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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.