If you are self-quarantined, here’s a good read: When the English Fall, a novel by my friend and fellow pastor David Williams. In a time of global crisis, it raises the question: What’s the right thing to do?
In the novel, a catastrophic solar storm causes the collapse of modern civilization, leaving only the Amish community with the resources to survive. But when “the English” — the Amish name for all non-Amish people — become desperate, the Amish are threatened and have to decide how to respond as followers of Christ. Important questions arise: How much are Christians obligated to share their resources? And, when is violence an appropriate response to aggression?
What’s the right thing to do?
In response to the global threat of the coronavirus, the church I serve as pastor has stopped gathering for worship. Instead, we have moved to having all of our services online. This is a sacrifice for us, since not everyone is comfortable with worship by live-stream, YouTube, and Facebook Live. We would rather be together in person than watching a service on a computer or smartphone. But closing our church building is the right thing to do, since social distancing is the key to slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Would I love to have a glorious celebration of Easter on April 12? Of course! The congregation would be inspired and the collection plates would be filled. But at this point, the best way to show concern for our community is to stop gathering in large groups. In a pandemic, we show the greatest love for our neighbors by staying away from them!
“I give you a new commandment,” said Jesus to his disciples during Holy Week, “that you love one another” (John 13:34). Perhaps his 2020 version would be “stay away from one another.”
Social distancing is the right thing to do.
Yes, people are certainly suffering in this pandemic. The stock market has plunged and jobs are being lost by workers across the country, especially in the restaurant, entertainment and travel industries. People who cannot work at home are losing money as businesses close their doors and send workers home, all in the name of public health. For many, social distancing is an huge personal sacrifice, and the economic cost of this action will be enormous.
According to The Washington Post, the debate about when our country should return to normal has included a tweet by a lawyer named Scott McMillan, who said: “The fundamental problem is whether we are going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5% of the population which is (1) generally expensive to maintain, and (2) not productive.”
Not surprisingly, this tweet created a firestorm of controversy, in which McMillan was called a “liberal,” a “right-wing nut,” and even a “Nazi” (I’m not sure how those labels fit together). Critics thought he was awful “for implying that old or infirm people should be put aside to allow America to get back to work.”
Setting a date to re-open businesses and public gatherings is going to be a challenge, and a balance will have to be struck between public health and economic vitality. But when Christians make these kinds of decisions, they have long believed that they should err on the side of protecting vulnerable members of society. The elderly and infirm should not be sacrificed on the altar of prosperity.
When we make tough decisions, we find that doing the right thing always has a cost. The Amish of David Williams’ novel discover this, and we “English” are finding it to be true as well.
But doing the wrong thing is always much more costly.
In my novel City of Peace, Islamic terrorists plan a biological weapons attack near the town of Occoquan, Virginia. A teenager named Omar, the son of Iraqi immigrants, has been badly abused by his high school classmates and some of the military veterans in the town. When he is befriended by a number of young Muslim men, he joins their group.
At first, he is excited by their passion for Islam and their desire to send a message to the “crusaders” of the United States. But then he learns the full scale of their plans for an attack, and tries to back out. When they threaten his family, he is pulled back in. Then he tries to stop them.
He learns that doing the right thing has a cost. But it is not as high as doing the wrong thing.
What are you willing to sacrifice to help slow the spread of the coronavirus? Join the conversation through a comment below.