A Christian Response to Covid-19 Health Guidelines

| January 6, 2021 | 1 Comment

This is a response to health guidelines being issued by health departments all across our country. This is “a” response. I have read other Christian responses to consider as well.

In our church community, we are not following the health department’s directives in a legalistic way, yet we do make an effort to do some of the things they are asking us to do. We as a family have endeavored to do many of the things that are asked of us, but we make exceptions whenever we believe that more harm than good may be done if we follow the guidelines to the letter.

I acknowledge that some health department mandates do seem to be over the top. Christians in BC, AB, and some US states are dealing with orders that do seem unfair to Christians. In what I write below, I’m not justifying tyranny and overreach of government.

I also recognize that there are unfortunate and negative consequences to both “solutions” being promoted. There is the reach-herd-immunity-as-quickly-as-possible approach and the opposite let’s-hunker-down-at-home-and-wait-for-a-vaccine-approach. I’m not defending one approach over the other. Regardless of which approach a family or church community leans toward, I believe there are things that should be considered that are applicable to folks in both camps. I am proposing a third approach that goes something like this, “Build herd immunity (through contagion and/or vaccines) without overwhelming healthcare workers and without infecting those who don’t want to be or shouldn’t be infected.” Yes, the third approach requires a lot more thought and deliberation as evidenced by the length of the sentence. 🙂

I have read comments and received messages from Christian onlookers (both Anabaptist and non-Anabaptists) who are not impressed with the plain Anabaptist’s blatant disregard for the health departments’ guidelines. These folks have Bible verses to go with their position. Other Christians feel that disregard for health department guidelines is a good Christian testimony in that it sends a clear signal that we don’t let the world run the church. And yes, the latter folks have their Bible verses as well. (I’ve only heard this latter perspective from Christians. I have not heard this from non-Christians - probably because non-religious people view these orders from the state as an attempt at working together for the health of our communities and our nation. Also, most non-religious people are not particularly jealous to keep certain meaningful religious experiences because they haven’t had such experiences. And they didn’t need to suddenly give these practices up suddenly when the President issued stay-at-home guidelines this past spring.

I have also read and communicated with some of our Anabaptist healthcare workers who are on the front lines treating those who are sick with Covid-19. Many of them feel unappreciated by their church people. There are also reports from healthcare workers who are treating people who have not heeded the guidelines and yet expect treatment at hospitals for family members who get really sick. Many of these healthcare workers are putting in long hours right now and they feel devalued and unappreciated… that is… until someone’s close family member gets really sick and needs to go to the hospital. Many healthcare workers are weary and tired from the last ten months of extra work and they still have a winter yet in front of them. Many are exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. This state of body and mind is not good for family life and it is not good for the workers’ own physical and mental health long term. Also, the more patients they work with each day, the more likely it is that they will come down with Covid, and perhaps a severe case of it. Sick healthcare workers staying at home, or checking in at the hospital where they work, only creates added load on those who are still caring for the sick. They and all of us are dealing with Covid-fatigue and we all wish it would go away. Yet, I think that healthcare workers have good reason to wish for this more than the rest of us.

In a recent conversation between Anabaptist health care workers and non-healthcare workers (including those who have been “dismissive” of the healthcare guidelines), one person wrote this, “I am likely one of those who would be labeled “dismissive” by some of you. I would (in short) defend my thinking as having assessed the risk and decided the basic human need for fellowship/interaction with other humans is dire enough that it also cannot be ignored. How do you feel we who make these decisions should practically change or see differently?
I wrote the following…

  1. Limit fellowship/interaction with other humans to what seems really necessary to you and don't do any extra.
  2. Organize groups of volunteers to help overwhelmed healthcare workers with their non-technical responsibilities. e.g. help them do their chores, cook meals for them, do shopping for them, etc.
  3. Think creatively about how to follow the health department's advice, and still have fellowship/interaction, rather than react to it and "go back to normal" because the advice seems too difficult. The options we have are not only "lock downs" vs. "going back to normal". There are hundreds of options in-between those two extremes that will result in less infections and less stress for healthcare workers. It seems to me that plain people have lots of creativity when it comes to business and innovation. Perhaps some of this creativity could be used to figure out ways to have social life but minimize viral infections.
  4. Talk to your healthcare providers about the events you plan to host, the way you plan to conduct them, and the way you interact with others. If your healthcare providers are not comfortable with your plan, adjust accordingly.
  5. If you don't intend to follow their recommendations, don't expect them to take care of those who get sick as a result of your activity. Stock up on your own ventilators, IV units, etc. so that you can provide your own emergency services to those who get sick as a result of your activity. [Some results of our actions are several transmissions later. In other words, the people I may initially infect are maybe ok with the risk, but what about those a few weeks later who didn’t attend the activity but still get really sick or pass away?]
  6. If you or any of your close friends get really sick and need help, don't seek the assistance of healthcare personnel. Just pray that God will heal.

Ok. So I am not serious about #5 and #6. I don't want you or any of your friends to have long term health issues or die. But in reality, if we are really sure that we are right about the need for fellowship/interaction, we should be willing to pay the price and not expect the healthcare folks to experience physical, mental, emotional, or family stresses because they are working overtime to try to take care of us due to our lack of discretion. Neither should they need to expose themselves to our infections because of our poor choices.

I understand if this feels a little harsh, but my point is to think about what is good for others – particularly with those who need to deal with the consequences of our decisions - and not just think about what seems good on the surface for me and my friends. I am really bothered how so many plain people are making decisions based on their own desires, and don't stop to think about how their decisions may affect others.

In response, one conservative Anabaptist mother replied, “This actually brought tears to my eyes. We are the only healthcare workers in our church, (I’m not working currently though) and it has been one of the loneliest times in our lives. I can only imagine what it would feel like if #4 would happen.

In light of this, it does seem to me that we should be looking at this topic from the perspective of those who need to care for our members who develop respiratory problems, and not so much on what is most convenient or comfortable or “right” for us. Some folks whose activities led to hospitalizations, now feel bad about their social choices and the rhetoric they used prior to the sickness, and they are trying to get people to take the virus more seriously. Others are chalking it up to living in a fallen world, and are continuing on with life as usual. I think the latter is not being very considerate of healthcare workers and those who don’t have the luxury of avoiding an infection.

It seems to me that there are three basic responses to this pandemic. (with many flavors in between)

  1. This is a very serious health issue that requires unusual mitigation efforts. We should help along and follow the states’ directives as much as possible. Too bad for those who need physical and social interaction.
  2. This is a legitimate health issue (even though it is being over-played in some places) and we should make an effort to follow the health departments’ directives. However we can make some exceptions (with hygiene precautions of course) if we believe a particular situation needs more “physical presence” in order to meet someone’s emotional or spiritual needs.
  3. What pandemic? This virus is very similar to other viruses. We know how to handle viruses. This is basically a political/fear issue. Let’s get back to life as normal. The church shouldn’t need to change its practices just because someone says so. Too bad for those who don’t like the reach-herd-immunity-as-quickly-as-possible approach.

My observation is that #1 tends to fear the virus unnecessarily and #3 tends to fear anyone who may take away their customs or freedoms. With #3, my sense is that many people don't want to change the way they have always been doing things. They want life to go back to normal… and they want it to happen now.

However, I think most of these folks would be willing to postpone that desire if the results of “going back to normal” were much direr. I’m thinking that most everyone would be willing to make some drastic changes depending on what percentage of the population died or needed to go to hospitals. (For example, there is only about a 50% chance of survival among those who get infected with the Ebola virus.)

Because of this, I suggest that the difference of opinion among faithful followers of Jesus is not so much a difference of ethics, but rather a cost/benefit analysis. We look at the data and draw our conclusions about the cost vs. the benefit. I think that all devout Christians would agree that health departments do not have more authority than the scriptures, but we differ on how much influence to give the health department due to the relatively low percentage of people who get really sick with Covid-19. Most #3 Christians are not intrinsically opposed to healthcare directives, (most wash their hands before they eat, etc.) but they believe that the healthcare department in their region is not giving good directives right now.

If I am correct that foundationally, all devout Christians do not believe that health departments have authority over scripture, and that all of us would be glad to follow the health departments guidelines depending on the severity of the virus… then we are looking at an issue that is subjective.

We are looking at a subjective issue that is based on information we find trustworthy as well as our own experiences. When dealing with subjective issues, we need the Spirit of God to direct us and help us relate charitably to those who conclude something different about the cost vs. benefit of a particular viewpoint or action.

I realize that some of us find adapting more easy than others, so I say the following with the understanding that some may find this difficult to implement or embrace.

The past 10 months I have tended to focus on the things we as Christians can still do rather than on the things we cannot do anymore. I thank God often for what we are still able to do, as compared to other era’s when Christians had less scientific understanding of how plagues and viruses actually spread. (During the Black Plague, people were boarded up in their homes by the authorities and left to starve. During the Spanish Flu and World War I, governments hid information from the populace about the flu, for fear that soldiers would not enlist in the army.)

I look at this pandemic as a present distress that will pass in a year or so. Christians have often had distresses throughout the centuries. They got creative. They met outdoors. They met in caves. They met on boats. They met in smaller groups. They wrote letters to each other. They read their letters to each other aloud in their gatherings. They passed letters around within the community and beyond. The church grew and multiplied during these distresses. I think a pandemic like this could be one of the best things that could happen to Christians who have become attached to a comfortable, predictable church life. During the temperate months, this pandemic had the potential to encourage the church to spread out and welcome others outside of their ethnic clans into their yards and smaller gatherings. During colder weather, it takes more creativity. I think this pandemic could have the same effect that persecution had on the early church in the book of Acts as well as on the early Anabaptists. At these times in history, people of God needed to think beyond their normal frame of reference… Our present distress will only have a similar effect if we see this pandemic as an opportunity...

-Ernest Eby

Category: Public

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  1. Regina Shea says:

    Amen to your closing paragraphs Brother Ernest. I’m afraid many Christians I’ve encountered are not having a godly attitude about the pandemic and it makes me sad.

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