Opinion: Help Our Unbelief
By Cheryl Sanders
Many Christian congregations in the United States celebrated the resurrection online this year because our sanctuaries were closed or restricted due to the COVID-19 coronavirus public health emergency. About three days after Easter, the “Operation Gridlock” protest arose in the state capital of Michigan to express anger at Governor Gretchen Whitmer for imposing restrictions on all types of social gatherings and businesses, resulting in the loss of freedom, employment, and income for individuals and families. Many of the protestors assumed a defiant posture by openly carrying guns and waving flags displaying the stars and stripes of the United States, the Confederacy, and bearing the name of President Donald Trump. “Make America Great Again” hats gave this protest the aura of a Trump presidential campaign rally. Governor Whitmer was targeted with the same chants that resounded four years ago during the Trump campaign against candidate Hillary Clinton: “Lock her up!” What is our Christian response to these growing expressions of anger? How does our confession of faith in Jesus Christ inform our views of stay-at-home orders, personal vs. community rights, economics, and politics in the shadow of this unprecedented pandemic?
To begin with, we know that Jesus was acquainted with incurable contagious diseases as a public health problem. When he healed the ten lepers, he told them to comply with the legal requirement to go show themselves to the priests. Jesus was experienced with social distancing, as in the case of the woman who, by faith, pressed her way through the crowd and reached for the hem of his garment to be healed of her issue of blood. Jesus healed people of all kinds of diseases, but let us be aware that even Jesus was unable to heal people who were plagued by something worse than novel coronavirus—unbelief.
Did Jesus approve of public protest as an expression of anger? Yes, for example, when he turned over tables and chairs and personally drove the moneychangers out of the temple. He cleared the way for it to be a house of prayer for all people and not a den for thieves who prey upon the prayerful. As Christians we must consider the contrast between this act of protest motivated by a zeal for the God of all people and the modern optic of partisan politics, guns, gridlock, symbols of white supremacy, and derisive chants designed to target the gender of the one in authority.
The governor of Michigan imposed severe restrictions out of a concern for the fact that the number of infections and deaths made her state a “hot spot” for COVID-19 contagion. The impact on the economy is not unique to Michigan—unemployment has arisen to unprecedented levels all across the nation as businesses have been forcibly shut down in an effort to stop the spread of infection. However, to protest in open defiance of social distancing and by refusing to wear personal protection creates a troubling and conflicted Christian witness. Since when did being a Christian make anyone immune from disease? From poverty? From hunger?
We worship a God who heals our diseases but who also gives us the wisdom to accept prescriptions and professional health care and advice. It is ludicrous for pastors and congregations to assume that our houses of worship should be exempt from restrictions put in place by government officials because our faith somehow immunizes us against the coronavirus. Our God provides our daily bread, and gives us the strength and ability to work to take care of ourselves and our families. But in a time of famine, that is, when there are massive deficiencies of subsistence resources, we cannot afford to disregard the disparities caused by social injustice and partisan political indifference. If we expect God to hear our prayers to heal our land from this plague, we must acknowledge the sins of our society, the failures of our public policy, and the consequences of the choices we have made at the ballot box. Now is the time for every Christian to review our commitment to the common good. May our faith empower us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Views expressed in the preceding op-ed do not necessarily reflect those of Church of God Ministries, Inc., or its affiliates. Op-ed features are published to provoke thought, stimulate healthy discussion, and inspire us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did.
Since 1997, Rev. Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders has served as senior pastor of Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C. Since 1984, she has served as professor of Christian ethics at the Howard University School of Divinity.
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.