Is Your Church a Super-Spreader Organization?

This article is not just about COVID19 protocols, although it certainly could be.  A number of churches have done a notoriously bad job in managing the pandemic.  When faced with the decision to suspend in-person worship, or at the very least to require masks of those who do come to services, church leaders have acted in their own self-interests and in so doing, have compromised the health and well-being of their communities, not to mention the damage made to the Christian witness of their congregations.  We could have been the light to the rest of the world.  We could have practiced safe protocols and insisted on being good neighbors, but instead, we have gathered in our worship spaces, without requiring masks, and have helped to spread and keep the virus going.  Churches are not being faithful when they flaunt CDC protocols… they are being foolish and some have died because of it.  Many have argued that in-person worship is critically important to the church, and certainly it is the heart of what we do.  But to insist on singing, preaching, and praying without taking thought of our neighbors who need the church to lead the way, not stand in the way, is simply selfish.  It is putting “our wants” ahead of what the community needs, and that’s wrong.  In case you haven’t noticed, you can preach and sing and play pianos and guitars while wearing a mask.

But beyond the pandemic, it’s the other super-spreader tendencies of the church that get my attention.  Let’s talk racism for a moment.  The racial unrest of the past year has certainly been felt, heard, and seen by everyone in our nation.  Whether we speak of Civil War monuments, unequal access to goods and services, hate crimes, police brutality, or disproportionate numbers of incarcerations, no rational person can deny the systemic racism that permeates our nation.  The church has had the platform to address the issues and decry the hatred of racism.  And yet, many churches I know have remained silently on the sidelines.  It seems very few pastors have dared to wrestle with the issue or even acknowledge that it exists.  By being silent, churches have been complicit.  Unwittingly, or maybe knowingly, churches have acted as super-spreaders in giving a wink and a nod to the marginalization of Black Americans.

Let’s also talk politics for a moment.  The rhetoric has been corrosive, caustic, and damaging.  Many have traded in the Gospel Narrative for nationalistic prose that sets aside decency, morality, and kindness for the sake of promoting a fear-driven political agenda that marginalizes anyone who doesn’t get in lockstep with right-wing ideology.  We have draped the Cross with the American flag and declared that they are equal in terms of our allegiance.  Many have said “God and Country” so loud and so often that they sometimes say, “God is Country,” and never notice the difference.  The very ones who declare that our nation was founded on Christian values are the ones who are willing to trample on those values for the sake of winning at all costs.  And rather than offering a clear message about the grace, dignity, and acceptance of God’s coming Kingdom, we have clearly told many that they are not welcome.  Churches have been co-opted into become super-spreaders of anti-Christian rhetoric and they have become tone deaf to their own message.

Can we also talk about the sanctity of human life?  The battle for the Right to Life continues on.  In their zeal to protect the unborn, many churches have affirmed and praised those who are willing to support their viewpoint, even to the extent of ignoring other ethical missteps or  sinful behaviors exhibited by those in leadership.  I am not bothered by those who believe that life begins at conception and are willing to defend that position.  I am bothered, however, by those who stop their crusades the moment that child takes his/her first breath.  The sanctity of life should be extended to every child, regardless of race, gender, or country of origin.  Don’t claim to value human life if you deny healthcare to millions of impoverished children.  Don’t claim to value human life when you vote to underfund public education.  Don’t claim to value human life when you are willing to sit idly by when children are kept in cages at the border.  Don’t claim to value human life when you don’t support local food banks or give to organizations which clothe the naked.  Life is precious and should be fiercely defended.  Churches who preach that the battle is all about anti-abortion legislation and don’t include life-long health and well-being initiatives are super-spreaders of narrow-mindedness.

Here’s the tragedy of it all.  Churches… comprised of flesh and blood representatives of Jesus Christ, have been commissioned by God Himself, to truly be super-spreaders.  We are called to spread hope.  We are called to spread grace.  We are called to spread kindness.  We are called to spread love.  We are called to spread compassion.  We are called to spread forgiveness.  We are called to spread acceptance.  We are called to spread welcome.  We are called to spread understanding.  We are called to spread dignity.  And yet somewhere in the swirling storms of COVID19, racism, politics, and even the climate debate, we have lost our bearings.

It is time for us to reconsider who we are and recapture the reasons why we exist.  We don’t have to defend our faith… Christianity is strong enough to survive our insipid displays of loyalty.  What we must defend however, are our hearts which we have allowed to be overtaken by falsehood, deceit, and darkness which betrays the very light that Christ died to place within us.

Jon R. Roebuck

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