Can you please just let me be wrong?

Hoo boy. Here goes. This is not a fun discussion. But it’s time.

It’s time, because somebody has to push back on the lectures about holding certain beliefs on current events. I grow so tired of being told that views which part from the mainstream narrative are “baffling,” “damaging to the church,” “unreasonable,” “spreading falsehoods,” etc. It’s time, because so many of us have spent far too long shutting our mouths and changing the subject when “those crazy/stupid/rotten people who disagree” (i.e., people like us) are brought up in conversation.

If you’re in that camp, have you considered that maybe from the other side of the fence, your view is baffling? That the unreasonable person is the one who, in practical terms, defines “reasonable” as “agreeing with me on current events?” That other people think you are the misinformed one, and that they’re willing to give you the grace of merely believing you to be misinformed rather than a liar?

It’s an unfair rhetorical tactic to say disagreeing with the mainstream narrative on an issue is “dangerous” and “harmful to Christian witness.” That’s not how loving brethren argue. It’s how condescending people argue. It’s not a good faith argument, because it’s emotional rather than logical. I’ll be straightforward with you – it’s wrong. Why? Because it’s divisive. It says you have to submit to me and my views, or you are being unreasonable and hurting the church. That’s exactly what Romans 14 told us not to do.

On a lot of issues, I’ve kept my views to myself because I didn’t want other Christians to take offense. But who’s in the wrong in that equation? Me, for holding an opinion? Or them, for responding that way? In other words, if we’re able to remain friends while I know your opinion but suddenly have a problem once you know mine, maybe the issue is not with me.

I’m allowed to hold an opinion and even express it, so long as I don’t beat people over the head with it. People who hold views opposite mine – particularly mainstream views – rarely show that kind of hesitance to offend. When only one side is allowed to talk, we don’t really have unity.

What matters far less than the views themselves is our method of handling them. If one insists that everybody has to hold the official view on every issue or else they are in bad standing as Christians, we have a big problem. Me and my particular views matter little, though, other than as a device to introduce ideas that have been pronounced as anathema. I could go into any number of hot button issues – Trump and politics, racism and critical race theory, conspiracy theories, whatever else – but I’ll limit this discussion specifically to COVID matters. So, here goes.

  • I fully acknowledge that COVID-19 is real and is dangerous, in varying degrees to varying people. People my age have almost nothing to fear from it, so I don’t operate out of fear. I plan to live with at least some degree of normalcy. I can fully understand if you are more wary of the virus and want to take more personal precautions. You are fully in your rights to do that and I have neither the right nor the intention to lecture you for doing so. But if you think I’m wrong, can we still get along?
  • I believe the science shows areas with mask mandates differ little from areas without, and that lockdowns do far more harm than good. I believe that while this particular strain of virus is new, this class of virus is not, and the scientific consensus for handling such viruses prior to March 2020 said mandating masks and locking people down are counterproductive measures. I’ll mask up around those who ask me to, because it’s my understanding that that’s what “being all things to all men” and “giving preference to one another in love” ask of me (1 Corinthians 9:22, Romans 12:10). I can fully understand if somebody doesn’t want to wear a mask, and I can fully understand if you believe the mask to be necessary. I understand if you prefer to be more cautious. But please don’t characterize me as a bad person if I don’t see it the way you do. If you think I’m wrong, can we still get along?
  • I’m not going to get the vaccine because the virus is an infinitesimally small threat to someone of my age and health history and we’re yet to see the effects of the vaccine. I understand if you plan to get the vaccine. I’m not asking you to agree with me. I’m just asking you to extend me the grace of letting me be “wrong.” If you think I’m wrong, can we still get along?

The phenomenon of people holding alternate views such as these is not going away. It’s the effect of the internet age, where “truth” is decentralized. You can see that as a good thing or a bad thing. Those I’m addressing see it as a grave threat, because experts and authorities are being broadly ignored and a lot of bad ideas are getting out. I see it as a great thing, because in the past we had no ability to know if what we were being told was right or wrong. At least now we have a fighting chance. If the cost of that chance is the spread of some falsehoods, it’s a price worth paying. To say otherwise is to say that widespread belief of falsehoods – even costly ones – wasn’t an issue before the last 10 years. (Hello, Iraq war.)

Because this phenomenon is so widespread, it only makes sense that huge swaths of Christians believe alternate views. If you really believe it’s a sin issue, get ready to discipline and disfellowship scores of members. If you don’t, can you please just let us be wrong? Can you please advocate your view and let some of us disagree?

I’ll let you believe what you want to believe. Can you please do the same for me? Can we agree that our Christian unity can overcome differing views on a news report? Are we really so casual about our unity that we’ll throw brethren under the bus in order to side with government or media? You might vehemently disagree with every position I took here, and that’s ok. But can you please just let me be wrong?

Fear of death is not a Christian virtue

I’m going to start right up front with the disclaimer that this is 1) not a claim to speak for the Forney church of Christ or Focus Press, for whom I preach and write – thus why I’m writing on this website, under my own name and 2) a personal opinion on what the Bible teaches on this matter, yet one of which I hope to persuade you.

The point of this article is not to debate the risk level of the coronavirus, or really to discuss the virus at all. My point in this article is not dependent on the dangerousness of the virus. On the contrary, my point is that the danger of the virus is irrelevant in the face of Biblical commandments.

I’m writing to posit two Biblical truths and apply them to our situation.

First, Christians are not to fear death.

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” While I’m here, I am to try to follow Christ’s footsteps, but death, whenever and however it comes, is to be viewed as gain. Do we believe that? Do we act like we believe it?

In a letter to a sickly woman named Mary Willis Shelburne, C.S. Lewis shared these thoughts on the matter of death for those in Christ:

“Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well. Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you… What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” (Emp. added.)

One of the most beautiful blessings about Christianity is the knowledge that death is not the end. I suspect the cause of our confusion on this issue is that we have neglected to ground ourselves in faith that we will be far better off on the other side.

I am not running toward death – I wear my seatbelt, drive the speed limit (or… thereabouts, you know), work out and try to eat reasonably, etc. I would very much like to see my children grow, and care for them and my wife, serving God all the way. But neither am I going to live my life in fear. To die is gain.

Arguing from a different angle, James wrote that our planning for the future must be done with an important fact in mind: “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). While we put off religious duty and wait for the virus to disappear, or a vaccine to eradicate it, or whatever else may save the day, we aren’t guaranteed that we’ll be here to see the other side.

Aside from the COVID deaths themselves, over 2 million Americans have died of other causes this year while waiting on life to return to normal. You aren’t guaranteed that you will be able to fellowship and share the body and blood of the Lord with God’s children a year from now. But you can this Sunday. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, but instead to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33-34).

Fear of death is antithetical to our faith. We are a religion founded on resurrection, practiced by millions who cower in fear of death. This should not be.

Second, we have work to do.

It was wrong of us to determine our course of action based on risk rather than on Biblical command. If God told us to do something, we are to do it and let Him work out the details. Preaching the Gospel has routinely gotten people killed throughout church history. No, persecution is not a direct equivalent, but it establishes for us that obedience – even in the face of great risk – is required. Even when Paul escaped Damascus in a basket to avoid persecution (Acts 9:25) he did so to go somewhere else and preach, not to go home and hide and wait for favorable conditions.

While we wait for our favorable conditions, the work remains waiting for us. Christian service cannot be accomplished in a setting in which we are not seeing each other face to face. When’s the last time any of us obeyed 1 Peter 4:9 – “Be hospitable to one another without complaining”? How long are we going to be okay with blowing off Acts 2’s example of gathering together, praying together, learning together, and serving each other together? Were we “loving our neighbors” by isolating them into depression and possible suicide?

The reason it was so easy for most of us to accept “virtual church” and continue on without the assembly is that our concept of church is so small and powerless. (Somebody should write a book about that.) Other than the preacher or a select ministry team, just about everybody else is interchangeable in many cases. You come to them and get what they’ve provided for you.

What happened when the lockdowns began? The preachers went to the buildings and recorded their sermons, and everybody else stayed home. If we had a biblical view of church, in which we need each and every member growing to maturity in Christ to strengthen each other (Ephesians 4), the idea of everyone doing “church at home” would have been a complete oxymoron. There’s no such thing as church at home.

Biblically we’re supposed to be evangelizing, discipling, praying together, being hospitable to each other, serving each other, and the list goes on. Very little of that can be done over a phone call or a Zoom, particularly for 9+ months.

So, to be clear, I’m not just arguing about getting back to Sunday worship. I’m arguing for going far beyond that, to practicing community as a Christian family. And while many (if not most) have continued to see their biological families through these months, we accepted isolation from our spiritual, eternal family indefinitely. Do we mean it when we call our church family our “family” or not?

God gave us work to do (Ephesians 2:10), and it’s my contention that we need to keep on doing it. You are free to disagree, but the burden of proof is then on you to show where we have the authorization to abandon that work, and how long we’re allowed to go without doing it.

Anticipating a few commonly raised objections:

“‘Love your neighbor’ means not exposing them to risk.” Yes, I know that “love your neighbor” was trotted out, as always, as the old reliable argument we can bend to mean whatever we want (sexual liberation, doctrinal compromise, political point scoring, and whatever else the moment needs). The Bible itself defines what loving one another looks like, though, and there is no sense in which all of us avoiding one another for a year fits into that definition.

It was one thing to accept “15 days to slow the spread” in the name of loving our neighbor. But if at that time it had been pitched to us as “staying home and abandoning Christian fellowship for months with no defined end point to slow the spread,” I suspect we would have been far more reluctant to view it as a loving gesture.

“If it saves just one life, it’s worth it.” If one life is the standard, we can never meet again. Every single year we have the potential to inadvertently spread the flu to an elderly, immunocompromised member. Every single week we all take the risk of getting into a car to drive to worship. Staying home would eventually save one life in both of these cases. Are these equivalent to COVID? Of course not. But I’m not the one who came up with the “one life” standard, I’m merely arguing according to its logic.

“People stay home to keep from spreading germs all the time.” You are fully capable of discerning the difference between one sick person isolating (typically for a short, defined period) and everybody – sick or not – isolating indefinitely, and have no need for me to explain why the two aren’t equivalent. The same goes for staying home for a Sunday when the weather makes assembling dangerous.

You can see the frustration in my tone, I’m sure. Week after week of bare minimum Christianity can have that effect. We simply are not being the church if we are not making disciples and fellowshipping with one another. Our response has robbed us of our identity and told the world that we’re just as focused on this life and afraid of death as they are.

With a knowledge of how beautiful and horrific eternity can be, a world at risk should motivate us to far greater activity, not lesser. Worship is too important. Fellowship is too important. Evangelism is too important. Disciple making is too important. Service is too important. It’s time to get back to work.


A quick postscript:

While everything thus far has been in the realm of opinion, this is not: if you’ve gone to restaurants, traveled, and/or gone into other people’s homes yet still are holding out on the Sunday assembly or other church gatherings, repent and get yourself in there. What that says is that you’re willing to accept at least some level of social risk, but being with the church is not high enough on the priority list to be worth that risk.

And, if that logic tracks with you, I’ll leave it to you to weigh up the same arguments as they pertain to going to the grocery store.

Fear is the name of the game. Stop playing.

The year was 2001. When we hear that number, our mind automatically goes to 9/11. However, in the 8 full months preceding 9/11 there were a number of major news stories from the year that have been largely forgotten.

You may remember, though, how that summer featured a constant stream of shark attack reports. I have memories of watching story after story on shark bites, typically accompanied by helicopter footage of evacuated beaches. It was a major talking point that had a tangible impact on the livelihood of coastal businesses that rely on tourism. Government agencies scrambled to distribute information on the slim likelihood of shark attacks, and how to take steps to avoid them. Summer 2001 was and is widely referred to as “The Summer of the Shark” as a panic swept the nation.

The truth of the matter was, there was nothing unusual about shark attacks in 2001. The numbers of attacks and deaths were actually lower than the year before, when little attention was given to the matter. But out of nowhere, and for seemingly no reason, the power of the media led America to believe we were experiencing an unprecedented string of shark attacks. It was wildly irresponsible, with real life affects on real people, but they did it anyway.

I led with that because in order to rightly observe the world, you need to understand things like this happen. Many people don’t realize they happen. Others refuse to believe it when they do. Others know it happens and still fall for the trick from time to time (guilty – JW). But it’s simply a fact that the media can and does drive fear whenever they want. They’ve done it over and over again this year.

Since the start of the outbreak, we’ve had fear-inducing headlines like:

And if the virus fears weren’t enough, we can throw on:

In reading that list, you might have thought “Oh yeah, I forgot about that” with regard to a couple of the entries. They come so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. But are you seeing the pattern here? These kinds of stories get rushed to print/post immediately because they drive all kinds of interest, and yet the corrections and retractions get a fraction of the coverage. With many of these, it’s pure speculation rather than actual reporting.

The other tactic at play in these stories may be the more nefarious of the two. To quote a Michael Malice catchphrase, they are factual, not truthful. For example, it was factual to say that sharks were attacking people in 2001. But it wasn’t truthful to report in such a way to imply that we were facing a never-before-seen spike in shark attacks. It is factual to say there is another swine flu strain in existence, but it’s not truthful to run that as a headline and lead people to believe we’re in danger of it.

The media’s gross misconduct is only half of the issue, though, because without our tendencies to overreact, to talk down to our neighbor, and to want to be the first of our friends to post the latest news, their headlines would do little to spread panic. If we weren’t lapping it up and running to Facebook and Twitter to lecture other people about paying attention to the latest headline, these things wouldn’t spread. In our hurry, though, fact-checking and waiting for confirmation are left totally in the dust. Our critical thinking skills are often the first casualty of panic. Take, for example, this fabrication that was shared far and wide on social media.

No photo description available.

To start with, the first line is wrong. The death rate is well below 1%. But it gets worse from there. For example, there’s statistically no chance that every person in America is going to get the virus. The idea that 1 out of every 5 Americans will come out of this with permanent heart damage should have gotten this person laughed off the internet. With wildly exaggerated claims like this we’ve stopped just short of having Andy Dwyer declare “THE VIRUS IS SHOOTING AT US!”

Yes, the coronavirus is very real. I am not saying it isn’t, and I’m not saying we should throw caution to the wind. I’m not saying any of those things. But one can acknowledge both the reality of the danger and the reality that the constant attempts to drive fear are out of control (unless one is a binary thinker, of course). Yes, it is dangerous – but we know who to protect, we know what is safe and what isn’t, and we know the hierarchy of risk by age and health status. Just making up scary claims out of thin air or running with the first hint that things might possibly get worse is irresponsible and dishonest. Why do they do it, then?

Why was Neil Ferguson’s model that predicted 2.2 million American deaths the only one reported at the start of the outbreak when the man has a track record so bad he should have been banished from the industry years ago?

Why is Sweden being condemned but New York being commended?Isn’t the place with the lower death rate and the intact economy the one who was right?

Why did major outlets run a headline telling us not to celebrate a lower death rate? Shouldn’t we be happy that fewer infected people are dying?

Because fear sells, and apologizing for being wrong about the fear is out of the question.

So, knowing those two principles, we can know for certain how we should act going forward.

#1. Stop giving them attention, and stop spreading the panic on social media. Turn the TV off, and ignore the headlines to the best of your ability. Thankfully they’ve played their hand too far and many are beginning to do just this.

#2. When you know the tactics, notice when they are being used. When you see the next shock headline (because total disengagement is almost impossible), take it with a gigantic grain of salt. Don’t post the speculatory articles, but rather wait for the actual research behind the speculation to surface.

#3. Learn to comb through the mounds of garbage, gather the information you need, and walk away. Use your critical thinking to sniff out those stories that seem too perfect to be true.

When you save all that time by shutting off the TV and staying off of news sites and social media, you’ll find extra time to spend in prayer, Bible study, exercise, reading old books, and connecting with friends via phone call or video chat. Which option do you think will leave you better off?