It is a fact that I am an Episcopalian, and I was raised Lutheran. Like other main line churchgoers, we are not known for church theatrics, nor do we feel it necessary to wave and dance and call out tongues of fire to celebrate our faith, not that we mind that others do.
For me, faith is quiet, it’s deep, and it’s personal. My faith is between me and my God, and this time of year is very important to me. I don’t need to be in a building, revealing a weak singing voice. I need to make no point to anyone but my God. Which is why it is incomprehensible that in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic known as COVID-19 that there are ministers and congregations across this country flaunting the only defense we have against a virus for which we have no cure – to social distance and stay at home.
Why have some churches closed their doors and gone online, while others appear to dare fate?
These incomprehensible actions coincides with what experts call the rise of religious nationalism and the promotion of magical thinking. Those who say they reject public health orders and intend to pack churches seem to be cut from the same piece of cloth. This group rejected scientific and critical thinking even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Until now, it might have appeared harmless to believe the world is only around 7,000 years old, or that it was made in seven ‘earth days’ instead of God’s time.
But this distrust of the very scientific knowledge and expertise (which I believe should be celebrated as God-given) is contributing to our country’s inability to confront this crisis. I have actually heard some say (including locally) that God is going to protect them from getting this deadly virus – that in fact, they can’t get it. Really?
“Religion is complex and the non-denominational evangelical segment of the religious right has taken a hyper-partisanized view of the world,” said Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. “They reject the evidence of science. They spin EVERYTHING for political gain. The idea of staying home to flatten the curve is seen as an attack on Trump and their faith. As late as March 13, as the pandemic took off, they saw that scientific recommendation as an attack on Trump.”
“It took 70 days from the time that the president was informed of the [COVID-19] threat for anyone in the administration to do anything to address it,” MSNBC News anchor Brian Williams reminded us, as did The Washington Post this week; as the U.S.hit half a million cases and the death toll has topped 20,000. “It was seen initially as happening somewhere else … there was an inability to recognize the severity of it.”
The direct consequence of a swath of churches all-in for President Donald Trump and leaning toward a right wing national policy being promoted by one particular conservative news source, is that we do not have a fully developed infrastructure to do a collective response to this crisis. Their disdain for scientific expertise has flamed a public health crisis into a political battle. From virus testing to managing resources, to even believing that the pandemic is a pandemic – an entire far right movement has hijacked this moment, substituting magical thinking for sound policy.
It does not help when no less that Senator Ted Cruz (R – TX) sent out a text message today with the hashtag “#stop persecuting faith”, ignoring stay-at-home orders and demanding that churches be allowed to hold in-person services on Easter Sunday.
This situation is mixing religion with politics; something our founding fathers rejected when they separated church and state. “There is an evangelical tone to Trump’s followers – about the virus, about the drug treatment he is pushing,” said Tim O’Brian on MSNBC this morning.
I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life as an Independent. I had a brief stint as a Young Republican in the state of Wisconsin as a high school senior and represented the 10th District of Wisconsin at the Young Republican state conference. It did not go well. I came home from that experience and burned my membership card (why might be a topic for a future Our Voice). I respect traditional conservative positions. This – is something else.
“This” is also people who have communicated directly to us on the Ark Valley Voice platform, who call our team (whose role it is to report facts drawn after careful research from a variety of sources, including sourcing what others are doing or saying about this pandemic) names, such as — libtard, nut case, stupid, bitch, or the devil.
Our Ark Valley Voice journalists read dozens of news sources from all over the world, all week long in addition to covering dozens of county, municipal and board meetings to report on in our county. We report facts and actions, causes and issues. We are none of the names that have been hurled at us, some by people who I’m sure call themselves good Christians. “Religion – think of it as ‘re-ligion’ — is something that ties us together,” said historian John Meacham. “It’s a fundamental message of love one another as you love yourself . There is nothing more radical than that. Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Jesus – they all said this.”
Note: For those who appear unsure about what is a fact-based news article and what is an opinion – “Our Voice “ is the area of Ark Valley Voice which actually is our opinion.
Featured image”Rural church” photo by Christoph Partsch from Pixabay. Those further interested in this topic might want to read: https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/03/05/religious-nationalism-christianity-united-states