Tag: Coronavirus

Why We Do Not Just Fling the Doors Open

Even if the rest of the world wants to throw the doors open and abandon caution, we as Christians have a long history of applying wisdom to situations just like this, one we need to lean upon if we want to avoid becoming centers of catastrophe.

Jonathan Faulkner

 

It happened again yesterday, another person asked me if we were going to reopen our little church on the corner of 2nd street and 2nd Ave NW. The question is an innocent one, it is also a reasonable one, our Governor has relaxed restrictions for Churches and some around us are doing “soft” reopening’s over the next few weeks, so it is not one area pastors should expect not to hear. We have, in a way, never been closed, our building has, but we as a church have not. We have continued ministry and worship providing something that many of our members would not have otherwise but doing more with less personnel then we normally do. The activities of the Church are still going on, just in a different form and outside of our building. We will also be using our building again to record our worship services an hold Friday Prayer so long as social distancing guidelines are met.

Still, there is more to consider than just reopening. Christians have a long history of appling wisdom to these scenarios and we must continue that tradition because we have the ultimate wisdom-giver incarnate among us. For some congregations it may be safe to fling open the doors and return to some semblance of normal, for others, it may not, and prudence and wisdom are required to know which case is which. In the case of my congregation it may not be wise to go back to in person services even with the practicing of social distancing measures. The reason is that a vast majority of my congregation falls into the “highly vulnerable” category, not simply because they are 65 or older but because they have a multitude of underlying conditions that could greatly increase their risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. As their pastor, the under shepherd whom God has entrusted them too, that means in part I am responsible for protecting their health during this time. I take that responsibility very seriously and I have no plan to shrug it off or treat it lightly. I have to stand before God one day and give account for what I did with the resources He gave me and if they all die from COVID-19, that is pretty poor management. If I feed my flock to the wolves, I am no under shepherd but a thief.

I also do not buy the argument that we need to reopen for mental health reasons, or economic reasons. The fact is, if I throw open the doors, they come back and someone brings the virus with them and they contract it and die, it will not matter what their mental or financial health is. That is not something scripture allows me to do nor is it something I want on my conscious. I hate the fact that we are even having a conversation like this, especially since if the Church were living out its calling as it should we would not have to worry about the mental or emotional well-being of our members because we would all be taking care of one another through whatever means they have at their disposal, I know many of my congregation have, a blessing for a younger pastor.

Factor in the reality that churches have been hotspots for the virus and that over 30 pastors have died from the virus, we should not be so quick to fling the doors open. Even if the Government had no guidelines, even if we were totally free to make our own decisions, it would not be wise to meet with a fast spreading, deadly virus that could kill most of our people. This was true of Martin Luther during the plague of 1522 when there was no such thing as the CDC or Iowa Department of Health. We have all seen the quote because it has been all over social media in the previous weeks, but I share it here for emphasis:

“Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.”[i]

Luther understood that during the Plague his responsibility before God was to be responsible and to not “cause their death as a result of my negligence.” He understood what I said above, If God should take him during the plague he would be able to stand before him and God would find that he has not caused the death of others or himself by being negligent in His pastoral duties. One could say that the modern idea of Social Distancing finds roots here in Luther’s sermon. That for the pastor, the responsible and wise thing to do is ensure that we do not lose one member of our flock because we ourselves were negligent.

Which brings me to the present crisis.

It is part of my responsibility to do three things, help my people Love God, Love People and Make Disciples. That means that I have to follow and be a disciple of Jesus and set an example for my congregation on how to Love God, Love People and Make Disciples. So, I study and read God’s Word and spend time in prayer and learn the commandments of Jesus which I am to pass down to others who are Disciples of Jesus. One of the realities that I am confronted with in Scripture is how valuable life is to God and how seriously he takes the destruction and undervaluing of that life. Even outside of the Pentateuch we find copious passages like Isaiah 1 which point to disobedience by Judah of God involving the devaluation of human life through murder and corruption. As Peter Enns writes in his commentary on Exodus: “”Life is something that the God of Israel does not treat likely, and it is thus incumbent on His people to behave likewise.”[ii] In the New Testament Jesus brings God’s moral law forward and with it the implicit value human life has because we are made in the image of God (Genesis 2, Matthew 5). Christianity is inherently whole life; we value life from the time it is conceived to the time we return to the dust simply because God created life and made human beings in His own image. Part of loving God is loving people and part of loving people is guarding their lives at all cost against even a deadly virus. Life does not become an idol, we are not to make images of man, that is also part of loving God, but we are to value life because God values Life.

The last few weeks have been tough because with every number added to the death toll, another family is grieving and mourning the loss of a human being and I mourn along with them. Now, I do not personally know anyone who has died from COVID-19, think of how magnified the grief would be were it one of the many men and women I love and have been entrusted as under shepherd. I have told my congregation that I do not want to bury any of them from this, I want them all back when this is over because I love them. It would be foolish to play chicken with their lives for the sake of an ego trip or because the Governor has lifted restrictions.

These are not easy decisions, please be patient and gracious with us as we work through this with you and find the best way to keep you healthy.

In Love

An Under shepherd of Christ, called and confirmed by Him.

[i] Lull, Timothy F.. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (p. 483). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

[ii] Enns, Peter, The NIV Application Commentary: Exodus, 2000, Zondervan, pg 422

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oJonathan 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.

The Malicious Mind Control Tactics You See Online

Cult Science is still in its infancy as a psychological practice, but it has given us some ways to identify the troubling ways we are being manipulated by actors in today’s world.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Let me be clear on something here, right off the bat, I almost left the Church because of totalitarian leadership. One of the desires I have as a pastor is to make sure no one goes through that kind of destruction like I did. I believe one can be a strong leader, but that strength has to come from the Holy Spirit and from Holy Scripture, not from my own need or lust for power. I saw up close and was a victim of one who was in the pulpit who should not have been. I was the teenager told to “shut up” by a red-faced totalitarian leader. Because of those experiences I have taken the time to educate myself about the tactics used by spiritual abusers and totalitarian leaders. I am not ignorant of these things but am speaking from an informed position.

When Lawrence Pile, Author of “Free At Last” first told me he could convince me, a sophomore in High School at the time, a quarter was worth a dollar and then explained to me the process used to warp my reality, I didn’t believe it could happen to me. Two years later, I was kicked out of the church I had attended from childhood by a totalitarian leader who had duped me until a conversation with a friend of College shook me out of my complacency. If you have read anything, I have written on this you know my story and my journey has been one of God’s love and healing and deconstruction and reconstruction. There is a reason it is a miracle I am a pastor right now.

But I am also not a victim, I am able to rise above it and make sure no one under my leadership has to experience what I experienced. By God’s grace I have been carried over to the other side. My objectivity, once stripped from 16-year-old me has been restored, have there been hiccups, the brain injury in 2015 being one such instance. God though has shown His faithfulness to me and I hope to share that faithfulness with others.

But part of going through something is learning to recognize it, those who do not are doomed to repeat it. Watching Social Media is like watching a behind the scenes documentary of how cults are formed. Those who study cults and mind control tactics tell us that there are eight specific tactics which Cult leaders and Totalitarian Leaders use to maintain control of their people. They also tell us that if any 3 of these tactics are employed at any given time in a group then the group qualifies as a minor cult. Less than 3 is still abusive and people should avoid those groups.

What concerns me, and why I am writing this piece, is that these eight tactics are being employed in the mainstream. That is, in many cases we are seeing six or more present in religious and political groups on both the right and the left. This Alt-Right and Alt-Left (Yes, there is an Alt-Left) Employ these tactics to control and manipulate you and your emotions in order to get you to participate in their outrage. This is commonly called “The Outrage Machine” and it is predicated on the use of emotional manipulation as Ed Stetzer pointed out in his book “Christians in the age of Outrage.” It is not “Both-sidism” to say that both sides employ these tactics, though it is true and historically documented that the right has a long history of using tactics like this. Most cults for the last 200 years have been right leaning including Nazi Germany, the Health and Wealth Prosperity Cults, Westboro, The Prophets of Kansas City, the New Apostolic Reformation and Reconstructionism. The Center for Cult Research tracks these groups and gives us updates about their activities. On the left the best examples I can think of right now are Jonestown and The Bernie Bros but these are not the only two, radical environmentalism (of the style that teaches that humans should go extinct) would also count.

Now though, what was once used by fringe groups has been adopted by the mainstream because fear is a powerful tool to get your point across. If you can create a boogeyman you can get people to do what you want them too. Monday in The Washington Post front page was a piece on how these far-right actors are engineering the “Anti-Restrictions” protests through employing these tactics. Now, I agree with Charlie Sykes of the Bulwark who said that there are legitimate reasons to think some of these government restrictions are overreaching, some of them in some states certainly are, but objectively there is a good reason for many of them and we should be able to peacefully protest those that are overreaching while adhering to those who are not. However, these groups gain their power from stripping you of your ability to think objectively, your ability to weigh evidence and consider arguments for and against. That is why they actively campaign against people like myself who sit in the political, emotional, socio-center who are able to present arguments and think critically about these issues.

These eight tactics, as employed in our current society can be found in Steve Martin’s book “The Heresy of Mind Control: Recognizing Con Artists, Tyrants and Spiritual Abusers in Leadership.” They are as follows:

  1. Thinking Inside the Box: Milieu Control
  2. Illusion to Disillusion: Mystical Manipulation
  3. Getting No Where Fast: The Demand for Purity
  4. Vocal Self-Degradation: The Cult of Confession
  5. Though Shalt Not Question: The Sacred Science
  6. The Language of Nonthought: Loading the Language
  7. Fitting the Right Mold: Doctrine over Person
  8. The Elitist: The Dispensing of Existence

What has been observed is that all 8 of these tactics have been employed both in the mainstream media and in both Alt-Right and Alt-Leftist groups through the internet. Sites like Reddit, 4Chan, Twitter and even Facebook are ripe with these things and when they get taken down, they pop up in other places. There are entire groups devoted to pushing false narratives or news that employ these tactics. To the trained observer they are very easy to recognize, but to the average person who has had their objectivity slowly stripped away they are candy. To the person who can no longer think for themselves and does not realize they have lost that ability, they are cocaine. They reinforce a pre-existing narrative that has played into the cult of self. That cult says that you are the paragon of all truth and everything you read should reinforce your narrative. You are part of a tribe, and purity is expected within that tribe and do not question or let anyone question the paragon of your truth. Nothing else exists but your framework and all language must confirm your basic foundational beliefs. In those above sentences are 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8.

Let me stop here to make a distinction between a strong group (like the one modeled by the early Church) and modern Tribalism. Tribalism employs mind control practices to maintain tribal purity (3) and the dissonant are forced to confess (5) their impurity or be punished severely. In a Strong Group system everyone is working together to take care of one another (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-38). Tribalism depends upon the dispensing of any individual existence (8) (something permitted in strong groups) and complete devotion to the doctrine (7) over and against the personhood of the person involved. Tribalism has its own language and with it, their own way of identifying a boogeyman (6) usually using the word or words outside of their historical context. The point is to make you afraid of a person, place or thing so that you will become dependent upon the leader for safety and thought (1) and the leader or doctrine is divinely inspired, sometimes claiming to speak for God himself (2, 7). In the a strong group model, the leader tends and cares for their flock and encourages them to care for one another. They do not abuse their power because they recognize that they actually do not have any, their authority is not their own, it is Christ’s and the Bibles.

As Christians, we are given a way to objectively evaluate and discern systems of thoughts and the actions and thoughts of leaders. That is the Person of the Holy Spirit who Jesus tells us in John 14-16 will “Lead us into all truth.” And who Paul tells the Corinthians will help them discern between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 2:6-18) because the Spirit knows the mind and heart of God. Because we have had almost two generations of pastors whose word is “Absolute” and who have leaned into authoritarian control and discouraged discernment and preached anti-intellectualism instead of the Gospel we now have two generations of Christians who have no ability to discern what is of God and what is of the World. Because we have been fed a steady diet of fear and whataboutism we are unable to think objectively and those who do are punished. What we claim is “Free speech” is actually pre-programing so deeply engrained we all need thought-reform therapy to see how we have been trained to think in these ways, someone to show us how we have been emotionally manipulated into acting as the leader and operator of the outrage machine expects us to behave.

Christians, I ask you to read this Facebook Post from a few days back. I ask that you consider what you are reading and listening to on the internet, evaluate how it is affecting you, what is it designed to stir up in you? Does it make logical sense or is it manipulating you?

I love you and pray for you.

A Response to R.R. Reno and First Things: i will not sacrifice my congregation.

We are now seeing the full depths of our depravity; the god of Mammon and Moloch have taken over.

Jonathan David Faulkner

Brothers and Sisters, I am angry, not because there is a global pandemic, not because there is worldliness, not because there is sin, but because the past two weeks I have watched as prominent evangelical leaders and major politicians pivot from a message of: “Stay home, shelter in place” to “we need to get the economy back on track and fast” the message has switched from “Protect human life” to ‘protect the financial bottom line. Which brings me to R.R. Reno and First Things, the once proud publications that actually addressed issues in a gracious and Gospel-Centric way, but recently has embraced the nationalism of the Alt-Right, something its own writers and editors, specifically Karl R. Trueman and Bradford Littlejohn (both historians) should know better than to partake of. R.R. Reno though, on March 17th wrote that we as Church Leaders need to keep our churches open:

He writes:

“Closing churches and cancelling services betrays this duty of spiritual care. Many are speaking of death and disaster. Social media whips up fear. Stern faces on TV tell us how many people are infected. Cancellations cascade into our inboxes. In this environment the faithful need spiritual truths from their church leaders, not recapitulations of public health bulletins and exhortations to wash their hands.”

As a pastor I do understand his point, he is concerned that Churches continue their role as spiritual caretakers of the people. However, as a pastor of an older congregation, I want to make this point, I cannot spiritually care for them if they have all died of COVID-19, the disease caused by this Novel Coronavirus of which they are mostly among the most vulnerable. Reno wants us to not worry about death because Christ as set us free from death and theologically he is correct, Christ has set us free from death, but unless it is for the sake of the Gospel, as in, dying as a martyr, we should be wantonly throw away the lives of our congregations. Part of spiritual care is physical protection, creating a sense of underlying safety so that they can worship as freely as possible. That may not be possible in every location, but it is possible in the United States of America for now, and I take my responsibility to care for my flock in all capacities very seriously. I get to stand before God one day and be asked if I was faithful with all He had given me. As a pastor I should be the first fed to the wolves, not the last, and I should not actively turn my congregation over to the wolves. I am a Shepherd and a Shepherd who lets the lion devour his flock is not a very good shepherd. Even though I am not the chief shepherd, the care of the chief shepherd has been entrusted to me and too many of my colleagues have taken that responsibility too lightly. Yes, we are free from death, but we should not actively seek suffering from disease and famine, that runs counter to everything we see within the Early Church. They did all they could to mitigate death, even, at times, suspending large gatherings and meeting in small groups in secret locations. Yes, they still worshiped, but they it was the pastors and priests who were among the many martyrs. That does not mean lay persons were not martyred, indeed, thousands were, but the pastor did not actively turn their congregations over to the Romans. Instead they had the same mind of Christ and gave themselves up for their congregations. During the Plague in Carthage, it was pastors and lay persons alike who aided in the care and health of those who the Romans had left to die. If anything, Christians should be signing up to help our medical experts and personnel, not debating whether we should be meeting in our buildings.

By the way, many of them are doing just this. Our little community here in Buffalo Center has been making masks for Mercy One in Mason City and other hospitals around the region as we anticipate the eastward spread of the virus and increased infections rates in our beautiful state of Iowa. I have members who call asking how they can help, I have a website, coordinated with another church in town, where they can go to find people who need help. The Church here is mobilized to do what Christians should be doing, caring for one another, but doing it sensibly. The Christian couple who runs our market are making sure people have the supplies they need; our food pantry is still operating. Christians are working together, across denominational lines, and when we attend church, we do so online and next week, my church will observe the Eucharist with instructions on how to receive it remotely. We will still carry out the ministry and ordinance of the Church by utilizing the technology that God has given us the ability to utilize, and we will do so while we love one another. I will not sacrifice my congregation on the altar of Moloch (the Babylonian god who demanded human sacrifice) by putting them at risk for this virus because the “Ministry of the Church must go on.” Especially when I can carry on that ministry from afar, through phone calls, text messages and service streams. Is it harder? Would I prefer the human to human contact, yes, but I love my congregation too much to chance them getting a virus that could kill them painfully.

The conundrum is often produced as a dichotomy, black and white, either we sacrifice people to the virus to save the economy, or sacrifice people because we let the economy falter. This kind of dichotomized thinking is rampant, it gives us two options and say: “pick between the lesser of two evils.” However, one sacrifices people to Moloch for the sake of Money (Mammon) and the other sacrifices people to Moloch because Moloch demands a sacrifice. Both prioritize something over human life, human life that gains its inherent dignity and value because it is attached to the very image of God. We are the only part of creation that gets stamped with “the image of God” and the part of creation that God says He cares most about. In God’s economy, humanity is greater than other created things because it bears His image. All creation points us to the glory and Holiness of God, but the Imago Dei points us to His image. As Eugene Peterson writes in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” “If you want to know what God looks like, look in the mirror.” Now, I agree with J.W. Nevin that sin has separated us from God and requires us to have a renewed relationship with God through Christ so that the image can be fully actualized through Christ. But that does not change the underlying assumption that pervades all of scripture, humanity has value because it is created in the image of God. To prioritize anything over human life, anything, and then disconnect human life from God and His Holiness is evil, it is blaspheming, it says that money is greater than your grandfather and it grieves the Holy Spirit. By making the false dichotomy above we ignore the fact that there are third and fourth and maybe even fifth options to mitigate the suffering of both the virus and the coming economic collapse. In the richest country, with the richest church ever known in the history of humanity, there has to be.

Now, I reject the notion that the government should be the catalyst that forces us to act. That is, I do not believe in forced redistribution on any level. I believe that this is the time when the Church can and should stand up and do what it was always called to do, love our neighbors. In a crisis like this we do not have the false luxury (false because we never really had it to begin with) to ignore anyone’s suffering, especially those right next door or down the street from us or in the next town. We are in the same boat, you care for someone else’s needs, someone else cares for yours. That is how this works, that is how it worked in Acts and they fulfilled a part of the Old Testament Levitical Code (Duet 14:15) because: “There were no needy among them” (Acts 4:34).

The Spiritual Care of the church continues as we guard its physical health as well. I just got a call from the daughter of one of my nursing home residents thanking me for all the cards and calls from the congregation. One of which was sent from the entire church. We are meeting her spiritual needs even though we cannot physically visit her right now. No one is abdicating their responsibility to spiritually care for our congregations as R.R. Reno is suggesting, instead we are finding new and innovative ways to do this while we do what is responsible and guard the health of our most vulnerable. What is more loving? To put our congregation at needless risk so we can fulfill a role we can still do using modern technology. Or to take the proper precautions and listen to health professionals and the CDC for the sake of guarding not just the spiritual health of our congregations, but the physical health as well. We are the Church, we contain a faith so powerful it can move mountains from a God so powerful He created ExNihlo through Christ who has reconnected us to God by His death and Resurrection and sent to us the Holy Spirit to remake us into new creatures and allows us to fully actualize the image of God through being transformed into the image of Christ. if we cannot mitigate the effects of this virus, spiritually, emotionally, economically etc. based on whose we are alone, then we do not fully understand the power contained in having a relationship with the Triune God of the universe. (By the way, if the Church did what it is called to do there would be no need for forced Government redistribution).

I will not sacrifice my church on the alter of Moloch or Mammon, they are too precious to God and because they are precious to Him they are precious to me. Yes, I will tell them not to be afraid, but I will not, I refuse to, expose them unnecessarily to something that could kill them. That would be the highest form of evil and the greatest violation of my pastoral office I could ever commit.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid 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.

We Need More Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

There are just some articles you think you will never have to write. As the Coronavirus continues to put pressure on everyone from world leaders to the kid who has not been able to get his online schoolwork resources, we start to see what we are really made of. That of course is a common theme in history, whenever there is a disaster human’s have largely stepped up to walk with each other and care for one another. I can remember when Katrina hit and our little community in Albany Ohio took on several families and their kids came to our school. I think of the member of my church in an assisted living facility who was a riveter during World War II, who helped build the B29 Bombers. History is full of times when a crisis either national or international has rallied us to one another. We laid aside all those things that divided us and accepted that we are in fact one race, the human race, with one blood as Tony Evans and John Perkins have said over and over again.

But for some reason, this pandemic feels different, am I wrong? Usually you hear about all the good people are doing, It was not until a day ago that I saw businesses and individuals stepping up to aid those who are in need. Yes, there has occasionally been a story about a person delivering groceries to the elderly or whatnot, but those seem significantly less than what former news cycles have covered. Maybe it is just because I stopped watching Cable news in 2014 and went to print media only (magazines and newspapers). But even The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and the Bulwark (one left, one right and one centrist source) have been significantly void of stories of the helpers. Instead I have seen story after story about empty shelves and greed, post after post of people asking for something to help them feel better and now a group of Gen-Z engaging in hedonism on Florida Beaches while telling reporters they do not care if they contract the virus or not. One viral meme, though somewhat humorous, encourages us to complain about our kids and pets as “Coworkers we are reporting to HR.”

Meanwhile, In the Bulwark I read this piece by Tim Miller: COVID-19 and the Missing Call to Sacrifice in which he notes: “In America, it used to be common for us to be “called” to a higher purpose by our leaders. It was part of the mythos of our country, one of the reasons we believed in American exceptionalism. Our nation had a purpose—a calling—where other nations had mere interests.” Think Roosevelt calling for Rationing during World War II or President Kennedy’s famous words: “Ask what you can do for your country, not what your country can do for you.” I think of Lynn Austin’s character Julia in the second book of her Civil War Trilogy who gives up her posh, upper class life as a Philadelphia Socialite for the glory-less life of a battlefield nurse. Instead, even my local grocery store is completely emptied of Toilet Paper and I lost sleep on Wednesday Night because we found out that the panic has been causing places like Wal-Mart to sell out of Baby Formula meaning that there has been none for mothers of Preemies to buy the formula they need for their children and I wanted to find a way to help make sure these children, who are lucky to be alive in the first place, can get the formula they need.

 

Instead of giving up, we have decided to hoard. But, you say, we have given up a lot, we are not going to restaurants, church, school, work etc. Yes, we have given up social institutions, but have we given up our thoughts about ourselves? Sacrifice is not just giving up material comforts the government tells us to give up, sacrifice means giving of our very selves. Sacrifice is what our doctors and nurses are doing right now as they treat COVID-19 patents. Putting their own health at risk for the sake of helping those who are sick. Sacrifice is the Christians in Carthage in the 3rd century, who, when the Romans would abandon a plague victim on the side of the road to die, would go out and care for them. Sacrifice is laying down your political opinion, practicing proper discernment and doing what is necessary to care for and calm the fear of your neighbor, grandparent or immune compromised/disabled/pregnant/susceptible to the virus friends. Sacrifice is buying only what you need and Trusting God to take care of you regardless of what happens. And Love your neighbor enough to think about them when you shop or go out or decide to laugh at the latest restrictions. Sacrifice requires you to think of others and be a helper.

Friends, we need more helpers, not doomsayers, not down players, not panic makers, not disinformation and speculation. We need sacrifice and through sacrifice, to become helpers. Mothers need baby formula; older people need their needs met. Stop selfishly hoarding and be a helper wherever you can. Call one another, text, video chat and do not extort or destroy one another. Love one another for the sake of the Gospel.

Please, for everyone’s sake.

Because this will end eventually, and when it does, we will really need to help one another as we rebuild and restructure and reconnect from the isolation that drags at all of us right now. We need each other, so let’s be for each other, just as Christ was for us.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid 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.

Your Pastor in the Age of the Coronavirus

I am saddened by the often-vitriolic responses to pastors who have moved their churches to Livestreams or canceled altogether. Would you consider something with me?

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

To the Church Universal in an age of uncertainty.

Church, in an age of irresponsibility, let me start by reminding you that your pastor has been placed as an under shepherd to care for you. We are will stand before God one day and be asked how we carried out that mission and call on our lives, we will be held accountable for how we honored and cared for you. There are not enough pastors who take this reality seriously, but I assure you, this is not one of them. You are precious to God and because of the love God has for you, we love you as well.

It is for this reason that we are or should be taking the Coronavirus seriously. It is for this reason and for theological reasons that we listen to what the government, state and federal, it is for this reason I am home today trying to make and develop plans for my congregation, many of whom are within the age range listed as “Vulnerable Persons” according to the CDC. These are not plans we are making lightly or because we want time off. We are not looking at this as an out from our responsibility, if anything, situations like this are reminders of our responsibility to you as our congregants. The problem with this virus is not that it does not kill the same amount of people as the Flu, the problem with this virus is how easily it is to spread and that it is killing the most vulnerable members of our society. People, made in the image of God, whom we are responsible for caring for and considering. Roman’s 13:1-5 also means we have to listen to what the government is telling us to do and take it seriously when making decisions.

Yet, I have seen too many of my fellow pastors raked over the coals for either canceling and going to a live stream, or not canceling. I myself had two fake Facebook profiles shame me because our congregation met even though our state had not yet dropped the level of restrictions on meetings below 100. The fact is, these have been difficult decisions to make and for the sake of your pastor I want to encourage you to come along side them, remember that, like you, they are only human. We are thinking through and processing a lot of information, as are our elected officials and your public leaders in general all in the name of what is best for our health and well-being and added to that for us Pastors is the Spiritual health and well-being of our congregations.

Please, please, please, work with us, walk with us, talk with us. We love you and are charged with doing what is best for you and we are called to be vigilant and discerning in all cases. We also need you to help us care for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember that we are members one to another and that the body functioning properly depends on everyone. Now is not a time to panic, but a time to turn and seek the Lord and to intercede on behalf of one another and our communities. We should be voices of peace, but we should also be voices of wisdom and discernment in these tumultuous days. Christ left the Church here for times such as these and we need to work together for the Shalom of our communities.

Please be patient with us and ask how you can help, we need each other more than ever.

In Christ

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid 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.

A Letter On Viruses, Extremes and Social Media.

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

 

Dear….Everyone.

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.

Sincerely,

A sad and tired pastor.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid 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.