Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Commentariat Speaks (22)

“Have you seen this opinion piece on how the Federal government engaged evangelicals on Covid?”

So inquires a commenter named Ted at Blog & Mablog.

Thanks for passing that on, Ted. But let’s get a couple of preliminary observations out of the way before we parse the article by Megan Basham for DailyWire.com.

A Couple of Preliminary Observations

First, the term “opinion piece” really needs to be summarily deleted from the vernacular. And since Christians cannot retire it forcibly, we ought at least to be clear-thinking and observant enough to recognize that every single article we read and every single newscast we watch are nothing but opinion pieces. Unbiased news reporting in the mainstream has all but gone the way of the dinosaur since the politically-active billionaire owners of social media websites and tech companies began to buy up the floundering legacy media outlets. To single out any piece of reportage as mere “opinion” today is simply to say that it happens to allege things we dislike or find controversial; no more, no less. All today’s “news” is marinated in the opinions of the narrative-shapers.

Second, even taking into account what I just said, if you take the time to read the article Ted linked to, you will see that it is awfully long on documented facts and remarkably light on expressions of Basham’s opinion. Wheaton College dean Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Billy Graham Center and former editor at Christianity Today, lent his podcast platform to National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins to help encourage evangelical pastors to promote the U.S. federal government’s COVID program to Christians. That’s not opinion; it’s a cold, hard fact. You can still listen to the podcast here.

Nor was Stetzer alone in his ill-advised promotion of the government narrative. The 24 links that follow throughout Basham’s article are to all to the original sources, many of them by way of archive, most likely because the principals involved have subsequently been embarrassed by their mistakes in judgment and deleted them (as in the case of this Christianity Today article written by Stetzer himself), or if they have not, will attempt to do so shortly.

All this hard data reinforces the impression that Basham is not just slinging mud. You can hear a plethora of faux pas from the very mouths of those who uttered them if you wish. The internet is not forever, but it is definitely a tar baby.

Facts, Not Opinions

And what is Megan Basham telling us? Simply that evangelical opinion leaders, including but not limited to Stetzer, Russell Moore, Tim Keller, Rick Warren, N.T. Wright and David French, uncritically endorsed the federal government’s program to their congregants and readers on the word of a representative of the Biden administration whose emails show he schemed to quash dissenting views from top scientists, who has defended experimentation on fetuses obtained by abortion and himself directed record-level government spending toward it, who is on record as an “ally” and advocate of the gay and trans movements, and who sponsored an experimental initiative in transgender research that gave opposite-sex hormones to children as young as eight. This man they accepted and endorsed as a “brother in Christ”.

Other Christian opinion leaders like John Piper pushed substantially the same agenda as Collins and his evangelical pals without any discernable connection to a government propaganda campaign, but the data used to support their conclusions that Christians should get vaccinated as an “act of love” to their neighbors was of the same quality and vintage as Collins’ fuzzy pseudo-science.

In short, evangelical leaders took their marching orders from the worst possible source, and passed disinformation to their congregants. Repentance is a strong word, but it’s not a bad one. Even if they played the puppet in good conscience, at very least a public walking-back would seem to be in order.

More of the Same

Nor is the DailyWire.com article our only current source of information about this fiasco. Australia’s Caldron Pool asks the relevant question, “Will Christian Leaders Who Platformed Francis Collins Correct the Record?” Referencing Basham’s article, writer Kurt Mahlburg adds the damning allegation that “Francis Collins has long supported — and his agencies have generously funded — the gain-of-function research that probably explains the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.” If this is in fact the case, then evangelical leaders could not have chosen a worse “subject matter expert” to take their advice from. It now appears Collins may well have been part of the problem, not its solution.

Mahlburg uses the phrase “mouthpiece of the state” to describe the response of evangelical opinion leaders to the COVID crisis. When the leaders of your denomination or church are saying precisely the same thing the legacy media is saying, it’s time to question both their discernment and their credibility.

An Instructive Moment

Again, none of this is mere mud-slinging. Basham documents every allegation she makes. Her only real expression of opinion comes in her last paragraph, when she concludes that:

“There’s an instructive moment at the end of [Rick] Warren’s interview with Collins. The pastor misquotes Proverbs 4, saying, ‘Get the facts at any price.’

That, of course, is not what the verse says. It says get wisdom at any price. And it was wisdom that was severely lacking when so many pastors and ministry heads recklessly turned over their platforms, influence, and credibility to a government official who had done little to demonstrate he deserved them.”

This is certainly an opinion, but it is remarkably well researched and immensely credible given the data behind it. The rather obvious inference is that evangelical leaders not only let the wolf into the sheepfold, they showered him with praise as they introduced the drooling predator to the lambs.

Hey, let’s be honest. For me, Russell Moore is nobody, Ed Stetzer is a guy who used to write editorials for a periodical my parents read thirty years ago, David French is a middling conservative of the kind that conserves nothing, John Piper on his best day is theologically dodgy, and I know next to nothing about Tim Keller or N.T. Wright. But for many evangelicals, these men are where the bar is set. At very least this seems one of those moments when Paul’s instructions to Timothy are apropos: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.”

We could all do with a little more of that sort of reserve.

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