I tend to be a contrarian by nature. Not sure why that is, but it certainly has gotten me into a lot of trouble in the past. There is always a conventional wisdom out there, about all sorts of things, and it seems like it is best not to question it. Let me summarize some of that conventional wisdom as it relates to cross-cultural missions:
1. Missionaries are super-spiritual people, and are called by God. (No, they are most certainly not super-spiritual, and some of them should go home and stop wasting kingdom resources).
2. Missionaries are always productive and super-busy. (No, that is not true. Missionaries do deal with extra cross-cultural challenges, but many are not as active as they should be, or as productive as they should be)
3. Short-term mission teams are always a good idea. (No, some are phenomenal wastes of time and money, and a good short-term team experience requires a mammoth amount of work and planning).
4. Mission agencies are dedicated to reaching the world for Jesus. (No, many are administrative behemoths that care more about financial survival and maintaining top-heavy bureaucracies than focusing on creative and enduring field ministry).
Ok, you get the idea. So when I see the whole world going absolutely crazy due to this current crisis, I ask myself…is this necessary? Is this a proportional, pensive reaction? Can these extreme measures be actually more damaging than the health concern itself?
I saw an article on realclearpolitics.com today from the New York Times that was one of the most read articles of the last week entitled Some Ask a Taboo Question: Is America Overreacting to Coronavirus? Funny that any dissenting opinion is labeled as “taboo.” It certainly feels that way.
I am not calling into question the reality of a world-wide pandemic, as defined pathologically and geographically. There are cases on every continent (except Antarctica, is that still considered a continent?). I do sympathize with the desire to limit the spread of the virus, and protect vulnerable groups, especially the aged. Health care workers need us to flatten the curve. Assuming there will be one.
But still…shutting down whole countries, closing businesses, destroying the economy…isn’t that overkill? There are risks either way…risks in doing too little or doing too much. Comparisons have been made to the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic, which more than 12K Americans died. Hard to remember that, isn’t it. I know people who contracted that virus (none that died fortunately). It was barely more than a blip in our national and international consciousness. So far, the corona virus has killed over 7K worldwide. But oh…the panic!
The jury is still out on how the surreal conditions of these past weeks will impact society emotionally and mentally. Certainly the strain of broken routines and unprecedented group phobia will yield negative societal results.
What is going to happen when millions of people in the U.S. (and certainly in other countries) that live week-to-week (or day-to-day) are going to have to pay the rent, or buy groceries, and they have no money to do so? What happens when an interest rate of near 0% creates hyper-inflation and irresponsible investment? What happens when people take to the streets to protests foreclosures, unemployment and unaffordable healthcare costs? What happens when the U.S. has to pay back the 2 trillion extra in debt that it has accrued during this bizarre time? The virus is the earthquake, but the shock waves of how we have dealt with it are a tsunami. That wave is still a long way from shore, and it is building in momentum.
Spiritually speaking, it is a reminder to all of us in whom or in what we have put our trust. The crisis will undoubtedly be spiritually beneficial as the supports that we have believed in are, one by one, exposed as weak and insufficient. Politics and religion, rhetoric and scientific knowledge have all been shown to be hollow gods. Society as a whole has been exposed as fearful, selfish and all too easily manipulated. Ask those who didn’t manage to buy toilet paper in time. All our reasonableness and sophistication as a people has been stripped away. We are dumb sheep.
Back to the original question…is it healthy that churches so easily acquiesce to the demands of our government, and voluntarily give up one of our inalienable rights…the right of peaceable assembly? Should a certain arrangement of four main proteins, invisible except under a microscope, cause the church to bow to every directive of civil government? Indeed, it would appear that civil disobedience is not wise and not required in this current situation. But what will happen when another invisible threat, the adherence to certain teachings of one Jesus, is the next reason for social distancing. Will we go along with that as well?
Kid Rock’s bar in Nashville initially refused to shut down. But after a lot of intense pressure from many different sources, the bar has decided to close its doors. During the next international crisis, or perhaps the one after that…we have a pretty good idea from scripture that the time is coming…it won’t be bars deciding to buck the tide, but churches. What will we do with the spiritual “virus” called Jesus? What will be do when it is not toilet paper that disappears, but Bibles. People we thought were our friends will disown us. Will we be able to resist the vitriol from social media? Will be be able to stand against the pressure of a world gone mad? Maybe we can start by showing a little courage in this current crisis. The world may have indeed gone mad, but we don’t have to.