COVID-Appeal to Jesus-Followers
A Brief Background
For the record, I’m fifty years old. I’ve been an ordained pastor since 1996, serving as both a senior pastor and missionary over the past twenty-five years, working in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
I grew up in apartheid South Africa where a religious government justified discrimination and human rights abuse in God’s name. I was still in South Africa when a corrupt and unaccountable government, post-Mandela and Mbeki, ravaged and ruined the country further. I also witnessed the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and how his oppressive rule devastated that country and its precious people. Some of the people I worked with in Zimbabwe were subject to violence for not showing overt support for the regime and many of them knew others who’d simply disappeared for speaking out against it.
I have lived in Melbourne, Australia since 2009. As a family, we fell in love with this country and we are now Australian citizens. Over the past twelve years, I’ve paid close attention to how politics work in my adopted country because it’s of interest to me, and because of my previous experiences in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The consequences my family have endured from the COVID pandemic have been life-altering, although small in comparison to what others have suffered.
Many have suffered directly from the virus itself, while others have suffered from the government’s response to the virus. The balance between minimising loss of life versus maintaining a healthy economy is a lose-lose scenario for those in charge. I understand both sides of the issue.
On the one hand, within my own family and close friends, people’s lives have been cut tragically short by the virus. On the other hand, my wife’s once-successful business has effectively shut its doors through repeated lockdowns. Both my daughters are negatively affected, too, especially my eldest. Finishing Year 12 last year, her career plans effectively collapsed through COVID and its implications. (Thankfully, she has adapted and charted a new course forward, but not without much pain and soul searching.)
COVID is a global pandemic and the virus, along with our response to it, is testing us as a human race. Not just as Australians or South Africans (or add your country here), but as human beings.
Appeal to Followers of Jesus
My heart is saddened by the response of so many Christians to both the COVID pandemic itself and the government response to the pandemic.
Among Christians, there are several responses:
Those who believe COVID doesn’t actually exist.
Those who believe COVID exists but contend that it’s no worse than the flu.
Those who believe that Big Brother (Big Gov and Big Pharma) are using COVID in their quest for world domination. While COVID-deniers and minimisers tend to believe this notion too, COVID-smokescreeners typically don’t deny or minimise COVID—they believe Big Brother is using a genuine pandemic to further their nefarious agenda.
Personally, knowing those whose lives have been cut short by COVID and many others who have suffered but survived it, I’m simply baffled by those who deny COVID.
In terms of equating COVID as “no worse than the flu”, I have two responses. Firstly, I don’t know of anyone who minimises COVID after personally contracting it or walking with family and friends who’ve died or suffered because of it. In my fifty years, I can’t recall one person I know who has died from the flu. In the past eighteen months, I know several who have died from COVID.
Secondly, flu continues to kill hundreds of thousands of people every year and but for humanity’s long-standing battle against influenza, it would remain far more lethal. Flu is, in a sense, an old enemy humanity has largely tamed. COVID is a new enemy, and humanity must wage a similar all-fronts battle to defeat it. Victory will only be achieved through a united effort, by acknowledging its danger, and by using God-given scientific tools and medical best practices to tame the virus. Just as humanity has battled Ebola, measles, influenza and the like, we need to win our battle against COVID.
Thus, my plea is largely to COVID-smokescreeners.
There seem to be at least two underlying issues involved. On the one hand, Faith vs. Science. And on the other hand, Faith vs. Government.
Faith vs. Science
“Trust God, not a vaccine” is the common idea here.
My faith in God is not undermined when I open my mouth at the dentist, submit my back to the hands of the chiropractor or subject my body to an operating table to get my appendix removed. Nor was my faith undermined when I ensured my children were vaccinated against Hepatitis B or Measles. Rather, I enjoy the benefits of twenty-first century science as an expression of faith in my Father and Creator.
When Paul encouraged Timothy to use a little wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23), it wasn’t because he didn’t trust God. Faithful to God, he simply suggested Timothy use a man-made remedy.
Personally, it took an exercise of faith to work through my own concerns and choose to get the COVID vaccination amid the constant deluge of conspiracy theories and fearmongering, largely from a politicised religious right.
Ultimately, unless you’re in a high-risk category, you don’t primarily get the vaccine to protect yourself; you get the vaccine to protect others and play your part in humanity’s attempt to tame the virus. (See my reasons for getting vaccinated and the concerns I worked through.)
You can choose to vaccinate or not, and both can be an expression of faith.
But don’t make this a faith versus vaccination issue.
The “trust God, not a vaccine” statement is not just an incorrect comparison, it drags the Christian witness back into the dark, misguided past when religious people foolishly railed against the benefits of God-given medicine.
Frankly, it’s embarrassing and does much harm to our Christian witness.
Faith vs. Government
In this case, “trust God, not the government” is the common theme.
Again, this is a false dichotomy.
Paul taught us to “submit to the governing authorities”, stressing that “whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God” (Romans 13:1-7).
Peter also taught us to “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors” (1 Peter 2:13-17).
It could not be more clear.
We honour elected officials, even ones we perceive as controlling and heartless or bungling and inept, because we trust God.
That’s true faith.
And we would do well to remind ourselves that the powers-that-were in the first century were tyrannical despots and dictators. To label our elected officials as dictators is to not know one’s history very well—both first-century history and twentieth-century history.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think a healthy dose of scepticism for elected officials is a good thing—although I believe it should be nested in an honouring attitude towards the office the elected officials hold. Elected officials should be held up to the highest scrutiny and if there’s overreach or laxity, we should remove them via the democratic mechanism of the ballot box.
Has the government managed the situation well? No. Not many governments have waded through these turbulent waters with much credit.
Has the government overreacted? Certainly. Not too many governments are accused of being lax in the face of COVID. And those that have are paying for it in heartbreakingly high death tolls. There’s a reason the USA and Brazil take the top two spots in this tragic tale.
You can be certain of one thing, however.
No one who aspires to serve in the so-called corridors of power hopes to finally exercise that responsibility in the middle of a pandemic. Pandemics ruin reputations and wreck political careers.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment.
What would you want to happen on your watch? A rising death toll or an economy in free fall?
Yes, you’d want neither. Any reasonable person would want to minimise loss of life and ensure a growing economy (and the obvious consequences to people’s financial security, employment prospects and mental health).
But only a heartless person would play flippant with the death toll and prioritise the economy over a science-informed approach to minimising loss of life.
Yes, it’s far more complicated than that, and probably more than you or I fully appreciate. And yes, I personally don’t think the government has got the balance right. But let’s be honest, if we pick ten people randomly out of the average crowd, we’ll probably have ten different opinions on where that balance lies.
So, what is the most likely “agenda” our elected officials harbour?
Seeking to avoid deaths on one’s conscience and one’s record is more at play than anything else. The former is a moral and humane motivation, the latter is a political and human one. At present, that’s the twin driver behind those in power.
Concluding that the government’s agenda is to use the pandemic to control our lives and limit our freedom is not just fanciful thinking, but it shows a chronic misunderstanding of our country’s laws and it gives our elected officials far too much credit. Worst of all, for a Jesus-follower, it reveals a lack of faith in God and His Kingdom purpose for humanity.
Granted, if a country’s democratic process breaks down and the voting process is rigged, as we witnessed in Zimbabwe under Mugabe, then questions about how followers of Jesus might contend for liberty become more complex.
The truth is, however, in such regimes, you don’t get a slap on the wrist, you get dead.
It goes without saying that this is not what’s happening.
You can maintain a healthy degree of scepticism of the government and do so from an honouring, faithful position.
But don’t make this a faith versus government issue.
In fact, there’s a good argument to make that failing to honour those in authority is an act of faithlessness.
So, How Does a Jesus-Follower Respond?
Firstly, prayer. This remains our greatest recourse as followers of Jesus. We are urged to pray for “all who are in authority” and to pray for a specific outcome: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). In other words, we are to excel at peace-bringing and peace-making—especially in turbulent times. (See our #1Tim2 page.)
Thus, along with praying for those in authority, Jesus followers do all in their power to honour civil authority and uphold the rule of law even when personally inconvenienced by those laws.
For those of us privileged to live in democratic societies, we respect the democratic process and we use the legal tools at our disposal, such as the right to vote and to lobby the government. And we use them with gentleness, graciousness and godliness.
We don’t gossip. We don’t promote half-truths and embellished claims. We don’t peddle in conspiracy theories. We don’t spread fear. We don’t rebel against or flagrantly ignore the science-supported advice our elected officials give, especially in a pandemic where lives are at risk. We don’t undermine the government or participate in illegal activities such as unlawful protests.
Frankly, it’s baffling that this needs to be said.
We should be infusing society with hope and love and acts of generosity and goodwill. God’s people ought to be a healing balm at this time. When it’s darkest, we should shine brightest.
Having lived and worked in countries subject to dictatorial and corrupt governments, I also consider myself a student of history. I see only the signs of desperation and exasperation in an Australian government presently trying to get us through to the other side of a global pandemic.
You may think they’re doing a terrible job of it. You may disagree with the decisions they make. You may lack confidence in their ability to see us through it.
But as a citizen of a democratic society, you have the privileged recourse of a democratic process.
And as a follower of Jesus, you have an incredible recourse through prayer.
So, if you are a follower of Jesus, act like one:
- Pray for all who are in authority (1 Timothy 2:2).
- Submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1).
- Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:5, 6).
- Let no corrupt word proceed from your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers (Ephesians 4:29).
- Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).