Pandemic Denial and Political Conspiracy Mongering

The thoughts in the following post have been percolating in my head for several weeks.

We’ve lived through eleven months of the COVID-19 pandemic in this country and it’s been a very long haul. It’s estimated that 27 million Americans (8%) have caught the virus and 463 thousand have died to date.

Looking back, there were serious shortcomings in the effort to “fight” the pandemic. There wasn’t much leadership at the national level, as President Trump generally downplayed the virus in an effort to minimize disruptions to commerce. The lack of health safety protocols at White House gatherings and at Trump’s political rallies were noticeable and influenced many. Individual states were left to mandate their own public health policies and they varied widely, often according to political affiliation.

Clergy were understandably frustrated by their services being limited or locked down. Some even claimed that COVID-19 was a big hoax, an alleged diabolical scheme meant primarily to restrict religious freedom. Pandemic-denial and refusal to follow health safety protocols became a badge of “true faith” among the credulous. Some sheepishly went along with the denial nonsense due to social pressure despite their own, personal misgivings.

Added to this very challenging pandemic situation were the BLM protests (which included looting, destruction, and violence) and the political turmoil of the 2020 presidential election and the aftermath, with many claiming voter fraud and that the election was stolen from Trump. The anger and frustration culminated in the violent attack upon the U.S. Capitol Building by overzealous Trump supporters (not by bused-in, disguised, Antifa counter-MAGA-ers as some have suggested) on January 6th.

The internet is rife with “Christian” conspiracy-mongering provocateurs* who stoke hatred, fear, rebellion, and violence. I know of a few “Christian” bloggers here at WordPress who specialize in these types of posts. They’ll publish some Bible passages on Monday to cloak themselves in spiritual “legitimacy,” but on Wednesday they’ll publish ultra-nationalistic, conspiracy-touting, hateful, us-against-them, pandemic-denying posts. Their undiscerning readers readily eat up this garbage with a hearty “Amen!” and ask for second helpings.

The thing is, when I read the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles in the New Testament, I don’t read anything promoting hatred, fear, rebellion, or violence. There is nothing resembling conspiracy-mongering or deeply-rooted civic/national chauvinism/exceptionalism (i.e., “I’m from Ephesus and you’re not!”). The early Christians lived in circumstances within the Roman Empire MUCH MORE challenging than our own, initially facing hostility from unbelieving Jews and subsequently from the Roman authorities. But Paul and the other apostles taught the early church to focus on the spiritual rather than on the temporal circumstances.

Shame upon all of those so-called “Christ-followers” who stoke hatred, paranoia, sectarian pride, and violence, which are antithetical to the Gospel. They should all spend a week at their local hospital’s pulmonary ICU before writing their next pandemic-denying, anti-vaccine posts. Some rail that the C-19 vaccine/s is the “mark of the beast” of Revelation 13 while other provocateurs hedge their bets and label it the “precursor” to the mark of the beast. So I suppose the polio vaccine was a precursor to the precursor of the mark of the beast? This is all flat-earth-style quackery and brings ridicule upon the Gospel (see photo above). While Christians shouldn’t bury their heads in the sand, neither should we allow ourselves to be carried away by conspiracy-mongering provocateurs who are “overcome by evil” and delight in stoking fear, hatred, rebellion, and violence.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:14-21

Postscript: In contrast to today’s pandemic-denying, anti-vaxxers, the Bible has a lot to say about containing contagious diseases (e.g., Lev. 13-14). I imagine there were deniers back in those days as well. Be considerate of your neighbor and get vaccinated. If it seems like I’m disproportionately harsh with politically-conservative, Christian nationalists, the old adage, “You’re always hardest on the ones you love” comes to mind. I don’t share many values with pro-abortion, pro-LGBT political progressives, although they need the Gospel, too!

*RE: conspiracy-mongering provocateurs
Some people relish playing the role of the gnostic, “hidden knowledge,” conspiracy-trafficking insider, “educating” the rest of us poor, gullible lemmings as to what’s allegedly “really going on” behind the scenes.

A strange sight

In the photo above, U.S. Capitol Police Officers aim their firearms at protesters attempting to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

I’m trying to cultivate a Biblical mindset of being a pilgrim and a sojourner in this temporal world rather than a deeply-rooted nationalist. That said, it was disturbing to see the assault on the U.S. Capitol Building by protesters today. I’ve been around for 64 years and have seen a lot of things, but nothing quite like what I saw today.

From a spiritual perspective, the vast majority of the protesters don’t know Jesus Christ as Savior and neither do their political rivals. This world system with ALL of its institutions is a foundation of sand. The world system offers no lasting security or stability.

24 Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” – Matthew 7:24-27

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” – 1 Peter 2:11-12

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” – Hebrews 13:14

Jesus and John Wayne?

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
By Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Liveright Publishing, 2020, 356 pp.

2 Stars

Readers of this blog know I’m not a supporter of the still-popular “America the Christian Nation” paradigm. The conflation of faith and fervent nationalism by American Christians has led to a multitude of wrong turns, errors, and abuses ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620.

The unusual title of this book caught my attention, so I borrowed a copy from the library. The author documents the preliminary origins and rise of militant Falwellian Christian nationalism in the 1970s, which has continued in various permutations into the Trump presidency. Where does Hollywood actor, John Wayne,* fit in? The author posits that post-WWII-era Christians substituted Wayne, or rather the über-masculine and nationalistic ethos that the actor symbolized, for Jesus Christ and the genuine Gospel. The main propagators of Christian nationalism receive plenty of mention, including Pat Buchanan, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Sr., Jerry Falwell Jr., Bill Gothard, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, D. James Kennedy, Al Mohler, Oliver North, Tony Perkins, Doug Phillips, Pat Robertson, Rousas Rushdoony, Phyllis Schlafly, and Doug Wilson, among others.

The author, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University** (Grand Rapids, MI) and a self-described “Christian feminist,” is at the opposite end of the spectrum of the Christian nationalists she critiques. Throughout the entire book, the reader must endure her shrill rants against “white patriarchalism.” I’m definitely not a supporter of Christian nationalism or inflated machismo, but Kobes Du Mez also frequently takes aim at doctrines that are basic to Biblical Christianity. According to her view, evangelical Christian nationalists are also misguided because they preach against homosexuality, desire to evangelize Muslims, and believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

I would have awarded this book only 1-star due to its theological heterodoxy, however I bumped it up to two stars because I did appreciate the author’s critical examination of the history of Falwellian Christian nationalism. Evangelical scholars are not apt to tackle this subject material either because (A) they’re sympathetic to Christian nationalism themselves or (B) they don’t want to alienate the bulk of American Christians who still hold to that paradigm in some form or fashion. However, the author’s own ax grinding on behalf Christian feminism and theological liberalism draws its own abundant criticisms.

I’ll be focusing on a very recent example of misguided Christian nationalism in the upcoming Weekend Roundup.

*John Wayne was a nominal Presbyterian before “converting” to Roman Catholicism two days before his death.

**Christian parents send their teens off to some “Christian” colleges such as Calvin University mistakenly assuming the faculty believes and teaches Biblical orthodoxy.