorables among Deplorables, and blames them for everything that’s wrong with the world.

This actually goes back to Marx, who claimed that “religion is the opium of the masses”. Opium is a soporific, a sleeping drug. The Left believes that the reason their longed-for revolution that will produce utopia continues to fail to arrive is the sleepy, inhibiting influence of “religion” — not ALL religion, apparently, but most especially Jews and Christians. So we are very bad people, in their thinking; we’re the one thing standing between them and secular paradise. And you’re allowed to treat very bad people any way you want; in fact, the more vicious to them you are, the more you show yourself committed to the revolutionary cause and the ultimate good of mankind.

Tom: I would say that’s unfair, except that I’ve seen many, many things on social media that lead me to think that attitude is fairly common.

Hated by the World

Now, I’m not bothered by that. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” But if we are going to introduce the words of Christ into the picture, especially in our own defense or as evidence of our own righteousness, then we had better be very sure that the things they really hate us for are things that genuinely please God, and that the agenda they are fighting against is God’s agenda, not just ours. When the pro-abortion crowd rages about evangelicals, I’m pretty comfortable it’s mostly for the right reasons. But when it rages about us “crippling the coronavirus response”, I start to wonder if that’s really the reason, or if that’s just a convenient way for people who already want to get evangelicals out of their way politically for other reasons to justify their prejudices. The evidence that the U.S. coronavirus response has been crippled in any way, let alone by evangelicals, is very thin on the ground. Meanwhile, we have Democratic state governors banning the prescription of anti-malaria drugs for COVID-19 patients because they are not yet FDA approved, which sounds much more like “crippling” a response than anything evangelicals are doing.

I noticed Katherine Stewart made no attempt to identify what percentage of evangelical churches defied the social distancing rules. I’d be very curious to see hard numbers. My suspicion is that they are very small. Even Stewart acknowledges “Not every pastor is behaving recklessly, of course, and not every churchgoer in these uncertain times is showing up for services out of disregard for the scientific evidence. Far from it,” before going straight back to making her case.

IC: Well, that’s the phrase that dismisses all the contrary data. It means, “Of course not ALL the evangelicals are psychotic haters of science and the common good, but (tacitly) MOST still are.” So now she’s not going to have to deal with the contrary data, because she’ll say she’s already acknowledged its existence, and it changes nothing, for her. Lovely Orwellian doublespeak, that.

Disavowing the Crazies

Tom: All the same, her complaints about marginal Christian groups with anti-scientific ideas and her tendency to conflate their views with those of evangelicalism generally bring up another issue: at what point do we Christians disavow our crazies? Reading what these quoted “pastors” have allegedly said, it is awfully tempting to say that Christians who flout the lockdown guidelines have never read the New Testament. The apostle Paul tells us to “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Now of course there are conditions under which obedience to secular authority is not the governing rule for believers. The apostles had to tell the Jewish authorities, “We must obey God rather than men.” But that is an extreme situation where preaching the gospel was itself forbidden. We are not in that position at all. We are not restricted from preaching the gospel, or from using the internet to fellowship with one another, or from talking to our neighbors about Christ. We are simply limited to gatherings of five and under. I don’t find that even slightly unreasonable under the circumstances, and it is being done quite even-handedly.

IC: For me, disavowing the craziness of the crazies happens the minute they depart the teaching of scripture, because we are not conformists to men but duty-bound to God. It’s the Leftists who think that everybody has to belong to a “class” or “group”, and speak only from that perspective. And they’re just wrong about that; their Neo-Marxism is making them irrational. Among Christians, the right to speak up and say, “Hey, that’s not scriptural” is inviolable. Even the apostle Paul made himself subject to it. So we have every reason to point out that whatever small faction of loonies is not behaving well is not speaking on behalf of evangelicals or for us.

Compliance that Reserves Options

Ironically, evangelicals have an absolute right not to follow misguided teachers, nor to abandon their personal critical faculties out of misguided loyalty to any group. The Leftists, however, know very well that they must all walk in lockstep, keeping up the PC narrative, or their comrades will inevitably make them pay.

Tom: Well then, let us make it clear that we are happy to be in compliance with the powers that be ... for the time being, of course. There are options currently being batted around in the corridors of power which tout “saving lives” as their ostensible purpose, but may well actually cost more lives in the long run if they are implemented. Should that ever happen, then individual Christians will have to decide how to respond to the new rules conscientiously before God.

But we are not there yet. Far from it. In the meantime, the responsible thing is to do as we are told, always bearing in mind that ultimately we do not answer to governors, premiers or even Prime Ministers, but to God himself.

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