Don't Let Fear Rule

When I was in junior high school, I lived in constant fear of tornados (our house in Belleville IL had no basement). I also lived in constant fear of food poisoning, after someone on the news died of botulism after eating a can of soup. During my first summer in seminary in New England, I lived in constant fear that Skylab was going to fall on my head (it crashed that summer in Australia). And only recently have I semi-recovered from my fear of flying, inspired by a number of hideous crashes on the news.

I’ve been there. But for some reason, I’m not doing that, during this virus situation. And I don’t believe the Church should let fear of this virus sabotage its ministry.

The best way you could describe my attitude toward this virus at the moment is a mild superstition. We stayed away from shopping in Missouri for 8 weeks, not knowing that the stores over there were nearly deserted. I have worn my bandana on my face, not because I believe it will do any good, but you never know. I use hand-sanitizer more than I used to. I keep my distance from others.

But there’s no limit to the ways that all of our precautions can fail. So I keep my distance from other people – but what if there’s a 20 mph wind? I can keep from touching my face, but what about my eyes? Do you sanitize every grocery bag and food item you bring home? Do I sanitize my credit card? What about my wallet or my shoes? What about the inside of my car? Do I change all my clothes and take a shower every time I come home from the store?

So why am I less afraid in the present case? 1. I am much more in control of when and how I encounter this threat. 2. I’ve lived long enough to see for myself that my old fears were nowhere nearly as serious as I thought they were. 3. I would go crazy if I allow the unlimited number of possible threats from this virus to control my life.

I get it – some folks fear this virus as if it were Ebola, and yes, if it was that bad, I would have a lot more fear. Yes, am concerned about the Church’s witness by its sensitivity to people’s health and fears. But that doesn’t mean those fears should be allowed to rule everyone else’s life, and kill 36 million jobs and small businesses.

We are told that we can do church just fine online. But if people were already starting to fall through the cracks of your church’s pastoral care network, keeping churches on lockdown will only make the problem worse. The only parishioners who are getting their needs met during this crisis are those who are assertive enough to grab for the care they need. You can’t tell online whether someone will truly listen to you. Anyone who had a hard time finding support in a small group will find it even harder in a Zoom meeting. And although I am thrilled to hear that many churches are reaching far more people through online worship than they ever did before, people in pain need more than talking heads.

Yes, people’s safety and health both need to be protected. But I reject the idea that we have to sacrifice other people’s spiritual and emotional health to do so. How many will die because they have lost jobs, businesses, and homes? We have a little café three blocks from our home that may never recover from this prolonged lockdown. Whose life was endangered by this café? And why do we trust the “science” of those who predicted that 2.5 million Americans would die from this virus? Right now the truth has been less than 4% of that number. Is the actual danger worth the cost?

Yes, the current virus panic has created great opportunities for service and outreach. But there will be ill effects for the church if we allow this lockdown to continue. We can value both lives and livelihoods that are endangered by this threat. Also, knowing more than I did at the time would have helped me conquer those old fears I used to have. We need some more reliable facts than the predictions that have been driving this panic. And ultimately, we need to believe that God is bigger than any fear we could ever face.