Evaluating COVID’s Impact Through 2021

Jan 1st, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Russell Moore, Christianity Today’s chair of theology, recently wrote that “Many have referred to the past couple of years as an ‘apocalypse.’ Some use the word just to mean ‘akin to a dystopian movie.’ But others, mostly Christians, have pointed to the word’s actual meaning—an unveiling. We have seen awful things uncovered. People we thought were prophets and pastors turned out to be predators. Thousands of our neighbors died gasping for air, while others screamed at one another about whether to wear masks or get vaccines. Churches and denominations and even families split in a way we never would have imagined a decade ago.”  COVID and how to respond to it has divided families, churches and neighbors.  Its effect has been pernicious and incredibly disruptive.  On top of everything else, COVID has further divided an already polarized nation.

To illustrate COVID’s effects, consider its contribution to the dismissal nature of evangelicalism.  Peter Wehner writes, “When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are secularized.  The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.”  Many evangelicals are consumed with conspiracy theories that are apocalyptic in nature: COVID vaccines are the “Mark of the Beast” (Revelation 13:16-18) and must be avoided at all costs.  The US government is conspiring with dark forces to bring about the suppression of all faiths, paving the way for the antichrist.  Many evangelicals are consumed by fear, a near irrational paranoia, not a formidable faith in Jesus Christ.  To not wear a mask or to refuse COVID vaccinations are viewed acts of supreme patriotism and devotion to political and religious liberty.  Debates and policies about masks, mandates and vaccines have raised deep questions about who should set the rules for society.  The result is that personal autonomy has slammed up against institutional authority and the pursuit of the common good.

Such fears have also produced a distrust of all institutions and all authority.  Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal quotes nonpartisan political analyst Charlie Cook:  We live in “a time of skepticism and cynicism about public institutions (to say nothing of wild conspiracies theories fed by social media), [when] the pandemic has eroded some of the remaining residue of trust among many Americans towards society’s institutions.  Much like schools, public-health fixtures that once appeared to be above the political fray—including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and local and state health officers—have been dragged into this swirl or, in some cases, have jumped into it.”  Indeed, in Gallup’s annual survey of Ameircans’ attitudes toward institutions taken this summer, trust in public schools fell 9% from a year earlier, and trust in the medical system fell 7%.  This is all on top of a series of traumas, “from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq to the 2008 financial collapse to climate change, [the result:] American voters think their elected leaders have stumbled, eroding their confidence in government.”

Peggy Noonan reports on a series of surveys on another impact of the COVID pandemic on American civilization.  Marriage and childbirth rates, declining for years, reached new lows during the pandemic.  “The desire to marry among single Ameircans ticked up 2 points since the pandemic, but 17% of Americans 18 to 55 reported their desire to have children has decreased, while only 10% said it had increased.”  One of the conclusions is that “As the pandemic lifts, the nation is likely to see a deepening divide between the affluent and everybody else, between the religious and the secular, and between Republicans and Democrats in their propensity to marry and have children.”  She summarizes other results:  Interest in family formation is higher among the religious.  This has been true for a while, and the pandemic sharpened the divide.  The desire to marry increased by 8 points overall among unmarried Ameircans who regularly attend religious services.  The desire to have children fell a little among those who attend religious services at least once a month and by a net 11 points among those who never or seldom attend services.

This confusion about family formation is part of what Yuval Levin of the American Enterprise Institute calls “social inertness,” a passivity about the larger meaning of life.  He attributes this to the breakdown of the traditional social order itself: the waning of “life scripts” provided by family, religion and traditional norms.  Younger Americans are “less sure of where to step and how to build their lives.”  Levin goes on, “We are seeing a rising generation acutely averse to risk and so to every form of dynamism.”  “Excessive risk aversion” is deforming other areas of American life, from child rearing to work and public leadership.  “And it seems intertwined with a more general tendency toward inhibition and constriction—we see this in speech and conduct codes, which leave Americans ‘walking on eggshells around each other in many of our major institutions.’”

Finally, permit me several concluding thoughts that stem from the Christian worldview rooted in our stewardship responsibilities before God:

  1. Health issues are stewardship issues.  Family doctor, Matthew Loftus, who practices in the Baltimore, Maryland area, writes that “health means stewarding all the resources God has given us to bring about human flourishing and full image-bearing among our families and neighbors.  Preventing the most deaths for the lowest cost with the simplest interventions is a core part of stewardship . . . By giving our bodies just enough ingredients to develop immunity instead of waiting for disease to strike, we’re proactively conforming to a pattern of wholeness.”
  2. Health issues involve the biblical mandate to care for the poor—the orphans and widows of our society.  Therefore, not vaccinating our children elevates the risks of infectious disease among the poor and “immunosuppressed.”  As Dr. Loftus persuasively argues, that, from a global perspective, this is an even more acute issue.  Previous generations bore the risks of smallpox vaccination.  Now this disease is eradicated worldwide and the vaccine has saved millions of lives.  Polio may soon be eradicated as well.  Vaccines are a crucial and necessary weapon against diseases that would otherwise kill many of whom are poor worldwide.    In my opinion, it is unconscionable to not vaccinate.   The larger risks over time of not doing so are enormous! It is also important to remember an essential fact about worldwide missions:  Using vaccines, medical missionaries have represented Christ to the non-Christian world. These Christian missionaries have saved thousands, perhaps millions of lives in the name of Jesus.
  3. God is sovereign and He is in control of all things.  His common grace is one of the clear biblical principles resonating throughout Scripture.  Through His grace, God has allowed medical professionals to “explore the body and its functions in their original goodness; [to] identif[y] patterns of decay brought by sin; and to undo or prevent those patterns from harming our bodies and minds.”  Medicine, including vaccinations, rest on God’s mercy and grace.  Our Creation Mandate is to represent Christ in all things, including the fight against disease and anything that debilitates and harms other image-bearers of God.  When we vaccinate our children we represent God well in caring for our bodies and the bodies of our children.  It matters to God that we do that.  We fulfill a vital stewardship responsibility before Him.
  4. Albert Mohler addresses “the issue of love of neighbor. Some people might approach the issue of vaccination through self-defined terms. Such a person might say, ‘If a vaccine is available, then people can take it who wants it. I’m not taking it. I pose no threat to anyone. I’ll deal with the consequences of my own actions.’  Here is the problem with this kind of moral equation: There are third parties—people who cannot take the vaccine or do not yet have access to it that could still be infected by those who refuse to take the vaccine.  The common good argument is extremely powerful in the Christian tradition. Indeed, it is the second greatest commandment listed by Jesus Christ: to love our neighbors as ourselves. The general principle of the common good comes down to benevolence, love, care for others, laying down personal priorities for the service of others. Christians thinking about the issue of the vaccine must weigh this key biblical principle as part of their thinking.”
  5. “Christians do not believe in medical non-interventionism. Instead, we believe in the moral legitimacy of medical treatment. A Christian worldview authorizes treatment—and we do so as an extension of the doctrine of creation and the dominion God has given to humanity as revealed in the opening chapter of Genesis. Pressing against disease and viruses is part of our mandate. Some might say, ‘I believe in the sovereignty of God, and if God wants me to have this virus then he will give me the virus. I don’t need medical intervention because I trust God.’ That kind of logic, if pressed to its logical conclusion, however, is untenable—we wouldn’t treat any sickness, cancer, or injury. Medical treatment is an extension of God’s common grace and Christians have always understood this. That is why, throughout history, where you found Christians you found hospitals and the church treating the sick.  Thus, it is not wrong for Christians to take measures to avoid getting sick or coming down with the virus. It is not wrong to take the vaccine against COVID-19.”

See Russell Moore in Christianity Today (December 2021); Peter Wehner, “The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart” in The Atlantic (24 October 2021); Gerald F. Seib in the Wall Street Journal (27-28 November 2021); Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal (27-28 November 2021); and R. Albert Mohler, Jr, “Vaccines and the Christian Worldview: Principles for Christian Thinking in the Context of COVID” at www.albertmohler.com (14 December 2020).

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