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In the United States we mark summer’s parameters with a pair of Monday holidays: Memorial Day begins the summer season and Labor Day concludes it. The Fourth of July is not really the literal midpoint of summer but it often feels that way. In any event, the final day of August also has a bit of summer’s end feel to it. We’ve got a week to go before the Tuesday after Labor Day but whereas August is all about summer, we know that September will soon enough put summer in the rearview mirror of life.
And what a summer it has been. As Memorial Day came to an end, the CDC and other leading health officials were confident enough in the COVID vaccines to declare a return to normalcy for the vaccinated. By July 4 President Biden declared a de facto independence from the virus. Like many people, I reveled in this. I stopped wearing my mask in public places and as I walked the aisles of the D&W supermarket, I allowed myself to feel a bit giddy. “We really are coming out of this thing” I thought over and over and with glee. In June and July my office hosted some seminars and we took people out for dinners at restaurants without significant worry.
But the air in that optimistic balloon has nearly all escaped now. Sometimes it feels like someone just took a needle to the balloon and popped it all at once. The delta variant has infected hundreds of thousands of the unvaccinated and as a result of it circulating that much, has managed to infect (and sometimes sicken) a small but real percentage of even those fully vaccinated. As if going back to wearing masks were not demoralizing enough, the situation in Afghanistan went from bad to worse to nearly hopeless almost overnight and in a single deadly day, thirteen U.S. troops and nearly 200 Afghan civilians were slaughtered.
That all is hanging in the air as those of us involved in academia enter yet another school year that is being kinked left and right by COVID and masking mandates and uncertainty. Any thought any of us had that the 2021-2022 school year would be closer to normal again seems to have also dimmed if not vanished.
In the midst of all that I have read many articles, blogs, and social media posts in which people have been struggling to identify and deal with their feelings in the midst of all this topsy-turvy upset. It saddens me that so many articles—including this recent one in The Atlantic by David Frum—properly note how many of the unvaccinated are evangelical Christians.
At a meeting in my city last week, angry parents who refuse to allow their children to wear masks to school cloaked their position in the spiritual language of God-given freedom and faith and religious freedom of choice. Meanwhile, although most public school systems in my part of the state have required masks, the Christian school systems have almost uniformly refused to do so. And not a few observers sense that it is the political pressure of powerful right-wing donors and parents that are behind such a decision. At least one family I know of has gone so far as to pull their children from the Christian school as a result.
The feelings all of this has generated are often along the lines of anger, frustration, bitterness. I have felt all of that too. But, of course, none of those kinds of emotions live in the same neighborhood as the Fruit of the Spirit and so giving in to such sentiments does not feel like the right thing to do. If I am upset that the Christian school systems failed to set a good example of caring for our neighbors in preventing the spread of COVID, I cannot then turn around and spew out vitriol about all that because that hardly sets an example either. Jesus’s words about the need to forgive 70×70 times keep cropping up in my heart of late.
But as we soon turn the corner to the Fall season and leave this turbulent and disorienting summer behind, here are a couple musings that I share strictly for what it’s worth (and that may not be a lot I realize).
First, I am not going to make assumptions that paint all vaccine-resistant or vaccine-rejecting people with the same brush. If I have a chance to dialogue with these people, I want to listen first of all and try to understand. And in some cases, I may be moved to see that their reasons—while I may not agree—are not loopy or based only on all the misinformation out there. I will correct misinformation if I am in a solid place to do so but I am not going to reject dialogue and respectful sharing of ideas from the outset.
Second, however, eighteen months into this pandemic and ten or so months into having widely available vaccines, I am not going to stand silent if people cloak their views in the terms of faith or of what Jesus has told them to do. Near as I can tell, our Christian faith has nothing to do with those who reject COVID as a hoax. Christian faith per se has nothing to do with your own political views on what is or is not the appropriate role for civil governments to mandate or make law. Christian faith has nothing to do with whether you feel like wearing a mask or going along with a school that insists your child wear a mask in the classroom. Our Christian faith may offer us many angles and perspectives on these issues but to declare that a given position on the reality of COVID, the safety of vaccines, the efficacy of wearing masks is somehow a religious choice dictated by Christian faith is too extreme a view to leave unchallenged.
Those who have dragged the evangelical faith down into the muddy trenches of politicization seem to have had the biggest megaphones throughout this pandemic. It is time—with all due Christian civility and Christ-like gentleness—to grab the megaphone to promote a different message. People I know and I myself do not have THEE religious answer or viewpoint on these matters, either. So using a megaphone to make the same faith-based declaration in an opposing direction would be foolish and itself in need of challenging.
But that doesn’t mean on this final day of August 2021 that we cannot let people know that for Christians, there are multiple thoughtful ways to encounter all this with prayer, humility, and kindness.
Thank you… also exploring thoughtful ways to accept this summer’s current failure to suppress this evil virus while exhibiting Galatians 5 behavior…
Two verses and one stat keep wringing in my mind as reminders of how we are “wired up” by Our Lord..
Genesis 6= The Lord said, “My breath will not remain in humans forever, because they are flesh. They will live one hundred twenty years.”
Psalm 90= We live at best to be seventy years old,
maybe eighty, if we’re strong.
But their duration brings hard work and trouble
because they go by so quickly.
And then we fly off.
Current U.S. life expectancy= 77.8 years …
Once again, Scott, I’m with you. I think it’s hard to see what you’re saying, that the Christian faith has nothing to do with these things, but I think you’re right. I suspect the whole “Christian worldview” thing, now adopted by evangelicals and fundamentalists, makes us susceptible to this. Sometimes I wish I were a Lutheran, and that it was simply “justification by faith apart from works of the law,” and forget the whole Christian cultural mandate as implied legalism (but then there’s James, and Matthew) or an Eastern Orthodox, where it’s all about the divine reality touched by the Liturgy. I can’t escape my Calvinist convictions, although I think they’ve gone to seed in American culture, bad seed. So I am with you. Thanks for this.
But Lutherans and Orthodox have political and social correlations too. You can’t escape them cuz even apathy and quietism are commitments….
I think that Christian faith does have something to say about how we behave during this crisis. If the basic principle we live by is “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” that has implications for how we act during a pandemic. We have to take trouble to protect our neighbors from infection with this disease. Other people who identify themselves as Christians should do so as well, and we are right to call them to do so. The individualist American ethic that emphasizes personal rights and liberties is not (always) in line with Christian ethics, and we need to be clear about that.
I agree with this, John. And it is a key area of conversation. What I was trying–perhaps unsuccessfully–to say is that those who baptize their theory of COVID as hoax or vaccines as conspiracy or their own theories on what is or is not appropriate for governments to mandate, then THAT is where I draw the line to say your Christian faith did not lead you to those conclusions nor do loopy theories on so called religious freedom derive from the Christian faith at least not when it comes to behavior in society at large. But the Love Your Neighbor ethic (not to mention the sacrificial ethic embodied in the cross) does have a lot to say about our behavior, including on why we ought to mask up. So I agree.
Thanks, Scott, for your take on the resurgence of the Covid pandemic. In some ways it is surprising this attachment of the Christian community to the anti mask, anti vaccine mentality with a gravitational slide toward conspiracy theories that offer empty promises. As you suggested even a good share of so called Christian schools are not requiring masks or vaccine inoculation by teachers or students. Freedom from cultural demands seems to be the mandate for many Christians. Some Christians like yourself and many people who comment on this website are surprised at the popularity of conspiracy theories among Christians. But I’m not surprised at all. Christianity itself reads so much like a conspiracy theory that many Christians confuse their Christianity with the latest theory out there. Like a conspiracy theory, Christianity makes all kind of (empty) promises based on legendary characters whose actual lives don’t live up to the hype or live at all. Many of Christianity’s promises, like the promises of conspiracy theories, are to be fulfilled in the future, a future that never seems to make it into the present and never will. Such future promises keeps these theories (including Christianity) alive and offer hope. So it’s not surprising to me that so many Christians find a way to abandon the science of our culture for theories that mesh with their Christian faith.
Scott (and Daniel),
I struggle to understand this hesitancy to not be actively involved in some political dialogue or life, even political action. If the original Greek “Polis” translates in some loose way, “The life of the city” (and I am no Greek scholar at your level), it seems to me that Christianity must be part of that life, otherwise, what’s the point of faith? Now, I find liberal and conservative partisanship from Christians misses the point, but we have an obligation to engage (with a healthy dose of humility) nonetheless (which I appreciate Scott embracing in his embrace of dialoge). I also wonder if Christians, particularly of the Reformed persuasion have no conception of the Belgic Confession. What does Article 36 mean? It might be a worthy conversation in our current situation for Reformed folk to have and then articulate to the world (at least the people of faith). If you prefer Scripture, how about a rich conversation concerning Jesus’ teaching, “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar” … or Paul, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” Now, I know the large semi-truck exception to this teaching (don’t go against God’s law to follow authorities), but Scott’s point concerning rather loose connections to God-given freedom and anti-vaccine sentiment. I could go on and on, but there is such an open avenue for the church to over its theological response to the moment with statements from the church, and we’ve missed the chance, unless we act soon.
One last thing, I note that you (Scott) cast a bit of asparagus on the local Christian schools, but I’ll also note that Calvin has not taken the lead in any real way on vaccines and mandates. There are over 600 universities and colleges (and the numbers are growing) that have mandated vaccines, but Calvin hesitates. Why? My son is a student there so I’m familiar with the set up for student and staff protection (including religious beliefs, which you rightly note are misguided). I would love it if our secular schools did not take the lead in protecting and loving neighbors, but once again, it seems that this is the case. Thanks for the article. Thanks for the encouragement for humility. As always thanks for your wisdom and allowing some of us to challenge it (with a spirit of love).
Thanks, Rodney. Some of what you raise I address above in the Comments here in reply to John Tiemstra so I will refer you to that rather than repeat it here. I do think there are avenues of conversation that are informed by our Christian faith, and that is what is behind my second point in not ceding the spiritual or theological territory to only those who are sure their faith tells them COVID is a hoax or vaccines are government mind control or overreach. As to Calvin: both the University and Seminary have mandated masking for all indoor spaces. True, they have not mandated the vaccine but they are making it costly for those who won’t get one: they need weekly COVID tests at their own expense. The vaccine is free. Testing is not. So I guess one can decide. And if they test positive, they also have to pay for their own quarantine somewhere. Again, not the same as a mandate but a definite push in that direction to get the shot.
As always, thanks Scott.
I hope you are right and the push that Calvin is making will lead everyone to get vaccinated sooner than later.
We shall see and as a parent of a student, I’ll be watching.
Mask mandates are fine for schools.But have you thought about WHO the enforcers are? Yes it is the teacher ! Do you even realize how many times in a 10 minute teaching period an elementary or middle school teacher must stop teaching and remind said students to properly wear the mask that is being twirled on a pencil, worn on the forehead or over the eyes, or shot across the room by the elastic ear holders? At least every 30 seconds. After calm has been re-established. Some class rooms may have a less troublesome percentage but I feel for the teacher.
I am with you 100% on frustration with nut-job Christian anti-vax types who show up and rant and rave at school board meetings. They have rightly earned evangelicals (whatever that exactly means) a bad name,
But, a couple of comments, only to make the point that while ‘evangelicals’ draw all the fire, they are not alone or, even, completely wrong about masks (on vaccines, my opinion is your nuts if you don’t get it unless there are medical reasons not too).
First, I saw a breakdown of vaccine-hesitant people by level of education (I’d post a link, but don’t have time to go find it back). The group with the highest level of non-vaccination? Holders of PhDs, at a rate slightly higher than those with a high school diploma or less. The highest level of vaccination was those with a bachelor’s degree.
Second, minority populations are among the highest unvaccinated rates and I don’t read anyone ripping them for their stupidity. And there’s really no argument for it being due to lack of access; being unvaccinated at this point is a matter of choice.
Lastly, I encourage reading this analysis of the science behind the effectiveness of masks, ( Do Masks Work? | City Journal (city-journal.org ) which suggests that the CDC play up less robust recent studies suggesting that masks help while ignoring more robust research done over the past 10 to 15 years that pretty conclusively shows that masks are ineffective, and perhaps even harmful, at stopping the spread of a virus like COVID. (“Seriously people—STOP BUYING MASKS!” So tweeted then–surgeon general Jerome Adams on February 29, 2020, adding, “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus.”) So, while the people raising hell with the school boards may be nuts and arguing the wrong points, they are not wrong on the fundamental issue – and it seems pretty obvious that masking must have some negative affect on classroom learning.
Personally, I’ll don a mask out of consideration if it reduces the stress level of those around me, but I’m under no illusion that it’s doing any good. (Good hand-hygiene, meanwhile, is vitally important).
As a medical professional I read the Cochrane study mentioned by the author of the City Journal article Tom mentioned. First it must be noted that City Journal nor the author of this article is a medical professional. He was a professor of political science at the US Air Force Academy with PhD in political science from Claremont College. He has a decidedly right leaning bias his stances. It is true the Cochrane Study is not conclusive about facemasks to reduce respiratory illness but it is not conclusive they don’t work. No studies included Covid variants. All studies were for influenza type illness where viruses tend to circulate in the lower areas of the respiratory track while Covid has been found more in upper airways. Additionally studies varied on type of mask used, compliance by wearer, settings used, and harms poorly measured. So all in all there are not good studies to support use but also not good studies to say masks don’t work. This is how science works. Medicine is an art and a science. It takes the best evidence scientifically we have but also has to deal with best advice at times when we do not yet have all the answers. Medicine also must “First Do No Harm.”. So if masks don’t work, what harm is it causing people to make them wear one?” On the other hand, if they do work, what harm is it causing people to tell them not to wear them?
Stanford has just released a RCT (randomized control trial) that demonstrates evidence that face masks contributed to a decrease in serious infections with Covid. Again, the article posted in City Journal based its claims against masking because no RCT had been done. RCTs can be difficult to do in some situations. It takes the ability to say to people in the middle of the pandemic, okay I need you to participate in a trial where you will have to expose yourself to covid (a virus that can be deadly) and you will not know if the intervention we have you do is effective in preventing you from getting the deadly virus or not. This study was performed in Bangladesh, a poor country that likely did not have the resources to obtain masks, etc. as in the U.S. Ethics are always raised when such a trial is completed. I will let the medical professionals and scientists critique the merits of this new study, but I post it to add to the dialogue on the issue that Tom raised by submitting information from City Journal.
Just to clarify, I am not “against masking” and, as I read it, neither is the City Journal author. What I AM against is pronouncements that “the science” says that masks are crucial to stopping the spread of COVID when “the science” does not say that. I expect politicians to exaggerate the positives and ignore the negatives of their positions. I should be able to count on “the science” to be objective and honest about what’s clearly demonstrated and what is not.
In my humble opinion, it appears that the CDC has become ‘political’ on the subject of masks and in doing so they damage the more important message on the things that are demonstrably effective such as vaccination and hand-washing.
I am puzzled why some of those in charge have chosen to draw their red line at masking and are willing to go to that mat on an argument that can’t really be conclusively supported by the evidence. The primary push should be to convince more of the vaccine skeptical to get vaccinated (we will never sway the nut-jobs who believe the vaccines are all about Bill Gates implanting some sort of tracking device in all of us.) I believe that fighting about masks reduces the likelihood of bringing some portion of those skeptics around to getting vaccinated.
So, your comment “all in all there are not good studies to support use but also not good studies to say masks don’t work” actually proves my point. My point is that if we expect the majority of people to buy into the recommendations of experts like the CDC, then it’s incumbent on them to be honest and forthcoming about what the science says.
On vaccines, the science says that they are incredibly effective with extremely low risk and that’s what the CDC is saying. On masks, the science is pretty inconclusive, but that’s not what the CDC is saying, and that undermines their credibility on vaccines, especially for those who are inclined to distrust the authorities.
(Also, ‘right-leaning’ does not = wrong 😊 .)
Tom, I think we have a lot in common on our views about covid. Vaccines yes… critical to prevention and first line recommendation. Use of immediate treatment with legitimate drugs to decrease serious risk (not wacky treatments like horse deworming), and yes to social distancing and good air ventilation in schools . These are all evidenced based and should be first line for covid prevention. And I know having a right bias or a left bias does not mean not being factual or truthful, but in can indicate what will be left out of the conversation. And sure the CDC may not be perfect in its recommendations or how they communicate them. They are human like the rest of us. And yes, they have been wrong.
I do take issue with your assumption “it seems pretty obvious that masking must have some negative affect on classroom learning.” Really? What RCT supported this? How “negative” is the affect? Is it worse than possibly transmitting covid to someone who may experience serious effects if they become sick with covid? What are ways to overcome the “risk” you say exists?
So I go back to my original point, what do you expect the CDC to recommend in times as this? I don’t see them not promoting vaccines, good medical treatments that reduce severity of illness if given early, and social distancing. Okay… critique them if they don’t say more clearly “we don’t have all the evidence yet on facemasks” but I find the tone from the right has resulted in much, much, much more disinformation on covid and allowed people who may not have all the tools to analyze each recommendation to make poor decisions and even die. In many cases, the same people often, who are raising the ruckus on the masking required in some schools are the same people who have not wanted to get their kids and themselves (who are eligible) vaccinated… The other problem is that there are kids in schools who are under 12, can’t get the vaccine, and are high risk for contracting it. We know there are effects on not being able to attend school and want to avoid that… What do you want schools and the CDC to recommend in such situations?
So fine, pick at the CDC and people overstating the evidence for facemasks if you want… But for me, I don’t think that kind of constant critiquing is really adding anything positive to the situation. That is all.
This is the current CDC advice on masks.
Judge for yourself if it is overinflating the support for evidence of masks
OK, so I realize that this post is a couple weeks old so probably no one will see this comment, but I’ll post it anyway.
Also, I realize this does not relate to the CDC, but I just want to note the photo/story at this link about the Met Gala in New York, specifically noted the ‘statement’ dresses worn by several celebrities, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; and note that while all the staff working at this event (not shown in these photos, but in others) were required to be masked, and that all the photographers in the background were masked, the ‘important people’ attending the gala were not masked. This was a large gathering of people, indoors; it meets all the criteria where masking is strongly recommended.
So, my point is, as in my earlier comments, is not that the CDC is wrong to recommend masks but, rather, to note that it’s not really fair to unload only on Evangelical Republicans for being opposed to masks (even if they deserve it). When the message from the ‘important people’ seems to be “good for thee, but not for me”, it is not surprising that the average American is skeptical.
Yes, hypocrisy exists across the political spectrum.
Again, I would caution on getting more information on what is reported.
I found that the rules at the Met Gala for attending included: 1) must provide proof of full vaccination to attend; 2) must have a rapid covid test 1 day before that event that is negative; and 3) must wear mask indoors except when eating and drinking.
Could people have violated some of the rules or been granted exceptions? Of course. However is it improbable that when having their pics taken, celebrities might remove their masks for the picture? I know our church has a mask mandate but the speakers and pastor at the podium are allowed to remove their mask when speaking to the congregation.
It is very possible Evangelical Republicans have been criticized more than other groups for not wearing masks or getting vaccines. The church and its people are often held to a higher standard for truth, justice, grace… even though its members are flawed like everyone. But it saddens me that the behaviors of Evangelical (mostly white) Republicans during the past couple of years of the Trump presidency have given those who do not share their faith reason to reject Jesus.