Note: My day began with a news report that 31 states in the USA are now seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Thankfully, Indiana is not among them. However, cases here remain steady and could always spike again. All of this has me thinking about what is asked of us as followers of Christ in doing our part to keep the virus from spiking? This blog post attempts to address that question.
I have often thought that pastoring a congregation is something like trying to herd cats. Cats, in my observation, are some of the most independent mammals on earth – next to human beings that is. As an American Baptist I have long respected the individualism of our faith heritage. Baptists, in general, are a people who talk about freedom. We champion the religious freedom we enjoy in our nation, and we also champion the soul freedom of each individual to directly connect with God through Christ Jesus. We generally do not like to have our freedoms curtailed or imposed on by others. If you do not agree with that last sentence, I’d like to invite you to the next Baptist congregational meeting where any substantive change is being proposed.
I’ve been thinking about these freedoms of our faith heritage, alongside the freedom we will celebrate this week on Independence Day. In my doctoral work I remember coming across some reading which suggested Baptists were particularly well-matched to the American experiment, given our bent toward the individual and freedom. But what do we do when this marriage comes into conflict with best practices that ask us to yield some of those freedoms for the well-being of all? What, in fact, do we do when we follow Jesus’ words to “love your neighbor as yourself” in the midst of an ongoing health pandemic?
The consistent message from medical science today, as it concerns moderating the spread of the coronavirus, is to follow these simple practices: Wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing (6 feet apart) in public gatherings, and wear a face covering. On top of this, is the advice that outdoor gatherings are better than indoor, small gatherings better than large, and some congregational practices – like singing – especially without a mask – are high risk activities for the spread of particles that can carry the virus.
Given this information, alongside our command from Jesus to love the Lord and to love our neighbor (see Mt. 22:34-40), I believe continued vigilance in health and safety practices is our responsibility. This includes wearing a face mask and keeping physical distance, even if it feels like these things infringe on some of our individual freedoms.
I do not come to this conclusion as a Democrat, Republican or Independent. I do not come to this conclusion as an American. (In fact, I grieve that like so many other things, even our response to a health pandemic has become politicized.) I come to this conclusion as a follower of Jesus. I’m asking you to continue to join me in keeping vigilant in loving your neighbor, and loving yourself.
What does this mean? Wear a face covering over your mouth and nose when you are out in public, including at church. Do not take it off to sing, or because it is hot or uncomfortable – wait until you are outside to remove it, and only when you are away from others. Model this behavior for others, including children and young people.
Be aware of physical space. In a recent shopping experience my wife and I were assisted by a “close talker”. Even though he was masked, he kept creeping up on us to talk to us. We would back up, he would come closer. I’m sure he’s just a friendly guy who enjoys talking to people, but in today’s environment it made us uncomfortable. It also made me wonder – do I do that to others?
Vigilance is about mindfulness and awareness. Sometimes we need each other to help keep us mindful and vigilant. “What part can I play in that?” is a good question to ask ourselves.
So, let me come back to the cats. Having never been much of a cat person (give me a dog any day) I really don’t have too much experience trying to herd them. But I do have a lot of experience working among people. That experience has taught me that people hold very different viewpoints and opinions, and engage in varied practices when it comes to following directives – even those designed for their well-being. I do not expect this is going to change too much in general society. I do expect it to be honored among those who follow Jesus’ command to love others as we love ourselves. If that teaching is our guide as Christ followers, then shouldn’t the Christ I see in you remind me to give you the best from the Christ that resides in me? We are all part of the body of which Christ is the head. Let’s continue to follow his lead in obedience to his teachings.