The theology of physical distancing

a false witness who pours out lies

physical distancingSomeone wondered what I thought of those churches that violate physical distancing by gathering. The folks tick me off. Not only do they put the congregants at risk, they put the greater community in peril as well.

The Pentecostal preacher in Louisiana, Tony Spell, said, “The Bible teaches us to be absent from our bodies as to be present with the Lord.” “Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend. True Christians do not mind dying. They fear living in fear.”

Conversely, the rejection of social distancing is far from mainstream among religious leaders. “‘That’s dumb, unbiblical and it doesn’t make sense,’ Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in California, said. Warren and his wife, Kay, started the Saddleback Church about 40 years ago, and it now has 30,000 Sunday congregants around the world. They have moved their ministry online.”

Yup, I’m agreeing with Rick Warren.

“‘God gave you a brain,’ Warren said. ‘And much of what God wants to do with your life, he’s not going to write in the sky. He gave you a brain, and he expects you to use the intelligence that you were given.” These other people obviously never heard the famous God Will Save Me story, which I’ve known for a half-century.

Quoting Scripture

The fine artist Mr. Brunelle cited Leviticus 14:43-45 Modern English Version (MEV) on his Facebook page:
If the disease comes again and breaks out in the house after he has taken away the stones and after he has scraped the house and after it is plastered, then the priest shall come and examine and see if the disease has spread in the house. If the disease has spread in the house, it is a persistent leprosy in the house; it is unclean. He shall break down the house, the stones and the timber, and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them out of the city into an unclean place.

I’m rather fond of Proverbs 6:16-19 (NIV), directed not just for those addled pastors but for certain nimrods as well:
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

The Gospel lesson

When Jesus was in the wilderness, starving and parched, this from Matthew 4:5-7 (NIV)
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

It’s my opinion that Tony Spell and pastors of his ilk are trying to put God to the test. It is an arrogant thelogy that, as Rick Warren said, is unbiblical and makes no sense.

You can’t get to heaven on a pair of skates

In my less holy days, my conclusion might have been, “well, if THINKING them is the same as DOING them, you might as well just DO them; same penalty, after all.”

“…’cause you’ll roll, right past those Pearly Gates.” Old song that popped into my head.

So Chris Honeycutt found my villainous thoughts totally inadequate; I’m unsurprisingly all right with that, and she came up with her own here and here and here. My, she’s thought about this a LOT, it would seem.

But in between, she poses this question: Can you be a good Christian and fantasize about being a villain? In the main, I totally agree with her that “we should want to be Christlike, but in reality, we’re, well… not.
“Story is good, IMHO, for exploring those un-Christlike qualities that we possess. If we don’t face them as a reality, we can become repressed. And while suppression (holding back emotion and thought until an appropriate time and expressing them in appropriate ways) is good, repression (trying to hold back emotion forever until we blow like a tea kettle) is very bad.”

Yes, that’s why I read Tea Party blogs, to understand how the minds of people not like me think.

And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any less-than-ideal thoughts of my own regarding others now and then. It was that I never really identified with a particular archetype or methodology. Moreover, I just find my own failing less reprehensible than sad. What can I say?

I’d long wondered about those quotes attributed to Jesus, that if you think evil thoughts, it’s the same as doing so. For instance, in Matthew 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now in my less holy days, my conclusion might have been, “well, if THINKING them is the same as DOING them, you might as well just DO them; the same penalty, after all.” My approach these days is more nuanced.

In any case, I was watching Easter Sunday’s This Week on ABC News. Jake Tapper interviewed Rick Warren of the huge Saddleback church. He shared the fact that dogs and even cats go to heaven. He managed to sound like a politician when he talked about J-O-B-S. But Warren also complained about how magazines exploit Christmas and Easter with religious covers:

JAKE TAPPER: This week’s “Newsweek” magazine, which has a very provocative cover, has a different perspective on what ails America’s religious communities, under the headline “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus,” Andrew Sullivan argues that American Christianity is in a crisis, it’s too focused on politics and policy, too little on spirituality… So what is your reaction to this line of criticism from people who like faith but don’t like religion?
WARREN: Sure. Well, first place, let me give a little personal gripe. I think it’s disingenuous that magazines like “Newsweek” know that their circulation goes up at Christmas and Easter if they put a spiritual issue on the cover, but it’s always bait-and-switch. They never tell the stories, never tell the stories of what the good — what good the church is doing. Never. It’s always some obscure scholar, who’s debating something that kind of supposedly disproves this or that, or Andrew Sullivan — I don’t consider Andrew Sullivan to be a religious authority, okay?
And so it is — they know they’re going to make money, every time you put Jesus on the cover of a magazine, it skyrockets. You go do the history. “Time” magazine, “Life” magazine, “U.S. News and World Report,” those are always the best issues. So they make money on it, but then it’s a bait and switch, and it’s always a disappointment. And I wish they would have a little bit more integrity than that, and tell the other side of the story, maybe just occasionally.

While his premise may be technically true, it’s not Time’s or Newsweek’s job to promote Christianity. On Easter Sunday in my church, we said, “Christ is risen indeed.” We said that last year and we’ll probably say that next year. The magazines’ job is to find a different spin. I didn’t see the Newsweek article, but I did read Heaven Can’t Wait By Jon Meacham, the cover story in TIME. And I found this interesting:

“Yet we don’t necessarily agree on what heaven is. There is, of course, the familiar image… But there is also the competing view of scholars… What if Christianity is not about enduring this sinful, fallen world in search of a reward of eternal rest? What if the authors of the New Testament were actually talking about a bodily resurrection in which God brings together the heavens and the earth in a wholly new, wholly redeemed creation? As more voices preach a view that’s at odds with the pearly gates (but supported, they note, by Scripture), faithful followers must decide which approach they believe in.

“It’s a distinction with some very worldly implications. If heaven is seen as life’s ultimate reward, then one’s vision of paradise shapes how one lives. It is an essential tenet of Christian faith, of course, to love one’s neighbor. But if you believe the world will be destroyed at the last day while the blessed look down from a disembodied heaven, then you are most likely going to view the things of this world in a different light than someone who believes there will be a bodily resurrection on an earth that is to be, in the words of a great hymn, ‘our eternal home.’ Accepting the latter can mean different priorities, conceivably putting issues like saving the environment up there with saving souls.”

So I hope the “secular” press keeps observing the sacred world with a journalist’s eye, rather than a believer’s.

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