Van Ens: Does Jesus act like a vaccine to protect believers?
Be wary of bad religion that runs off the rails because believers assume their ally is Jesus. Its practitioners’ patriotism boils over into jingoism, unbridled flag-waving that builds allegiance to national and individual liberties.
Bad religion mixed with this unchecked patriotism rejects the accuracy of the adage rightly or wrongly attributed to American journalist Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951): “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and by those carrying a cross.”
Some Christians protest “an illegitimate cross” that states impose on them with stay-at-home orders. These believers are upset because their church sanctuaries are closed. Protesters avoid wearing face masks, acting as if this order applies to their neighbors. Advertising with signs in car windows that “Jesus is their vaccine,” believers are convinced COVID-19 passes them by.
Some preachers invited Easter crowds to worship together physically, proclaiming Jesus protects his own. An evangelical Virginia pastor who swore he would not close God’s house of prayer was dead from COVID-19 by April 11. Another preacher spotted gluttony, drunkenness and public nudity at Mardi Gras. So, he traveled to New Orleans to scrub with a “Jesus cleanse” this “den of iniquity.” Shortly after returning from his crusade, this preacher gave up his life for Lent, dying of COVID-19 that Mardi Gras revelers spread.
At first, Liberty University opened classes after Spring Break. President Jerry Falwell, Jr. initially expressed disbelief that God would allow the virus to strike his campus. Falwell insinuated the greater ill was that Trump’s enemies conspired against him by concocting far-out predictions about the virus’ devastation. Eventually backing down from his bluster, Falwell’s university turned to online education.
Evidently, using Jesus as a vaccine does not guarantee health.
Some Christians who use Jesus as a shield of faith to ward off COVID-19 also carry guns when protesting a state’s stay-at-home orders. This past April agitators slinging rifles and wearing military gear gathered on the gallery above the floor of Michigan’s Capitol.
In a story Time magazine featured on April 30, Associated Press reporters David Eggert and Mike Householder described protesters who carried “placards [which] read “Shut down the lockdown,’ ‘No work no freedom,’ and ‘Tyrants get the rope.’ Some people wore a ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag as a cape. Others chanted, ‘Lock her up,’ in reference to Michigan’s governor [Gretchen Whitmer]. Some wore President Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ hats or carried signs supporting him.”
Is Jesus God’s vaccine? Does the Constitution guarantee individual liberties that allow citizens to disobey stay-in-place regulations?
Jesus does not function as spiritual cellophane that protects believers from pandemics, like the personal protective equipment health care personnel wear. Nor does God act like a hotel bellhop who bows before our whims and wipes down our room of viruses.
Drivers who prop signs inside car windows declaring Jesus is their vaccine wrongly connect the dots between God’s protection and not getting COVID-19. The New Testament recounts Jesus healing a blind man who lacked sight since birth in John 9:1-3. “Who messed up?” asked the disciples. “Was the culprit this fellow or his imperfect parents? Jesus did not answer with an easy open-closed response, neither pinning blame on the fetus or the family as the cause of this man’s blindness .
Furthermore, gun-toting Christians fire blanks when they hype their constitutional rights as the No. 1 reason for rejecting stay-at-home orders. Although these rights are personal, they are not hyper-individualistic, writes op-ed columnist David Brooks in his latest book. “In other cultures [besides the U.S.], people are formed by and flourish within institutions that precede individual choice—family, ethnic heritage, faith, nations,” declares Brooks. “But these are precisely the sorts of institutions that the culture of individualism eats away at, because [they are scorned] … as not quite legitimate.”
Protestors against stay-at-home orders are constitutionally clueless regarding liberties that flourish in communal settings. We stay at home, not only to guard against self-contamination but also to slow the spread of virus to our neighbors.
The Preamble to the Constitution clearly states that our liberties embrace needs of a community of citizens. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, … promote the general Welfare” reads the Preamble. It is not a declaration of rights for the self but a summons to become other-centered. These rights are rooted in interdependence, not selfish independence.
Thomas Jefferson practiced “civic virtue,” the glue holding together the pieces of our Republic. This meant that we step outside the tiny circumference of our individual liberties to defend and preserve the wider community’s needs.
Measured by Jeffersonian “civic virtue,” protestors who rely on “Jesus as their vaccine” are neither civic-minded nor virtuous.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.