A few days ago, a church member told me that he will be getting the covid vaccine soon. He’s not yet 65, but thankfully, being a taxi driver puts him in the essential worker category. I hear my fellow pastors in NJ and MA are also getting their vaccines, as those states decided to include religious workers in the essential workforce. We don’t have such privilege for clergy here in NY, but I’m grateful that I can at least look forward to covid vaccine in general.
While decluttering my office yesterday, I found emergency coronavirus remedies that I purchased in early April last year. It’s 1 gallon of parasiticide ivermectin, an amount which would suffice to treat hundreds of horses, and 2 boxes of feline parasiticides. These were touted as wonder drugs and became so highly sought-after that they were literally in short supply. It’s crazy as I think about it now, but I purchased them in case I or any of our church members get Covid-19. Anyway, I’m scratching my head on what to do with these now.
But the claims that gained real strong foothold with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic are the QAnon Conspiracy Theories. They contend that Satan-worshipping pedophiles in the ‘deep state’ have control over the US politics and mainstream media and that God has raised Trump to battle these forces of evil. They think coronavirus pandemic is a myth and therefore refuse to wear face masks. Adherents also believe that Muslim terrorist organizations are behind the Black Lives Matter movement and that Biden will oppress Christianity, and that the 2020 election was a fraud. Such beliefs resulted in the storming of the Capitol we saw on January 6. Trump’s reelection would have bolstered this conspiracy theory as the truth reigning over this country. Unfortunately, many Christians have bought into this misinformation.
The problem with belief in conspiracy theories is that it replaces the need for a rigorous understanding of the complex social problems all the while feeding and justifying the root causes of division such as racism. To see the world through a simplified schematic is convenient. It must be also self-assuring to argue that you are always on the side of the ‘moral good’ in contrast to those who differ in thought and perspective. Yet such confidence comes at the expense of mature and critical introspection. During China’s Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong mobilized middle school students called ‘red guards’ and used their fanaticism as a destructive force to attack intellectuals. The Third Reich organized their youth into Hitler Jugend to propagate Nazi ideology and fuel their war effort. The same phenomena happened as a bitter legacy of a divided Korean Peninsula. We now see history repeating itself under the spell of charismatic politicians and religious leaders who are taking advantage of manipulated mass consciousness.
History shows there’s no quick fix for our problems. But out of our anxiety and restlessness, we look for a panacea, allowing something like cattle parasiticides to be marketed as a covid treatment before the vaccine could be finally available. I see similar fruits of impatience in the ways we choose to be, to live, to see, and engage with the world as Christians. It pains me to see how churches in Korea lost much public trust, especially since the outbreak of the pandemic. The problem was the anti-intellectualism of certain churches that advocated faith in God as a literal shield against the coronavirus infection. By doing so they only helped fuel the spread of the coronavirus and triggered a serious public backlash against Christianity in general.
If trust is lost, we will have to start again at our beginnings. I see this challenge as a blessing in disguise, presented to us by the coronavirus pandemic. Since all has collapsed, we now have the ground to rebuild. It’s an opportunity to recover the essence of what it means to be a church – and for us Methodists, it would importantly mean the Scriptural Holiness as John Wesley preached, encompassing both Personal and Social Holiness of heart and life. And above all else, Jesus Christ continues to be the head of the church, and the Spirit of God continues to be in our midst. We can start again because God lives.