Friday, April 24, 2020

Church In The Time Of The Virus: Politics And Conspiracies (Episode 8)

When churches suspended their weekly brick and mortar meetings, I decided to take some time to address online what it looks like for the church to be the church in times like this. Thus, The Church In The Time Of The Virus. I began posting this on my church's Facebook page several weeks ago; since then, I have had some thoughtful conversations sparked by some of the issues I addressed. Because of that - and because I like wrestling with important ideas - each post is going to follow this format:
  • Video
  • Transcript
  • Reflections
The beautiful thing about the reflections part is that I can constantly update it, so the conversation can continue! You are welcome to offer helpful comments in the comment section and be a part of this conversation/archival record (as local and modest as it is).

(Read and Watch Episode 1: Introduction)
(Read and Watch Episode 2:Fearless, Not Fearful)
(Read and Watch Episode 3: Bold, But Not Foolhardy)
(Read and Watch Episode 4: Sacrificial Of Self, Not Others)
(Read and Watch Episode 5: Faith-fullness Involves Trust)
(Watch and Read Episode 6: Faith-fullness Requires Humble Obedience)
(Read and Watch Episode 7: The Church's History During Plagues)
(Read and Watch Episode 9: Spurgeon And The Plague Of London)
(Read and Watch Episode 10: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Read and Watch Episode 11: A Few Thoughts Have Been Brewing)
(Read and Watch Episode 12: Is COVID -19 A Judgment From God)
(Read and Watch Episode 13: Romans 12-14 - Coronavirus Version)
(Episode 14: Dear American Christian)
(Episode 15: Civil (Dis)Obedience)

Episode 8: Politics And Conspiracies



Deep breath. This will involve both politics and conspiracy theories. 

It’s been remarkable to me how quickly this virus has been politicized. I don’t read world news as much as I read local and US news, but I’ve not seen this happen elsewhere, at least not to the degree I’ve seen it here, and I’m not counting places like China and Russia, because their media is very different from ours.

As best I can tell, here’s what’s happening.

For most Americans, it’s hard to think of anyone on the other side of the political aisle as honest, competent, or even close to resembling what a decent human being should look like. 

Everybody finds a news outlet that they treat as coronavirus gospel, which means the other outlets preach coronavirus heresy. Depending where you get your news, Trump has dropped every ball he’s been given from before Day 1 and ought to be tried at the Hague (a state rep from Ohio is pushing that idea) - or the WHO, CDC, state governors and other players and organizations in the infrastructure who ought to have been ready have handed the president a hopelessly broken system he is trying gamely to fix.

Depending where you sit, the virus is just what epidemiologists say it is, or it is fake, or it’s a Deep State plot, or it’s a Chinese attempt to kill Trump. It’s a biomedical weapon, it’s the angel of Death from Revelation, it’s a means for the state to take away all of our civil liberties and finally trample on the Constitution, it’s the crisis that will move us to socialism, it’s actually a ploy to sequester all the pedophiles so they will be easy to arrest, and all the rescued children will be moved onto those navy hospital ships. It’s Bill Gate’s attempt to microchip the world. All of these theories – dare I say gossip and perhaps even slander - have scrolled through my Facebook and news feed.

It’s not my intent to wade through the merits or lack thereof for any of those things other than to say this:  spreading false reports (Exodus 23:1) and slandering people (Leviticus 19:16) are mentioned in the Bible as things that ought not characterize God’s people. James, the brother of Jesus, said that if we don’t keep a tight reign on our tongues, our religion is worthless (James 1:26). 

Instead, I have a question: how do we be the church in the midst of all this?  

First, we show the world that we love truth. We are committed not to rumors and speculation but to the pursuit of factual information. There are reasonable questions to ask, but God forbid that the legacy of Christians during this time is that they were the face of even the craziest conspiracy theories. 

I should also add this: if you are inclined to believe something because it will put your political party or candidate of choice in a good light – or put the other side’s in a bad light – that’s not an honest pursuit of truth. One example that can be applied more broadly: at the end of the day, a potential cure will work or not work because of science, not because it needs to work or needs to fail so political points can be made. We ought to hope cloroquine works whether we like President Trump or not; if it doesn’t, we ought to be able to let it go, whether we like President Trump or not.  Truth and objective reality are not partisan. And we ought to love truth.

 When this is over, we Christians can be viewed one of at least two ways: “They so desperately wanted something to be true that they tuned out everything that challenged their narrative and forced every square bit of information they heard into the round hole of their perspective.” Or, “They so desperately wanted truth that they diligently searched the news, studied, and followed the evidence where it led.”

Why does this matter? Because I’d say odds are pretty good people will assume that’s how we arrived at our belief that Jesus is who he claimed to be. If we buy every conspiracy, Jesus is probably just another one. If we demand that reality conform to what we want to be true, why think our claims about Jesus are any different? But if we are passionate lovers of objective truth who demand a firm foundation on which to build our worldview – well, that’s a different starting point when it’s time to “give an answer for the hope that lies within us.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Second, we should bear the fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How does this apply to social media, you ask? I’m glad you asked. IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY. 

How many of you Christians watching this would use these adjectives to describe the other Christians on your social media? Does it describe you? Does it describe me? I mean, if it doesn’t, and you know me, you can message me. Just be fruity when you do it.  When I say “we” should bear the fruit of the Spirit, I include myself.  I would love, when this is all over, for people to have this thought nudging them from the back of their minds: 

“You know, my Christian friends were thoughtful pursuers of truth, patient and self-controlled in their conversations, with a peace and a gentleness and even a joy at times that I don’t understand. They didn’t back away from being bold or even confrontational when needed, but it was done with thoughtful care, as if the people they were talking to mattered as much as the argument. I wonder what’s going on there?” 

Third, we should commit to viewing the world through the lenses of our FAITH before we look through the lenses of our PARTY. If the first question we ask is, “What would Trump or Biden or Pelosi do?” we are in trouble. In fact, if we think the most important opinion on something is their opinion, that’s trouble. I’d like to recommend three primary groups that I believe ought to be informing a Christian’s perspective right now. (I haven’t listed “family and friends”; I assume we are interacting with them like we always have.)  

First, I want to know if the Bible or church history has something direct to say about any issue. You may have noticed I’m pulling a lot from church history in this series, as the church has had 2,000 years to apply principles from the Bible. It doesn’t mean everything in history was perfect – or that I understood and applied it all perfectly – but I can see more clearly when I stand on the shoulders of those who stand tall in Christian history.

Second, I’m looking to experts who are experienced or seriously credentialed in their field. I want to know how pastors are wrestling with church issues; I want to know what epidemiologists have to say about disease, and economists about the economy, and political philosophers about the balance between freedom and safety and the protection of our Constitution. This doesn’t mean they are always right, but they’ve done the kind of work that gives them weight in my life. 

Third, my church tribe, and here I’m talking about a spiritual family of people with whom I have a shared worldview and with whom I can talk about life, and faith, and trust, and being a faithfully present Christian in times like this, and organizing my time, and avoiding fear as we think about the impact of the virus on human bodies and economies, and thinking through how so many things are going to change, including how church is done, and things for which we ought to be planning….
I do know that a dude I’ve never heard of posting a youtube video about secrets of the coronavirus that nobody is talking about does not appear on my list anywhere. It’s like looking to Dan Brown for information about how we got the Bible. It’s secular Gnosticism. It’s not going to take you toward truth, and the further you get from truth, the less people are going to take you seriously when you talk about the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

Fourth, we think hard about how we are positioning ourselves right now for gospel ministry down the road. 
  • Who was a compelling presence during this time: stable, truthful, hopeful, loving? 
  • Who is honest without being contemptuous? 
  • Who is challenging without shaming? 
  • Who is Faith-full without judgment of those who were struggling? 
  • Who is bold with tact and grace? 
  • Who is pointing toward the hope of Christ while weeping with those who weep? 
  • Who is generously helping without expectation? 
  • Who is loving relentlessly with all the strength God gives us? 
  • Who is sharing the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a creation that groans as it awaits redemption?
This is how we can be a faithful presence in the time of the virus. 


In a later episode, I will talk about the place for "speculating about speculation." I don't mean there is never room to have thoughtful pursuit of truth when we run across outlying ideas. However, there is a world of difference between thoughtfully testing speculations vs. carelessly handling rumor and gossip.

Ed Stetzer wrote an article for Christianity Today entitled "On Christians Spreading Corona Conspiracies: Gullibility is not a Spiritual Gift." I am quoting at length because, well, it's good. 

I [believe] spreading unproven speculation is bearing false witness and I... believe we need to repent when we have borne such witness. We need to spend more time in God's Word and less time being influenced by social media trolls and clickbait. 
It is not a mistake that the some of the same people who spread Pizzagate and Seth Rich conspiracies, long since discredited, are back to spread Coronavirus conspiracies. Let not Christians be among the fooled nor among those spreading foolishness. 
Unless you believe President Trump, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the media, and the scientific community are all in league together (a real leap of faith), you are just embarrassing yourself when you spread Coronavirus conspiracies. These vast conspiracies would mean that President Trump, himself, knew this was a bioweapon, is part of the plan to end religious liberty, plans to use a potential vaccine as some mark of the beast, and somehow 5G is part of it all. (Yes, that’s all out there, one web search away— and in far too many Christian social media feeds.) It just does not make sense, except to the easily fooled. 
If you still insist on spreading such misinformation, would you please consider taking Christian off your bio so the rest of us don’t have to share in the embarrassment? Long story short, you're ultimately bringing harm to yourself and your community. You may make yourself feel like you're making a difference when you are not. You are undermining important information.Most importantly, you damage your witness and that of your church when you focus on unproven theories and speculation more than the good news we've been commanded by our Lord to proclaim.  
As Austin Jones tweeted, “Last week my Facebook feed was full of people posting crazy Covid conspiracy theories, followed by posts about evidence for the resurrection. I don’t think they realize the message they are actually sending.”

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