Eight Hundred Thousand

When you think of COVID-19, where do you start? What’s your initial gut reaction to discussions of pandemic response, vaccines, etc.?

Obviously, these are treacherous waters, and our society has fractured along some new and some old fault lines. But why? I’ve been pondering this hard, trying to figure out, as an American, as a Christian, what motivates (or scares?) people in these discussions. It seems to me that the primary difference in these discussions hinges on whether you believe that the pandemic threatens either liberty or life.

For some, the pandemic is an overblown risk that governments around the world are seizing upon as an opportunity to strip away liberties and long-held freedoms: freedom of movement, bodily autonomy, even the freedom to worship.

For others, the pandemic involves a deadly disease that has killed 800,000 people in our country alone, and governments (and people) have a responsibility to mitigate the loss of life as much as possible.

Where we start often determines where we end up, so this matters.

If the issues circle around freedom, you’re likely to claim government overreach, saying things like “Don’t tread on me” or “Give me liberty or give me death.” Vaccine requirements, social distancing, and even mask mandates, present an existential threat to your freedoms. Fair enough.

If the issues circle around public health and the threat to life (yours and others’), you’re more likely to embrace masks and vaccines and be ok with government regulations that aim to prevent the spread of a deadly pathogen. You’re willing to give up some liberty and some opportunities. Also, fair enough.

If you’ve read much of what I’ve written, you know which side I generally reside in. As an ER nurse and pastor/missionary for twenty years, one of the hardest things for me to reconcile has been the fact that so many Christians seem to reside — almost exclusively — on the liberty side. Sean Feucht’s “Let Us Worship” gatherings represent what I’m talking about. White evangelical Christians have seemed so very LOUD when it comes to defending religious liberty and bodily autonomy. I have not heard so much about masking and vaccines as a form of loving your neighbor. Those things are ploys of the devil (or democrats) to steal my liberties.

But 800,000 souls have been lost in our country alone, and the tidal waves of grief and loss emanating from those losses impact millions. So many people (including several friends) are dealing with long-haul COVID, and that is no joke. Again, we’re just talking about the US here. Hospitals and healthcare staff around the country are being stretched to the margins, and we may only be at the beginning of a winter surge.

I guess what I’m saying is, let’s look at our starting points and honestly assess them. Hey, I love freedom, and I’m glad I live in America. I am grateful for the parts of our heritage that value liberty and freedom. Those are worth caring about and defending. But as a Christian, if my biggest concern and motivating factor is personal freedom (even of religion), I’ve lost the plot. We are called to so much more.

I’ve heard pastors say that we shouldn’t worry because 99% of people who get COVID will be fine. That gives you personally a pretty good chance, sure, but across a population, that would mean over three million dead Americans. Can someone care about those deaths without being a communist?

Is there a middle ground? Is it possible to care about liberty and life? Is it possible to recognize that some mitigation measures have been too onerous and caused way too many negative outcomes, while also having empathy for the sick and vulnerable and acting in their best interests? Is it possible to care about life and not support draconian lockdowns? Is it possible to worship God without exposing everyone around you to a potentially lethal pathogen?

Is it possible to behave with mercy and gentleness and the love of Christ in this day and age?

I hope so.