I’ve started a draft of this article a dozen different ways, and I still don’t know how to begin.
Maybe that’s because I still don’t want to acknowledge what I’ve witnessed.
We’ve crossed the threshold of another year clouded by the COVID-19 pandemic. A disease that has killed nearly three million people worldwide (at the time of this writing) is still very present among us.
And yet, if you go by the behavior, rhetoric, and social media postings of many American Christians, the coronavirus is nothing but a hoax. A scam. A conspiracy to silence and inconvenience them.
Does this represent all Christians? Certainly not. I know of many who are conscientiously doing their best to keep others safe from COVID-19.
But I can’t help but wonder: if you and I, perhaps, do not want to be associated with an angry group of pandemic-deniers… what, exactly, are we doing to shine a kinder, more caring light?
Mentioning death toll statistics does not seem to make a difference; requests to obey local authorities do no good; personal stories of families devastated by this terrible plague are brushed aside.
Apparently, no one else’s health, well-being, or even life is worth more than a self-defined “freedom” to do whatever one pleases.
And I can’t help but wonder… where, exactly, does the Bible tell us that the fruit of the Spirit is selfishness?
Jesus said that the Law of the Old Testament could be summed up in two simple statements: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.
I don’t know about you, but it seems like following my local public health ordinances — including keeping my distance from others, where possible, and wearing a mask when I’m asked to do so — is a pretty straightforward way of loving my neighbor.
Yet, in a turn of events that ought to be baffling to anyone who’s been told “they will know we are Christians by our love,” people who claim the name of Jesus are shouting their disgust, loud and proud, for anything that might put a hold on their “freedom.”
The weirdest manifestation of this bizarre narcissism? Pushback against mask-wearing. Though regions across America vary (and different countries vary) in their public health regulations and the way in which they enforce lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, the expectation that you should wear a mask in public to protect others around you from the spread of COVID-19 is fairly universal.
But somehow, everywhere I turn (online, that is; I’m still staying home whenever I can because we are in a pandemic), I see Christians clamoring and vociferating that they should not be expected to comply with public health guidelines… and, all too often, citing the name of Jesus as they complain.
Sean Feucht, charismatic worship leader, made headlines in 2020 as he held massive concerts and prayer gatherings across the nation, in defiance of local masking and distancing orders. Capitalizing on the criticism he immediately received, he released a line of t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “Jesus Christ Superspreader.”
Many aren’t so blatant as Feucht — and don’t have as much to gain in t-shirt sales by being provocative — but still feel the need to make a public statement as to why they, representatives of Jesus in the world, should not need to listen to anyone telling them to protect the vulnerable in their midst.
I don’t intend to paint with an unreasonably broad brush here. There is room for thoughtful debate among Christians about how far is too far, how careful is too careful, how much risk is okay and when in-person church is sensible and necessary. These arguments vary depending on time and place, rising and falling infection rates, and the care taken by the people involved.
But when the actions seem to stem from a place of, “you can’t make me” rather than a baseline of, “how can I best love those around me?”, we have a problem.
Personally, I like to think I err on the side of “exercise the most caution, do the least harm.” But the temptation to side-eye anyone exercising less caution, or doing what I perceive to be more harm, is dangerously strong.
And as I see selfish complaints and logic-free arguments rising from people I once admired, and as I lose respect for people I once considered to be loving and compassionate… I feel bitterness taking root in my heart. My personal social media (no screenshots here, to protect others’ private posts) is rife with snide comments, mockery, and jibing at “sheeple” who are “living in fear” and “letting the government control them.”
“Freedom, freedom, freedom,” is the constant theme. But it’s not freedom in Christ from sin and death that is referenced… it’s freedom in the good old USA to do whatever the heck you want.
Some days, I fear my anger will bubble over and completely ruin relationships I once held precious.
Is this loving my neighbor?
Am I following Jesus when I allow those bitter roots to twine around my thoughts and motivations, slowly choking out my own compassion?
Love your neighbor.
Your elderly neighbor.
Your immunocompromised neighbor.
Your newborn neighbor.
…Your maskless neighbor.
…Your vaccine-denouncing neighbor.
…Your nobody-can-stop-me-from-hosting-parties neighbor.
I don’t get to choose my neighbor. Maybe that’s the point.
A lawyer asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. “What is written in the Law?” Jesus asked.
Showing off his knowledge, the lawyer summarized the primary commandments of the Old Testament Law — love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. When Jesus told him to obey these commandments, the lawyer countered, “But who is my neighbor?”
Jesus’ response has become known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A man attacked by robbers was left on the side of the road to suffer and die. Two leaders of the Jewish community, a priest and a Levite, walked past this man and left him to his misery. But a man of the region of Samaria, which was scorned and derided by the Jews, chose to show mercy. He dressed the victim’s wounds, brought him to an inn to recover, and spent his own money and time to make sure the attacked man was safe. “You go and do likewise,” said Jesus to the lawyer.
Matthew Henry, a 17th-century Welsh preacher and Biblical scholar, wrote of this exchange (emphasis mine),
“And therefore go thou and do as the Samaritan did, whenever occasion offers: show mercy to those that need thy help, and do it freely, and with concern and compassion, though they be not of thy own nation and thy own profession, or of thy own opinion and communion in religion. Let thy charity be thus extensive, before thou boastest of having conformed thyself to that great commandment of loving thy neighbour.”
It isn’t enough to smugly announce that I am better at loving my neighbor than she is. I have to actually go and do it.
Love my neighbor.
My belligerent neighbor.
My fearmongering neighbor.
My unmasked neighbor.
My conspiracy-theory-loving neighbor.
If I speak with the tongue of men and of angels, and wear my mask and stay home when I can and get my vaccine when it’s my turn, but have not love, what have I done?
Those actions are important. Those actions could save a life.
But if I only do those outward things, and nourish resentment or even hatred in my heart for those who don’t, I am not truly loving with patience, kindness, generosity, selflessness.
Let my prayer be to love with actions, my choices, and with my attitude, my thoughts, and my heart.
To the “least of these,” and to the “most difficult of these.”