Tag: COVID-19

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.

Coronavirus and The Death of Individualism

When this is over, and it will eventually be, perhaps we will have been reminded that what really matters is each other.

Jonathan David Faulkner

As a student of 19th Century Church History at Mercersburg I have little patience for Princeton, as a human being a struggle with Twitter because of how negative it has become. Yet, yesterday both of these combined to surprise me. This time in the form of a Tweet from Princeton Professor Kate Bowler about how the Coronavirus marks the end of individualism

I could write an entire article on how entertaining it is for someone who has studied the “Common sense” theology that Princeton was born into to hear someone from Princeton claiming the end of Individualism, but that is not the point of this article. What is the point is to explore what that means for society going forward.

Lifeway Research, Barna and Pew have all marked an increase in anxiety and its contributors in both Millenials and Gen Z compared to the other two living generations (Baby Boomers and Gen X) who make up much of the population. That means that isolation, depression and loneliness are all on the rise among people 15-35 and as a result we are suffering more anxiety because we have a much weaker social network to fall back upon. Instead we have one that, for all its claims to be social, is increasingly proving to be fake and in fact, toxic, to our mental heath (Social Media). Social Media creates the illusion of togetherness and interconnectedness but does not fulfil either human need. Jean M. Twenge has warned us about the effect Social Media is having both on us and our kids as the pressure to present a perfectly curated world based on your personal preferences overwhelms them.

Individualism, especially the radical American brand that was handed down to us and expanded upon from the time of the Enlightenment says that the individual is prime, and nothing should interfere with the individuals personal autonomy. That translates to an attitude that “no one is going to tell me what to do and as long as it feels good to me, I am going to do it.” If you are on Twitter today you know that this very attitude is being blamed for why the virus is spreading at the alarming rate that it is in the United States. We all saw the videos of college kids partying in Florida and then saw the new report that most of those kids have tested positive for the virus. The idea that “I am young and invincible” is one that has affected every youth, but individualism says: “I am going to do what feels good, consequences be damned.” Individualism fuels our other impulses, consumerism, stuff will make the individual feel secure, identitarianism, personal identity is the path to harmony and perfect happiness, hedonism, I want to do what makes me happiest and most fulfilled. These all look to the self as the greatest authority, again, the individual is prime.

Yet we have seen recently a rise in strong group think the extremes of the right and the left. Tribalism is our word for it, and though incompatible with individualism, it makes the same claim as individualism, the self of group is primary, and no one can tell the tribe what to think or to think differently. I remember sitting in a meeting with one of my professors for a “Readings and Research” course on Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy’s debate over revivalism. Revivalism being a key contributor to the spread of individualism in America. I remember telling her that individualism is breaking down, but that tribalism is as well, leading to some kind of primalism that is purely emotionally driven which corresponds with the breakdown in language and increased isolation caused by Social Media. This observation came after an article in The Guardian about the use of Emoji’s in communication and the idea that we had reverted back to Hieroglyphs on tablets with glowing screens. The relationship between individualism and tribalism is thus that they both reject dependence on the other, in the case of individualism, prizing personal autonomy and in the case of tribalism, prizing group autonomy. It is the same idea, applied to two extremes.

Both individualism and Tribalism are dangerous to the public health and well-being of a society because they both reject anything other than what they have accepted as personal truth. This operative principle of relativism means that doing anything that does not see to the wellbeing of the central idea or person is evil is extremely destructive both to society and to the individual in general or persons involved. Believe it or not, this is how cults operate, loyalty to the leader or central idea is absolute and if one diverges from that then they are punished by the group. Think Westboro Baptist or Jonestown, they often seem like great places to be, but if you step out of line you become public enemy number one. Yet we have embraced both mediums unquestionably and are going to long pay the price for our obstinance.

If you do not believe me, look at this week’s debate over the stimulus package. Everyone is trying to get a piece of pie for their constituency, their tribe, and the result is ultimately an abandonment of the American People. Meanwhile Lobbyists want what is best for them, a juicy bonus from their employers, and so they bend the ear of their allies on the hill. That is not how a representative republic is meant to work and we are learning that the tribal mantra “America First” does not actually mean “Americans First.” We should be ashamed of ourselves. Individualism and Tribalism, two extremes, predicated on the same utilitarian principle. Do what is best for me and forget everyone else. Who cares if someone dies, they are not part of me or my group, I have nothing to do with them and they have nothing to do with me? How perfectly Stalinite of us saying “one death is a tragedy but a million is a statistic.”

Yet, as a Christian I know that this is not how the world is meant to be ordered. As a Historian I know this ordering of the world is abnormal when compared to the strong group societies that are still much of the world today. As a Pastor who believes what the Bible says is true (I should not teach it otherwise) I have a responsibility to teach my congregation that Jesus gave His life so that we could live a life that was radically different from the world around us. For the Christian, self-seeking is unprofitable and unuseful (Titus 3:1-11) and leads to fights and quarrels and schism. Self-seeking leaves us self-condemned while living the Christian Life that we can only live because God made it possible through Jesus Christ, should make us work for the benefit of one another. That includes those who think differently than we do, those who the world would naturally label our “enemies.” The Christian Life is meant to be lived for the benefit of our neighbors, not for the benefit of ourselves. We have received out reward and it is well beyond what we could ever gain on this Earth (i.e Eternal Life).

In times of crisis then, we should not look to ourselves, but looking to the good of one another and to the world that does not know Christ. I work just as hard for the benefit and shalom of my neighbor who is unsaved as I do for the saved neighbor. I do this not because I am obligated too, but because I am grateful for that Christ as done for me what I could not do myself. This does not mean there is not an inward quality to Christianity, we are commanded to work out our salvation, but that is also done in the context of our relationship with God and with others. The Churchman John Williamson Nevin, in his writing on the Two-Party System in the days leading up to the Civil War says this: “This does not mean there is not room for individual opinion, but that individual opinion must be brought into the group and be examined by all to see if it aligns with the word of God and the teachings of the Church.” Christians believe in an absolute truth, but we should be gracious in how we live and apply that truth because God has been gracious to us. We confess essential doctrines, but we also confess personal conscious and 1 Corinthians 10 tells us that there are some things that are left up to the personal conscious of the individual, but that considerations of conscious should take into account the conscious of another. If such and such an activity will be harmful to my neighbor, I will abstain from that activity in their company.

Both individualism and tribalism advance the individual conscious over the good of the people around us. Both make the individual conscious a self-contained god that declares its independence from every other god around it and is superior to everyone else’s god. Thus, no one is superior and no one’s individual truth is absolute. I am also under no obligation to do anything for my neighbor because my neighbor is my enemy. I have excused myself from doing anything for anyone, the self is my god and people better not play in my canned goods or challenge the high place I have built for myself. This has to be an exhausting way to live, but our culture has adopted it as normal, even voted it into office at the state and national levels.

The Coronavirus and COVID-19 challenge this mentality. I know last week I posted a piece about the need for more helpers, but that was because I wanted to see more of the few positive things I was seeing (I need to adjust my algorithm because my wife was seeing nothing but positive stories while all my headlines were about hoarding and toilet paper). I have seen how many of us have laid down our self-contained gods and self-worship to reach out to the other. We are self-quarantining because we understand how easy it is to transmit this virus and how deadly it is for older and vulnerable groups. We are adjusting store hours so that elderly men and women can go to the store without fear. People are baking bread so that their elderly neighbors who cannot get to the store can have bread. Yes, there are people hoarding, but there are a growing number of people who seem to be breaking from our usual American individualist way of life for the sake of helping others. They seem to be realizing that the benefit of helping one another far outweighs the benefit of helping themselves alone. In the words of Mr. Spock, “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the one or the few.” I can only hope that this trend continues, and individualism does die a quick death. This may be optimistic; we may go back to business as usual in June or July when this thing finally ends. But I can dream right?

Think about it this way:

 

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.