Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Faith Over Fear

As our churches close and, in many cases, move to online streaming, for the next few weeks, there are some implications that we need to take seriously. And when I say "our churches," I'm not just talking about our leadership, but about our members. We, the faithful, need to understand the dynamics happening here because it's not about whether or not we close our churches; it's about how we respond in general, both to what is happening in the world and to our response. 

The first implication we need to consider is what we're demonstrating to the world by our closing. 

I am connected, at least tangentially, to a lot of Christian communities around the country. Some are putting together beautiful messages about how we are demonstrating our compassion and care for the most vulnerable among us and how our closures are an act of love. Some are citing recent CDC recommendations and saying, simply, 'we can no longer meet' and then trying to add a 'but' onto that. 

The way that we go about this and the language that we use in doing so matters. A lot. 

It matters because the world is watching, and if all they see is us closing our doors the way restaurants and movie theaters and gyms and community centers and schools and businesses are closing their doors, then the church is no different than any other establishment in our communities. No different at all. It's just a business, just a social club, just an enterprise that is affected in the same way as all other enterprises. If we're just a business, just an enterprise, the world will not be looking for our leadership in this time. 

If we cite as our main concern the CDC recommendation (note: it is still a recommendation, not a regulation) that we close because our gatherings are too large, we create the impression that the government does, in fact, control the church. This is dangerous. If the government can close our doors because it chooses to, then what else can it do to us? How are we supposed to fight back if, in the future, the government decides to impose this or that regulation upon our churches or limit our meetings for some other reason or otherwise use its authority over us, which we have willingly submitted ourselves to, to our detriment? We cannot simply say, "The government says..." because we are the church, and the government cannot determine our worship for us. 

At the same time, we know that the Bible commands us to be good citizens. And so, we need not ignore the recommendations of our government. We need not be antagonistic toward them. We simply have to phrase our compliance as an act of good citizenship, not as a forced act. This means we have to live out our life of faith as good citizens in other ways during this time, individually as well as collectively. We have to show that good citizenship is a mark of our faith - that means helping one another. It means not hoarding supplies. It means making sure there's enough to go around. It means staying home and doing what we're asked to do. It means caring for one another as individuals, as a choice of action. 

It is this kind of life of faith demonstrated in our living that is essential to our response. If we claim, as we should, that our closing is out of compassion and care for the vulnerable among us, then we have to actively continue to care for the vulnerable among us. We can't just hole up and hide. We can't just hunker down and wait it out. We have to go out seeking those who need us the most. We have to keep being Jesus in our world. We have to carry compassion and care to the places where it is needed, doing the little things that keep our communities together in times like this. 

Because the world is watching. And if we're not living out the message we're preaching, they'll notice. And they'll be the first ones to say that the church...is no different than the world. The church is just as scared as the rest of the world. The church is just as controlled by this as the rest of the world. The church, they'll say, is fundamentally the same as the stock market, swayed by the winds of whatever comes.

No matter what words we use to justify our actions, it will be the faith that we live out in these days that will demonstrate who we really are. And the world needs that kind of faith right now. They need to know that this God that we believe in, we really believe in Him because He really is who He says He is and He really is in control. They need to know that we're not afraid, that faith really does cast out fear. They need to know that we truly care, that our neighbors still matter to us and that we really are thinking of someone other than ourselves. 

The world needs not to hear about our faith, but to see it in action as we continue to be the church, whether we are meeting together on Sunday mornings or not.

(And please know - none of what I will say this week is a recommendation either to close or to remain open. None of this is an indictment on one or the other. All it is is a reflection on the questions we need to be considering, whatever we do, and that we, as Christians, need to be mindful of as we respond to our rapidly-changing world.) 

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