In this article — and my apologies for its length, but there’s just so much out there — I’ll share some of those responses, from the downright wacky to the more seemingly mundane. By the way, this isn’t about “Christian bashing” at all. To be fair, a majority of churches — and Christians — are “doing the right thing” by closing down their services and staying home.
For example, Alan Bean stated in an April 1, 2020 Baptist News article that for the concerned Christian, maybe there are no good answers right now, and sometimes we just don’t know — but acting foolishly puts us in harm’s way. For a lot of Christians who are denying science in favor of faith, he says, much of this is based on the flawed presupposition that God will come to their rescue, when he has promised no such thing.
Bean maintains that Christians “tempt God when we place ourselves in harm’s way on the theory that God will bail us out. With ‘the deadly pestilence’ of COVID-19 stalking in darkness, the only faithful, rational and compassionate response is to stay home. When we insist on holding public church services, resuming college classes or curtailing the practice of social distancing on Easter Sunday, we are tempting God.”
While I no longer agree with his theology as I once did as an evangelical, it is heartening to see that there are some voices of caution and restraint out there in the Christian world.
A Science-Denying Death Cult?
But far more disturbing are the Christians who put themselves and others at risk by continuing to defy state stay-at-home orders and follow the direction of pastors who urge them to continue attending church services. This notion, of course, follows the lead of President Trump, who’s long been a science-denier and peddler of crackpot conspiracy theories. I contend that those evangelical supporters of Trump who engage in public protests against lockdowns and who attend services are displaying the behavior of many death cult followers. Like the members of many a suicide cult, they are willing to follow blindly their leader’s orders and put not only their lives on the line in a bizarre attempt to re-start the American economy, they’re putting others at risk too.
CJ Werleman comments that with its coronavirus- and fact-denying stance, “The Christian Right is impervious to facts, evidence and Trump’s moral and ethical transgressions because in him they see a fast-track to the Rapture…The outbreak of the deadliest virus pandemic in a century, however, has revealed it to be more than an obstacle to social progress. It has demonstrated it to be a suicide cult.”
Speaking of those Christians who deny science, one can see that there is a clear correlation between many evangelicals and Trump’s daily press briefings. Up until his disastrous recommendation to inject disinfectant and somehow figure out how to put UV light under the skin to kill the virus, his pressers had become a replacement Trump rally. He has regularly gone on-air to air his grievances, trash his political opponents, and (occasionally) deliver something actually newsworthy about Covid-19.
His “Covid-19 updates” feature a heavy rotation of the following items: failing to listen to the experts around him; bragging about his “ratings” and how well he’s handled the pandemic; encouraging unsafe protests against state lockdowns; spreading racist views and conspiracy theories about the virus and its origins; and pushing dubious (if not outright dangerous or life-threatening) medical advice. Regardless of all of that, still a majority of evangelicals blindly support him, and are more likely to listen to Trump than they would an expert infectious diseases specialist.
VP Mike Pence must figure in there prominently too, as a staunch evangelical and head of the coronavirus task force. He’s long had a history of denying science in favor of the Bible and faith. In fact, one of Pence’s first actions on being named head of the task force was to convene a meeting of key leaders and hold a prayer service (and was roundly mocked by many in the media and on social media for it).
There’s also a correlation to the lack of critical thinking by evangelicals, which has been shaped by years of sitting in churches taking the preacher’s word for it about the authority of the Bible, the correct interpretation of that text, applications, how to vote, live their lives etc.
Addressing Evangelical Cognitive Dissonance
From a theological and faith point of view, we need to address the rising levels of cognitive dissonance that many believers must be experiencing. This, I believe, is due to two seemingly irreconcilable beliefs held by most believers:
- The presupposition that God is omnipotent and in total control of all world events.
- The fact that the coronavirus is a) even here and b) that despite all of the millions of prayers worldwide for God miraculously to end it — or provide a science-based cure — he hasn’t as yet.
I think that for a lot of Christians, the commitment to some sort of a “biblical worldview” means that there must be an explanation, or interpretation, for virtually every event — one that keeps God in charge of everything. This drives them to interpret the event from a Christian/biblical perspective, otherwise none of it makes any sense.
But then: why won’t this all-powerful God answer their prayers and stop the virus from spreading, heal those sick with it, etc? And why are certain Christians catching it — or even dying from it — if they’re in fact divinely protected? For the Christian, fortunately, there’s always an answer; God always has an escape clause. Some answers include the following: he’s doing it to test our faith; it’s a judgement from God for humanity’s sin; or the church is in a “time of pause,” after which there’ll be a major, worldwide revival.
Dominionist Chuck D Pierce, for example, alleges that God revealed to him (through fellow “prophet” Cindy Jacobs) in January 2020 that a worldwide pandemic would occur in early 2020. He goes on to state in a Charisma article that “Several interpretations could be given over the situation of COVID-19 as havoc occurs throughout the nations. Some would even say that this virus has stopped any movement where revival can continue. I would say: ‘God has put a pause until He sees who is willing to cross over with Him through His blood at Passover.’ This Passover will become a dividing line for our future!”
Therefore, some Christians like Pierce hold that the coronavirus is God’s way of preparing the world for a big coming revival. Pastor and Christian counselor Paul Dean ponders this very question in a Christianity.com article entitled “Coronavirus and Revival.” He states: “One wonders if God would use the Coronavirus imbroglio to bring about revival. When people are confronted with their own mortality; when things seem hopeless; when they feel helpless; when it actually dawns on them that things will never be the same; when they sense there should be something more; when they’re confronted with their sin; they’re prepared to hear the gospel. Even then, only God can open their hearts. Only God can bring revival, and He can do so without a prepared soil if He so chooses. And He may not choose to do so when the soil is prepared. But He may. And that’s what we long for.”
Right. So God is prepared to kill tens of thousands of people and destroy the global economy so that…humanity will repent and turn to him? If that is the case, what sort of monster is this God Christians claim to serve, anyway?
Prayer is the Answer
Another question: should Christians — and for that matter, anyone who isn’t a believer — pray about the virus? Here again, God always has an escape clause, it would seem. Even if God doesn’t stop the virus from spreading, prayer is good for your mental health, according to Family Research Council president Tony Perkins in a recent USA Today article.
He states: “Studies show that prayer reduces anxiety and depression. A reduction in anxiety allows people to process and react to external events with a more cognitive rather than emotional manner. And a time in which there is worldwide concern over a virus without a treatment, a strategic and peaceful approach to problem solving is a good thing. When faced with fear of the unknown, turning to an all-knowing God is a good place to start. And for people of faith, we know that God answers prayers and that, as it says in James 5:16, ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.’ Amid crisis, whether coronavirus, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or another calamity, we must not allow the mockery of the anti-faith crowd to drown out our prayers for the hurting, for the protection of our families, our communities, and our country.”
But what happens if you, or a loved one, are in fact praying for God’s protection, but still get sick, and die? No need to worry, says Robert Hampshire in a Christianity.com article: as a believer, even if you catch the virus but God does not choose to heal you, and you die, you can still praise God for it. Either way, he maintains, God will be glorified through our sickness, or our health…and if we die as a Christian, we’ll end up in heaven — so it’s a win-win!
Hampshire asks his readers to ponder the question: “So, will God heal me or you if we get a virus, disease, or cancer that the world even says is ‘incurable?’ He might or might not in this life. But the great hope that we have as believers is that as we seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first, we can trust that no matter what happens, God will be glorified, his plan will be accomplished, and we will reap eternal rewards in Heaven where we will most definitely be healed!”
While seeking solace in prayer — whether it’s answered or not, apparently — can be one way to quell that pesky cognitive dissonance, we’ve also witnessed countless examples of “loaded language” or thought-terminating cliches quoted by Christians: “Psalm 91 covering;” “faith trumps fear;” “I’m protected from the virus by the blood of Jesus,” or “I’m covered by the blood of Jesus;” “It’s all a hoax designed to take down Trump and the economy,” etc.
This is yet another example of the cult-like mentality demonstrated by many believers out there who take solace in using loaded language to suppress any feeling of cognitive dissonance.
Here’s a sample of what a few prominent Christian leaders have done or said by way of response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Churches Insisting on Staying Open
The following is taken from an article in the New York Times (republished in Real Clear Religion) entitled “The Road to Coronavirus Hell was Paved by Evangelicals,” by Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers. Stewart maintains:
“This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis. On March 15, Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an ‘apostle’ and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. ‘Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,’ he said.
Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida mocked people concerned about the disease as ‘pansies’ and insisted he would only shutter the doors to his packed church ‘when the rapture is taking place.’
In a sermon that was live-streamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, said, ‘We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.’”
Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church has repeatedly violated Louisiana governor’s warnings on social distancing and stay-at-home orders, and has continued to hold church services. On this decision, he told a CNN reporter: “If they close every door in this city, then I will close my doors,” Spell said last month. “But you can’t say the retailers are essential but the church is not. That is a persecution of the faith.” Spell has also told CNN he believes the pandemic is “politically motivated” and has said the rules are a “government overreach.”
Update: Tony Spell has since been arrested as of Tues 21st April (now out on bail) for allegedly attempting to assault a protester outside his church, when he appeared to back up one of the church’s buses in an attempt to hit the protester. Spell denies the charges.
Governors DeSantis of Florida and Abbot of Texas (both Republicans) have recently both signed executive orders deeming religious services as “essential,” but have encouraged places of worship to remain closed and conduct services remotely as much as possible. Other states have also exempted places of worship but encouraged them to conduct services remotely. To be fair, as mentioned above most places of worship have followed government orders and shut their doors; it’s just a few high-profile ones that have garnered media attention.
Coronavirus: The Judgement of God?
- Jimmy DeYoung on 3/18/20 episode of Stand in the Gap Radio: “Remember in 70 AD, General Titus, the leader of the Roman Empire’s army, came into Jerusalem, devastated the city and the Temple, and dispersed the Jews to the four corners of the earth..those treasures that Titus was able to take back to his father [Emperor Vespasian] there in Rome, about 50 tons of gold and silver. That also included the menorah, the table of showbread, and the two silver trumpets…Now, these treasures have been stored, they believe, in the basement of the Vatican, and the Jews want these Temple vessels back for the next Temple… [but] the [current] Pope didn’t bring the vessels back [to Israel as promised]. Now they’re saying that the coronavirus in Rome, which we know is a very serious situation, that’s gonna worsen, if the Vatican doesn’t return these vessels.”
- Ralph Drollinger, Capitol Ministries: “Since God is just and sin must and will be paid for, wrath – the righteousness of God revealed against sin – is an inevitable consequence…” He claims sins of various types bring God’s judgement for the following actions: suppressing the truth about God, worshipping the environment, and homosexuality. He states that the latter brings about God’s “forsaking wrath” when he says, “Indicative of forsaking wrath is a proclivity toward lesbianism and homosexuality.” (Capitol Ministries, “Is God Judging America Today?”).
- Billy Prewitt, The Coronavirus in Bible Prophecy: “Biblically and prophetically speaking, mass scale infectious diseases are from God…it is quite clear that the source of these diseases [plagues in the OT] is God. Another thing that is quite clear is the reason for the disease, sin…There is no question but that the Bible intends to teach that pestilence, or disease, is one of the ways God uses to judge men for transgression…China is a communist country. As a result, Christians in China have been under severe persecution for decades…Why should we think it strange that a pandemic of disease has sprung up in the heart of China?” Prewitt admits that it can’t be “specific judgement related to China” because the virus has spread worldwide; perhaps it is because these other nations have done things to “trouble Jews” or mistreat them in any way, and thus be deserving of God’s judgement. It could also be down to abortions, which apparently also make God judge nations. He states: “Their blood [of aborted babies] has defiled this land [America], and the only cleansing available is the death of all responsible parties” (by which he means abortion doctors, women who’ve had abortions, consenting male partners, politicians who voted pro-choice, and voters who voted for those politicians).
- Pat Robertson on the 700 Club (from HuffPost): In response to the following question asked by viewer John, mid-April: “‘Pat, last week you were talking about COVID-19. You quoted Chronicles 7:14. How can God heal our land and forgive the sins when abortion and same-sex marriage are laws and many people are anti-Israel. Doesn’t this prevent his healing and forgiveness?’ Robertson answered: “You know, I think you put your finger on something very important… the Bible says, they turn from their wicked ways, they didn’t get forgiven, they will turn from their wicked ways. And part of what we’ve done is turn. We are not turning when we have done terrible things. We have broken the covenant that God made with mankind. We have violated his covenant. We’ve allowed this terrible plague [of evil] to spread throughout our society. And it’s a small wonder God would hold us guilty.”
- Tim Keller: “It’s just a way, I do think, for God to try to wake us up and to say, please make sure you’re right with me. Please think, think about, you know, where you are. So there’s a sense in which all these kinds of disasters are a judgment, but a judgment that’s not on the people who are suffering…’ But the real question, Keller says, is not, ‘Is this God’s judgment?’ But rather, ‘Is God to whom I look to and trust in when bad things happen?” (Fox News interview).
- Danielle Burdock: “God can use the coronavirus for good because God is good. Contrary to what some are saying, the coronavirus is not the judgment of God for the sin of the world. Because of God’s great love for us, Jesus bore not only the judgment of God for sin but also our sickness and disease” (Christianity.com article). She claims that “God can use the coronavirus for good” by raising up good people who do good things, and somehow “creating new things through synergy.”
- John Piper on his “Ask John” podcast: When answering the question over whether or not Christians will be especially protected from catching the virus: “Jesus has all knowledge and all authority over the natural and supernatural forces of this world. He knows exactly where the virus started, and where it’s going next. He has complete power to restrain it or not. And that’s what’s happening. Neither sin, nor Satan, nor sickness, nor sabotage is stronger than Jesus. He’s never backed into a corner; he is never forced to tolerate what he does not will.”
- Piper also maintains that God sometimes kills people for taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, so (logically?) that should relate to deaths from the virus too: “The Lord Jesus takes the life of his loved ones through weakness and illness — the very same words, by the way, used to describe the weaknesses and illnesses that Jesus heals in his earthly life (Matthew 4:23; 8:17; 14:14) — and brings them to heaven. He brings them to heaven because of the trajectory of their sin that he was cutting off and saving them from. Not to punish them, but to save them…If he can do that in a few of his loved ones in Corinth, he can do it to many, including by the coronavirus. And not just because of abusing the Lord’s Supper, but also for other kinds of sinful trajectories — though not all death is for a particular sin.”
- John Carson, Northern Ireland DUP Councillor: “I said when abortion was legalised that our nation would be judged by God because of its departure from his word and the legalisation of the murder of the unborn child as well as same-sex marriage. I was laughed at and mocked by some but as I said at the time, they laughed at Noah until the rain started. You reap what you sow and our nation is now reaping the judgment of God because of an immoral and corrupt Government. It is time to repent and turn again to the God of our fathers” (article in the Evening Standard 2nd April).
- Pastor Cal Pierce on a Facebook post: “The enemy has an agenda against our nation — of course, every nation, actually. Of course, our battle isn’t in flesh and blood but against principalities. The enemy is trying to take God out of this country…I believe it’s a test that the enemy is making against God’s people, because he wants to turn us from where God has taken us in this hour and … see if we’re going to walk in fear. Because fear will bring punishment…We, as the body of Christ, speak to this mountain of coronavirus. You spirit of death and fear, be taken up and cast back into the seal of hell. You will stop now and leave the earth. We decree that in 10 days, the world will acknowledge this turnaround to the glory of God. This is the will of God, established by the blood of Jesus, whose authority you must obey.” (quoted by Steven Strang in an article in Charisma in April 2020; obviously the 10 day time limit came and went without Pierce’s “prophecy” taking place).
- Bishop Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church NZ: “‘Satan has control of atmospheres unless you’re a born-again, Jesus-loving, bible-believing, Holy Ghost-filled, tithe-paying believer…God judges primarily by pestilence, which is those diseases, by famine — which is the shortage of anything — shortage of food, shortage of water, shortage of resources..You’re the only one that can walk through atmospheres and have literally a protection, the PS-91 [Psalm 91] protection policy…I don’t care if you don’t believe it … Everybody else is susceptible” (from a Daily mail article 5th March 2020).
- Pastor Perry Stone, TN (article on Right Wing Watch): “Stone proclaimed that the COVID-19 virus is a demonic attempt to kill elderly Americans who won’t accept the Mark of the Beast so socialism can take over this nation. Stone claimed that in the Bible, the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites, who ‘started killing the old, the weak, and the feeble.’ The demonic spirit of Amalek, Stone said, is behind the current coronavirus outbreak. ‘It’s almost like a spirit of Amalek that is trying to attack our older people,’ Stone said. Let me tell you why the enemy wants to get rid of our older people. They are the ones who are established in the Bible. They are the ones who know enough about the Word not to take the Mark of the Beast. The younger generations [say], “Oh cool, put it in my hand. It’ll open a door. Wow.” They’re going to take it,’ Stone added. ‘The older people in America in the Southeast are the conservative people, and this is attacking them to get that group out. If you get rid of all of those people who resist the Beast, and resist the Antichrist, and resist the system, then you have a whole other pro-socialist, pro-communist, give-me-your-money-and-I’ll-do-what-I-want-with-it group coming up,’ he said. ‘You see them. They’re out there, 35 percent of America is into it. And they have no respect for those older people who have made this country great.’”
- Kenneth Copeland: “Fear is a spiritual force. Fear is not OK. It is sin. It is a magnet for sickness and disease…You are giving the devil a pathway to your body.” In a televised service on the 5th of April, he blew in the direction of the camera and addressed the virus: “I blow the wind of God on you. You are destroyed forever, and you’ll never be back. Thank you, God. Let it happen. Cause it to happen.” He also led a chant with other members of his megachurch, calling out: “Wind, almighty, strong, south wind, heat: burn this thing, in the name of Jesus. I say, you bow your knees. You fall on your face.” (LAD Bible article). He also declared at the end of March that the virus was “over.” Also: “As people of God, we have dominion and authority over COVID-19, because Jesus has redeemed us from every curse, which includes sickness, disease and every plague (Galatians 3:13)” (Copeland’s YouTube channel).
- Lance Wallnau, 7 Mountains Dominionist: “This week we’ve seen President Trump do everything he can to slow down the coronavirus but we’ve also seen how deep the media’s Trump Derangement Syndrome goes. President Trump acted decisively, stopping travel to the US from China and, of course, being accused by the fake news media of being a racist. We’ve also found out from a report that up to 90% of the coronavirus spread could have been stopped if China hadn’t covered up what was happening. The first doctor in China to publicly talk about the virus, Doctor Li Wenliang, was arrested along with seven other doctors for ‘making false comments on the internet’ about the virus. He subsequently died of it…There’s a spiritual battle in America, and the spirit that keeps on manifesting is strife. We have to pray that the politicizing and manipulation of discontent and discord for political gain is exposed for what it is! We have to pray that the folly of these people is revealed.” (Love for His People article).
Coming out next week is a special bonus episode of MindShift Podcast featuring two ex-evangelical pastors: Tim Sledge, author of Goodbye Jesus, and David Hayward, “The Naked Pastor.” We’ll be taking a deep dive into some of the Christian responses to Covid-19 and their implications.
Follow me on Twitter @MindShift2018