President Donald Trump officially deemed churches and other house of worship as “essential” during a press conference on May 22, siding with numerous church leaders who have been protesting against state-mandated lockdown orders that assumed houses of worship could not be categorized as essential businesses.
“I call on governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now,” said the president. “These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united. The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue and to their mosque.”
Identifying houses of worship as essential places that provide essential services, Trump went on to state, “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”
The president’s decision to override state governors came as long overdue, yet welcomed relief for many church leaders across the country who filed lawsuits against their local and state governments in order to continue modified worship services.
Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, commended the president’s move in favor of churches. “The discrimination that has been occurring against churches and houses of worship has been shocking,” he said in a statement. “Americans are going to malls and restaurants. They need to be able to go to their houses of worship.”
But not all church leaders agree. Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, said that Trump’s “mass reopening of houses of worship” is “completely irresponsible”. Though President Trump’s position isn’t one that would force a house of worship to open, but simply allows those churches to resume service at their discretion, Moline went on to state:
“Faith is essential and community is necessary; however, neither requires endangering the people who seek to participate in them. The virus does not discriminate between types of gatherings, and neither should the president.”
Peter Marty, senior pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, IA, and publisher of Christian Century magazine, also opposed Trump’s measure to reopen houses of worship nationwide.
“I don’t understand why politics should drive religion quite like it does in these times,” said Pastor Marty. “I would argue that the Christian community ought to be about thinking wisely and thoughtfully about holding worship services. Not what are we constitutionally allowed to do, but what is best? What is wisest? Christian witness is all about generous behavior towards the other, and especially the vulnerable other.”
While it would be hard to disagree with the pastor’s point that the Christian community should think wisely and thoughtfully about reopening, and no one can debate that a major tenet of Christianity is to behave generously towards others, especially the vulnerable, Marty’s attitude is misdirected at best and dangerous at worse. Here’s why:
In recent decades, and certainly in the past four years, there has been a dramatic hostility towards Christian values and ideology when those values appear in social, public spaces. This attack against Christianity has been subtle and waged in the name of tolerance, inclusion, and virtue. Recently, we’ve seen this hostility played out when protesters attempted to shut down Franklin Graham’s evangelical organization, Samaritan’s Purse, from medically aiding NYC residents of lesser means in being tested for COVID-19 in Central Park. The logic used against Samaritan’s Purse—albeit faulty logic—was that this Christian group would discriminate against people seeking care if they were, for example, homosexual, transgendered, or otherwise not leading Christian lifestyles. According to those who opposed Graham’s effort in the fight to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, help—if it comes from Christians—will do more harm than good. However, Samaritan’s Purse has not, and would not, discriminate against anyone who sought care at their Central Park tents. But that isn’t the point. The message our societal overlords have been driving into the minds of Americans is that Christianity is a covert mission to guilt, shame, and harm anyone who isn’t Christian.
This is just one example, and I could list countless others, but I won’t. The argument I’d like to make instead will focus on why Pastor Marty’s attitude is dangerous. To recap, his view is that politics has no place in faith, and also that “acts of faith” which oppose a governmental effort to “save lives” would be un-Christian.
Are these governmental shutdowns, including the closure of churches, saving lives? It’s debatable. But in the wake of abiding, a new “mentality” has been forced upon the people, one which is training us to obey and to demonstrate our obedience in order for us to prove our “virtue”.
Just over the horizon line, I can already see how this human urge to comply in the name of joining the “virtuous” could distract and deceive us into accepting the greatest evil our Bible has warned us about:
Taking the mark of the beast.
Yes, that’s a big claim. Yes, it’s my opinion, and you may have a different one. But let me break it down so that even if you disagree, you will at least fully understand what you’re disagreeing with and will be in a position to intelligently debate me.
Never before in American, political history has there been an effort to convince the masses that if a citizen does not do X, Y, and Z, they will indirectly kill another citizen. The central message that our society has been quickly trained to believe in the case of COVID-19 is that if you do not stay home, wear a facemask when out, and comply in shutting down your business, then you are willfully and recklessly promoting the deaths of your fellow Americans.
Anyone who would act in a manner that kills others is not only selfish, but evil, and must be stopped—this is the stance many people have adopted. It’s hard to debate. At face value, I agree with the statement that a person who acts in a manner that kills someone else should be stopped.
However, it’s ludicrous to conflate going outside without a facemask with willfully murdering your at-risk neighbors. Yet, this is the causation many people worldwide have bought into. Ridiculous, anti-scientific, phony causation. But in this case, morality trumps science, even if the "moral effort" is blatantly false. We all must demonstrate how much we care and not question the measures that have been prescribed to us, right?
If Christians, or anyone for that matter, feel so awkward, guilty, or even evil for pointing out the faulty conflation and ridiculous so-called causation that they keep their mouths shut, comply, and try to convince themselves that they are obeying for the good of all, then how in the world are they going to refuse the mark of the beast?
Granted, many Christians might insist that the church will be raptured before the anti-Christ comes into power and the mark of the beast becomes a reality. But for the sake of my point, let’s suspend this option since the Bible doesn’t state exactly when in the timeline the rapture will take place.
If we’ve gotten into the habit of complying in the name of virtuous consideration of our fellow citizens, what won’t we comply with? If we’re told that our fellow citizens will suffer, due to COVID death or perhaps poverty or some other misery if we aren’t, for example, implanted with a “microchip”, then will we have the backbone to refuse? Will we even recognize that a microchip designed to track COVID infection, or designed to expedite buying and selling with a one-world currency, which the Bible mentions, could potentially be the mark of the beast disguised as innovation? Will we have enough discernment to realize what’s being asked of us?
A kind of false virtue has emerged. It’s being supported by false logic, and psychologically speaking, it’s difficult—and for some, impossible—to refuse to comply, to refuse to demonstrate the new “virtue” that’s being prescribed. The nationwide response to COVID-19 has exposed this. Church leaders have complied even when they could’ve used the constitution to refuse. Yet, Pastor Marty believes that we shouldn’t be thinking about “what we are constitutionally allowed to do" but rather "what is best”. And, he extends his reasoning to conclude that what is best is “generous behavior towards the other, and especially the vulnerable other”.
Can I say for certain that new technologies in development, such as microchips, will be used to distribute the mark of the beast to the masses? I can’t say that, because I don’t know. But I think they are a sign of the times, and a sign of End Times, and I believe that real wisdom and discernment have never been more necessary. What is authentic virtue and what is clever deception?
Will you be able to tell the difference?