Dear brothers and sisters,
Given the delta variant’s exponential spread, I won’t be able to join you at indoor worship services and religious gatherings until the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
A primary factor in my decision is the general lack of masking and distancing I see in white evangelical Protestant services since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced indoor masking guidelines to combat the delta variant. booming.
In surveys, white Evangelical Protestants are the religious group with the highest percentage of vaccine refusals. With 53% of Texans still not fully vaccinated, that perhaps means two-thirds of you at a typical church service will be both unmasked and unvaccinated.
My decision also reflects my Christian ethics. To love my neighbor is to follow the public health guidelines that protect our community in the event of a public health crisis. Attending indoor services and gatherings where people are largely unmasked, unvaccinated, and undistorted increases the risk that I could catch the delta variant and pass it on to others.
These others include the most vulnerable among us: the poor, the infirm, strangers, children. Didn’t Jesus teach us that in order to be his disciples we must care about “the least of them”?
Although for now I must refrain from attending church in person, I will continue to support my own congregation, as I did in my previous 40s, by broadcasting weekly services and by praying and giving. .
Although evangelicals like me are in the minority, many of us believe that our Christian witness is compromised by putting our personal freedom above the health of our community.
The root of this compromise, however, lies in placing the politics of division above the gospel. By following the political leaders who practice such a policy, we committed Esau’s sin. As he sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, we sold our gospel for a few years of political power.
Surveys of religious affiliation show that white evangelical Protestants make up 14% of the US population, up from 23% in 2006. Meanwhile, “nuns” are the fastest growing group. One of the reasons they cite for leaving the church, especially young people, is the hypocrisy they see in white evangelicals.
We profess Christian peace, charity and moral probity. Yet we stoke the culture war, listen to the whistle of the dog of racism MAGA, and follow a man who prides himself in anger, slander, deception and division. We must repent.
As evangelicals, we believe the Bible is a divinely inspired guide to faith and practice. But intellectually, we use the Bible primarily to remove any ambiguity in our lives. This leaves us open to authoritarian rulers and conspiracy theorists who fuel our habit of non-judgmental thinking.
Before writing this open letter, I spoke with local clergy about other Christian traditions. Their experience shows that it is possible for religious leaders to implement public health guidelines and keep their churches together in difficult times.
In addition, I spoke to white leaders of evangelical churches and suggested that an open church-wide discussion to respectfully exchange views would serve the unity of the church better than avoidance. Yet such open discussion has not taken place, as far as I know, in the white evangelical churches or in the white evangelical community. While I hope I am wrong, the prospect of such a discussion seems unlikely.
Nonetheless, we cannot claim that Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, and the pandemic never happened. Those of us concerned with leading the evangelical community cannot so easily forget that when the crisis arrived you chose to endanger us and your neighbors rather than being inconvenienced by wearing a mask. at church.
Thus, I will continue to pray for a fundamental principle for conflict management through communication. Disagreement should not be seen as a problem to be avoided, but as an opportunity for discussion, clarification, resolution of divisions, coming together and, where appropriate, confession and repentance.
Mark Ward Sr. is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Houston-Victoria and author of the forthcoming book “Introduction to Public Speaking: An Inductive Approach”. He can be contacted at [email protected]