The Covid-19 pandemic that has crippled economies and taken many lives has brought out the best in most of us. Despite some panic and hoarding, it has been heartening to see people around the globe uniting in spite of sometimes horrific circumstances. For the most part, the vast majority of churches have taken the virus very seriously, cancelling meetings and holding services online. But there have been mixed messages coming from our government, especially early on, and unfortunately, a downplaying and politicizing of the pandemic.
This mixed messaging has unfortunately encouraged some congregations to not act responsibly. The constant message from the White House that the news media is fake and not to be trusted, combined with the war on science from the Trump administration has bolstered some conservative Christians to discount the severity of the pandemic as reported by medical experts and the media.
I believe the problem is not unique to Trump, but has a history of development over the last century. The distrust of science goes clear back to the “Monkey Trials” in the early twentieth century, when “Bible believing” Christians riled against evolution. The resistance to literary and historical criticism goes back even further, to the mid to late 19th century. More modern resistance to science among conservative Christians can be found the response to global warming and to the LGBTQ community and gender identity, and unconvincing attempts to discount expert witness.
In the circumstances where church Pastors have ignored or blatantly disregarded the State quarantine orders, such as the Tampa Bay mega church pastor last Sunday (1), there are a number of sociological, political and religious ideas that converge into a perfect storm of virus infection. This particular pastor was warned but decided his “first amendment rights” were of greater importance than that of the health of others. Several hundred people packed his church on Sunday. He has since been arrested and released on bail.
We have seen a number of MidWest and Southern States, including Florida, that have resisted social distancing and quarantine as well. Their conservative governors listening to, again, the mixed messaging coming from White House leadership, and Fox News. Their weeks too late attempts to mitigate the virus may have tragic results.
There seems to be a reoccurring theme that accompanies the rugged individualism of sawdust trail Christianity. It tends rather naturally, to be concerned with self. When coupled with right wing conservative politics it leads to a rather self centered Libertarianism and a “I have MY rights” type of attitude. It can be seen in the Tampa Bay pastor and in the love affair between white evangelicals and the Second Amendment.
This is a sad turn of events that I fear will have lasting consequences. Let’s hope I am wrong.