Religion Is Making the Pandemic Worse

This pandemic is terrifying, and religion is making it worse.

Science is being denied in the name of religion as pastors, politicians and parishioners are ignorantly insisting that people should still gather for worship putting all of us at risk. But what I believe is even worse than that is the insidious theology that is being expressed by people of faith everywhere.

“God is in control” they post. “God doesn’t make mistakes” they say. “God is trying to teach us something” they sermonize.

Really? God, the creator and source of love, Love Itself, wants the most vulnerable among us to die alone, sick, afraid and unable to breathe?

I believe religion is making this pandemic even more terrifying, because there are too many people in this world who are following the wrong god.

Too many Christians have created their own version of God, their own Lord, their own King, who sits up on some heavenly throne pushing buttons, pulling levers, controlling, dominating, dictating.

A tornado strikes. They say, “God is trying to get our attention.”

Cancer happens. They say, “God has God’s reasons.”

A loved one dies. They say, “God needed another angel.”

A pandemic rages. They say “God must be angry.”

“God is in control. God does not make mistakes. God knows what God is doing.” They think they are making things better by saying these things, but they are only making things worse.

This is why I believe this week that we call “Holy Week” which begins this weekend is so important. The events we remember this week remind us what kind of God, what kind of King, we serve. Holy Week reminds us, contrary to what some of our Christian friends say, God does not rule like the rulers of this world. God does not reign from some heavenly throne in some blissful castle in the sky, but God rules from an old rugged cross, right here on earth, between broken people like you and me.

The rulers of this world rule from places of self-interest and self-preservation. They rule from places of greed and pride.

However, this Holy week teaches us that Christ is a King who rules from a polar-opposite place—a place of self-expending, self-dying, sacrificial, suffering love.

Christ the King does not rule with an iron fist; Christ the King serves with outstretched arms. Christ the King does not cause human suffering from some far away heavenly realm; Christ the King is right here in our realm sharing in our suffering.

Theologian Arthur McGill put it this way:

God’s power is not a power that takes, but is a power that gives.

God’s power is not a power that rules, but is a power that serves.

God’s power is not a power that imposes, but is a power that loves.

God’s power is not a power that dominates, but a power that dies.

This is why it is no accident that Jesus undertakes his mission to the poor and to the weak and not to the rich and the strong; to the dying and not to those full of life. This is why Jesus was so concerned about those marginalized and demonized by organized religion and the power-that-be. McGill continues:

For with these vessels of need God most decisively vindicates the divine power: a power of service whereby the poor are fed, the sinful are forgiven, the weak are strengthened, and the dying are made alive.

God did not cause this pandemic. The day the first person was infected was a day of anguish for God.

God did not create the layoff. The day you were told that your job was ending, God stayed up with you and worried with you all night long.

And God did not take our loved one. When they died, something inside of God died too. For self-givers are never takers.

A more accurate and theologically sound way of describing what happened to our loved ones when they breathed their last breath is that God came, and God, wholly, completely and eternally, gave all of God’ self to them.

So when this pandemic gets us down, we need to remember the great truth of Holy Week—Christ is King. And this King is reigning, suffering, sacrificing and giving all that God has to give from the cross. God’s throne is not made of silver and gold. God’s throne is made of wood and nails. God wears not a crown of jewels, but God wears a crown of thorns.

And when more people begin to understand this, that God did not bleed for only a few hours during one Holy Week, but continues, even today, to bleed for us, to pour God’s self out for us, perhaps religion will cease making this pandemic worse.

It will be what gets us through it. And then, together with our Easter God, we will make something very good come out of it all.

Are Religious Services Essential to the Christian Faith?

Of the 39 states that have implemented stay-at-home orders, 12 make exceptions for religious gatherings as “essential activities,” because practicing one’s faith is protected under the first amendment of the Constitution.

I believe this raises an important question: “What is essential to practicing the Christian faith?”

Jesus seems to have stated what he believed was essential when he said:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:34-35).

The Apostle Paul agreed that love is the most essential activity as he wrote: “All of the commandments are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

And just in case some people did not understand what love means, he added: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:8-10).

So, it should be obvious during this pandemic that if attending a worship service can make our neighbors sick, and possibly kill them, then attending a service at this time should be something we need to avoid. In fact, according to Jesus and Paul, it is essential to our faith that we do not gather during this time.

I am praying that we will continue to reevaluate what is essential to practice our faith long after this world crisis is over.

Because I do not believe Jesus ever said: “If you want everyone to know you are my disciples, it is essential to build a building and gather inside of that building at least once a week and worship me.” And as far as I know, Jesus never said, “To practice one’s faith, it is essential to sit in a Sunday School classroom and study me.”

However, Jesus did say: “No one can be my disciple unless they carry a cross and follow me” (Luke 14:27).

In other words, Jesus said that to be his disciples, to practice the Christian faith, it is essential that we sacrificially do the things he did to love his neighbors as himself: be willing to sacrifice it all; embrace humility; fight for the vulnerable; empower the underprivileged; feed the hungry; shelter the homeless; heal the sick; free the oppressed; welcome the outsider; forgiver the sinner; defend the marginalized; speak truth to power.

Selfless service to our neighbors is what is essential to practicing the Christian faith. Attending a service with our neighbors is certainly not now, nor has it ever been, essential.