Social Distancing and the Church

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Social Distancing

The Coronavirus is approaching its peak in the United States in some states, but despite what Donald Trump keeps saying during his daily press avails about Hydrocloroquine, we do not have a vaccine or a cure. The only practice that we have to mitigate the spread of this virus is social distancing. Simply, this is the practice of maintaining a distance of a minimum of six feet from strangers. The idea is that if you are asymptomatic, maintaining this minimum distance will minimize the possibility that you transmit the virus to another person. 

This seems like an anachronism similar to the medicinal use of leeches centuries ago when we didn’t understand the existence of bacteria and viruses.  It seems unfathomable that in the 21st century that this is our best strategy as a species to mitigate the effects of a global pandemic. Yet here we are.

In the countries where social distancing has been implemented the most aggressively it has been successful. You need only go to the website that tracks global infection and deaths dates to see that the United States is managing this far worse than many other countries.  

One of the reasons why other countries have generally done better is due in no small part to the fact that the United States is free. Which is to say we are not a communist, totalitarian country. We have freedom of speech, religion, the press, and freedom of assembly. These freedoms are ingrained in our culture and psyche. 

Evangelicals and the Republican Party

In the past 40 years since the election of Ronald Reagan, the far right wing fundamentalist Evangelical church has wedded itself to the Republican party to forward their two principle agendas of opposing abortion and homosexual marriage. These two issues have consumed their agenda almost to the exclusion of anything else. They believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible as the spoken and/or inspired word of God. This coupled with their delusions of persecution has fueled their fervor to a dangerous level in the age of global pandemics. 

You need only do a cursory internet search to see the stories about Tony Spell of Louisiana or Rodney Howard-Browne of Florida who not only continue to have church service with thousands of attendees, they even bus people in by the hundreds to their church services. These two pastors were arrested in their respective states, but that doesn’t mitigate the damage that was done. 

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbot Governor of Texas actually went as far as to designate churches as essential services in their states. This designation allows churches to continue with business as usual with packed buildings, hugging and handshakes, the laying of hands, and close proximity. The average American could almost be forgiven for being unconcerned as their Governors give tacit approval to ignore the accepted practice to mitigate this latest threat, while it was only a couple of weeks ago that Trump was predicting full churches on Easter Sunday. 

The underlying motivation for ignoring the secular mandate of social distancing that you will hear from Christians is based on their reading of Hebrews the tenth chapter and the twenty fifth verse which reads “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching“.  They have interpreted this passage to mean that if your church meets every Sunday at location X and time Y, you must regardless of a global pandemic stop what you are doing to attend church on Sunday without exception. If you are not in church on Sunday because you are not practicing social distancing, then you are in contravention of this scripture and by extension you are disobeying God. 

There Are Quarantines in the Bible?

I attended church for all of my youth and the majority of my adulthood. That said I have more than a passing familiarity with the Bible. Rather than engage in a sermon here where the words could be interpreted one way or the other, I would like to present a straightforward forward example of quarrentines in the Bible. Yes you read that correctly. Quarantines are biblical.

In the Old Testament book of Numbers in the fifth chapter verses 1 – 5 it reads as follows:

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead:

3 Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell.

4 And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp: as the LORD spake unto Moses, so did the children of Israel.

For those of you who didn’t grow up reading old English I’ve also included the New International Version:

5 The Lord said to Moses, 

2 “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease[a] or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. 

3 Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” 

4 The Israelites did so; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses.

This is pretty straightforward. At the time of this writing people had the incurable disease of leprosy. Leprosy is very contagious and at the time it was incurable (though there is a protocol to cure it today). The Hebrew nation had to make a decision about how they were going to protect everyone in their community. They did not, as the modern church would have you to believe, pray and lay hands on the lepers.  There was no spiritual ceremony to heal them, and the community did not allow the lepers to live among them secure in the belief that their faith would protect them. 

They were practicing then, what we are doing four thousand years later. They quarantined the group of people who were sick and practiced permanent life-long social distancing. They didn’t practice it for a week, or a month, or during the winter.  If you were a leper among the Israelites four thousand years ago, you had to practice social distancing for the rest of your life. 

Maybe you don’t like that example. People who have identified that they are positive with Coronavirus at the very least self-quarantine for two weeks. The rest of the community didn’t have to quarantine themselves just because someone among them was sick 

This second example takes a little set up. At one time the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. After several failed attempts by a prophet named Moses to convince the pharaoh to let them go, God sent several punishments to Egypt. The last one was God killing the first born child and animal in Egypt. The Israelites protected themselves by putting blood on their doorposts and self quarantining in their homes over night. You can read it in Exodus the twelfth chapter and the twenty second verse.

And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning.

We have freedom of religion in the country. You are free to believe whatever you choose. You may practice your faith however you choose. That is one of the things that makes this country special and unique. However, when the freedom that you practice starts to encroach upon my freedom, there is a problem. You can serve God when, where, and how you choose, but if your freedom means infecting hundreds or thousands of people with a fatal disease, that’s when we send in the police. 


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