Theology and science from a COVID-19 'hotspot'

April 2nd, 2020
This article is featured in the Acting Missionally issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

The nature of a “disciple” is to pay attention, listen, learn and grow. Christian disciples search Scripture to learn from past experiences among people of faith, and we share in Christian community to discern how the Spirit continues to teach and equip for abundant life for all. God helps us not to miss the priceless lessons gleaned from those who came before us, especially the lessons for which so many gave their lives.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop Gregory Palmer quoted the famous Methodist evangelist George R. Stuart, who wrote the following during the height of so-called Spanish Flu Pandemic (which began in Kansas) in October 1918:

“We have had the strange experience of a churchless Sabbath. What has it taught us? The pandemic should convince 'intelligent Christians' to trust science rather than seeking to tempt God to perform a miracle in the preservation of our health… Christians do not discount their faith in the omnipotence of their God by keeping their bodies, homes and streets clean and non-germ producing; by using care in traffic and travel, accepting vaccination, using sprays and disinfectants, and keeping God’s own laws of health and life. Any other course is the fruit of ignorance and false teaching.”

Louisiana, like many other coronavirus “hotspots,” is on fire. Infection by the novel coronavirus is sweeping our globe, bringing serious illness and death for tens of thousands of real, beloved human beings. One can understand the powerful pull to find quick answers and easy escapes from the harder work of disciplined restrictions to life as usual, but we do not need the additional contagion of deadly theology that would simply say, “Trust in Jesus, not the scientists.”

We are distressed by dangerous words among those to whom many would turn for spiritual guidance in the midst of our exploding crisis. The truth is, life-giving wisdom can be found in all the resources God provides. That includes first, second and third responders who are sacrificing on the frontlines, fusing passion and scientific professionalism for the sake of saving lives, with fervent hopes of containment for community near and far.

We can’t say, “God will protect me,” and not do our part to mitigate the spread of the virus. We can’t say, “We are praying for our health workers,” and then engage in practices that would increase the burden on the system through which they minister for the well-being of all.

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