Christians are not to be a people of fear, when we go to extremes, we only perpetuate fears and divisions. Yet that is not the path God has laid out for us to follow, even on Social Media.
Jonathan David Faulkner
I must admit, as a pastor, my heart is troubled. Not because there is a virus spreading through the nation as we speak but because of how I have seen Christians old and young taking extreme positions and politicized positions on Social Media and in the public square. Yes, the COVID – 19 is a major concern and it should be taken seriously, but that is all we really need to say about it, beyond that we begin to grant Credence to extremes and that is exactly what is happening all over my social media. In fact, after posting this article this afternoon Facebook may be deleted from my phone altogether. It has been a frustrated two or three weeks as we watch people destroy each other with opinions. We are all tired and were already, as a culture, more stressed and anxious than we ever have been in the history of our nation (except for the time leading up to the Civil War). This virus is not helping and is not making things better. Yet neither is the media, by catering to extremes. On one hand you have those who want to downplay what is happening and on the other you have those who are overhyping and overeating. I do agree with one commentator who purportedly said that “The media should be held responsible for the current state of our understanding (or lack thereof) of this virus and the situation.” The media has been taking extreme sides and even politicizing this issue well beyond the limits of what the media should be, on principle, doing.
That being said, we should hold them accountable by refusing to consume what they are feeding us, by ratings dropping, not by the government. We have to remember that we have contributed to this, our mentality as a culture has been: “entertain us” and applied to media we end up with news outlets as entertainment outlets, not as news outlets. We asked for sensationalization and we participated in the politicization of everything. The media in its present state is not so much an enemy of the people as it is a creation of the people. That includes us as Christians who have been playing the sensationalization game since the 1980’s. As with most things in the West, as Tom Holland points out in his book “Dominion” it was Christians who did it first.
Our extremes are also reflections of our own internal fears and anxieties. We are in a time of unprecedent quantities of both of those positions and they have only been bred by the increasing isolation and alienation caused by the internet age and the current state of our politics. These are things that Christians should have been speaking into when they began, instead, we ourselves have adopted a posture of fear and antipathy towards one another fueled by the anonymity of the Social Media Sphere. The beauty of Social Media is that it gives us the freedom of self-expression about all that we share convictions about. The problem with Social Media is that it gives us the freedom of self-expression about all that we share convictions about. Christians have never really addressed Social Media, some of us have tried to use it as a means of outreach and some have used it as a gathering place for the exchange of ideas. But I am part of groups where we have extreme guidelines about what we can and cannot say and how we can and cannot respond to our siblings in Christ. They seem like an unnecessary burden, just apply biblical ethics and morality to social media posting, but what seems obvious is not always obvious. The result has been that I have seen a lot of Christians either downplaying the virus or overreacting to it. Both extremes are born out of the very fear that we as Christians should be in full throat rejection of. These are the very times in History when the Church was at its best, but if you survey social media, we are far from at our best. We have to remember that this virus is affecting men and women made in the image of God, and though it has a low kill rate compared to other viruses that have affected us in the past, it is still a serious threat to the most vulnerable members of our society and we should do what we can to stop its spread so that those we love are not directly affected. If we, as a people, confess a pro-life ethic, we need to live that pro-life ethic by working to end something that threatens any life of any kind regardless of the effect it has on us. For that we need to act on biblical wisdom rather than on the worlds fear and we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern between which is which.
Christians, how are we not tired of this? How do we not see the toll our capitulation to fear of the world is having on both our own mental health and on our witness as Christians. As Christians in times of high anxiety we are called to do one thing, trust in God. Think of Paul in Prison as he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He was not worried about his chains; he was not concerned about the consequences of his actions. Disgraced, beaten and isolated he wrote these words: “ Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:4-9). In the age of the Coronavirus it seems Christians in the general population have largely done the opposite. Even though many of the current teachers of the faith have warned us again and again against a fearful reaction because we are the people of the Word.
No, now is not the time to be afraid, now is the time to be a blessing to our communities and neighborhoods. Just like Abraham’s descendants were to “Bless the earth” (Gen 12:3). Now is our time to work for the shalom of our city (Jeremiah 29:7). Now is the time for us to, out of love for God, love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 26:34-40). Now is not the time to break off our relationship with God, but to lean further and deeper into it because we have the hope of the promised resurrection. Now is not the time for partisan politics within the church, but for us to work to “maintain the spirit of peace and the bond of love” (Phil 3:1-5). I am tired of seeing Christians, most of whom have been in Christ longer than I have been alive, acting out of fear instead of standing on the Holy and never changing Word of God. We need to stand firm on and lean into the relationship we have with God in Jesus Christ our Lord and remember His words in Matthew 6:25-34:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Enough for the day is its own trouble.”
As someone at the Gospel Coalition said: “Fear is not our way and Panic is not our friend.” This has been completely blown out of proportion, but it has also been extremely underestimated and downplayed. A middle way is preferred, take it seriously, but do not believe everything you hear and do not resort to or spread fear and division over this and please, please, please stop politicizing this. Human lives are not politics, they are human lives, created in the image of God meant for the purposes of God.
A sad and tired pastor.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.