Can We “Honor” the  COVID-19 Rule-Makers?

Everyone is annoyed at times by a stupid rule or a bad decision by a leader. But lately, conservative Christian responses to government rules look and sound about the same as non-Christian attitudes on the political right: they’re dominated by anger, harsh judgments of motives, mockery, and defiance.

Sanctimonious defiance is still really just defiance. If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still… etc., etc.

Christians are called to better attitudes—ones fueled by a different focus. Keeping some realities in mind may help chill the anger and judgmentalism and foster something closer to our duty to “honor all” and “honor the king” (1 Pet 2:17, KJV).

Reality 1: All rules are stupid at the margins.

Observing how life works can lead to wisdom (Prov 24:32, 8:1-3). Observe that mailing or transmitting your tax return at one second past 11:59:59 PM on tax day is late. Going 70.00001 mph in a 70 mph zone is, technically, a violation. One second before midnight on the eve of your 18th birthday, you’re a minor and you can’t join the Army. One second later, you’re an adult, and you can.

Law is like that. No matter where you draw the line, it’s going to look silly, or worse, under certain conditions. In unusual cases—the marginal ones—the law not only seems stupid: it really is stupid. But there’s no way to fix that. In lots of places you can be a citizen where you stand, then take one step and become a foreigner.

That’s not to say all rules are equally wise or foolish, but it should slow us down from looking at special situations where a rule doesn’t work and using those to mock or dismiss the rule as a whole. It’s especially easy to overlook the power of a small change in behavior when it’s multiplied by thousands or millions of people repeatedly, over time.

So that annoying rule might not be as ridiculous as it seems. Consider what it may do most of the time or much of the time, not just what it fails to do here or there.

Reality 2: Leaders on the wrong side are still humans with ordinary human motivations.

We sometimes hear pulpit claims that unbelievers are incapable love, aren’t interested in doing good, and are always only seeking their own gratification or power.

I don’t know how widespread this thinking is, and I can’t fully dismantle it here, so, a compressed version:

  • Obviously, not everybody is Hitler. That’s not what being a “natural man” (1 Cor 2:14) means, or what “total depravity” means.
  • Most people are better than the worst people.

Romans 3:10, 3:23, 8:7, Colossians 1:21, and many other passages, are clear that those without Christ are in a state of hostility toward God and unable to even begin to pay (Titus 3:5) for the sins we’re all guilty of by nature. In that sense, there is no “good” in them.

It doesn’t follow that the unregenerate have no compassion, no sense of responsibility, no desire to accomplish good that will outlast them, no desire to bring about a better society, or no desire to protect those they love.

Less noble, but still not “evil,” motives are common among all of us as well—regenerate and unregenerate alike: fear of harm, desire to be successful in our work, desire to be respected, desire to feel important and competent, desire to be more comfortable and prosperous.

Because both the saved and lost are still fully human, even the worst of leaders is more like us than not.

So when Governor X or Mayor Y or School District Superintendent Z issues some directive that seems oppressive or foolish, we should hesitate to go straight to “they don’t really care about people’s health” or “they just want to harm churches,” etc.

Other motives are more likely. Even other sinful motives are more likely.

Being “pro-choice,” for example, doesn’t make a leader incapable of caring about the lives and wellbeing of the post-natal citizens in their care. Humans are like that. We aren’t logically consistent. Sometimes that’s a good thing.

Reality 3: Leadership is hard and leaders need prayer.

Maybe some leaders are so intuitive they never agonize over having to make decisions with inadequate information and no way to see any high-probability outcome. I doubt it, though.

In the first quarter of 2020, decision-makers from the White House on down to county health commissioners had to look at messy data, conflicting claims, oversimplified and overdramatized interpretations of models and studies—and their own instincts—and make decisions about how to respond. All the while, the perceptions of their constituents, their own job security, and the wellbeing of their own families were on the line, too.

They’re still in that predicament. You might have to be Bill Gates to pay me enough to take a job like that!

Should we evaluate their decisions? It’s our duty. Should we make a case that a different decision would have been better, given the facts at hand? That’s often the responsible thing to do as well. Should we reflexively reject their every move as sinister or idiotic or both, before we’ve even engaged our imagination to consider more charitable explanations for their actions? I’ll let the Bible answer that.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Pet 2:17, ESV; emphasis added.)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim 2:1–2)

Reality 4: When stakes are high, fear’s other name might be wisdom.

Almost from the start of the coronavirus outbreak, leaders’ efforts to take steps toward caution and safety have been dismissed or mocked by many as “driven by fear”—or so-called “panic.”

But should we be so sure that doing something “out of fear” is a bad thing? Scripture doesn’t back that. There’s foolish fear and there’s wise fear. We call the latter caution, wariness, wisdom.

Proverbs highlights the principle multiple times:

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Pr 22:3 and 27:12)

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless. (Pr 14:16)

Though we’re warned that fear can be sinful (Isa 51:12-13, Matt 10:28), the New Testament contains about a dozen commands to “beware,” and several calls to “watch out,” as well as instruction to “be alert,” “be sober minded” (1 Pet 5:8), and “take heed” (1 Cor 10:12). Peter goes so far as to say “live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear” (1 Pet 1:17, NIV).

Reality 5: I would want an open mind if I were in their shoes.

All the Monday morning quarterbacking—especially where the decisions of left-leaning leaders are concerned—reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount, two portions in particular.

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt 7:2, ESV)

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:12)

These principles aren’t limitless in application. I’d prefer that nobody ever judge or criticize me at all in any way, ever, but we don’t get to treat others that way. By the end of the same chapter, Jesus is instructing His hearers to gague the quality of people “by their fruit” (Matt 7:20).

Still, at the very least, we’d all like people to judge us fairly—to hear us out and give us a chance to be right, even if we’ve been wrong in the past or are still wrong about other things. We’d like people to consider the possibility that we have to consider factors they’re not aware of.

Reality 6: We’re in a war, but it’s not really a political war.

Maybe the worst effect of all the politically-driven harshness toward decision-makers and their rules is that we tend to forget there’s a much bigger war going on. It’s bigger than the culture war. It’s way bigger than the latest political tactical battles. The war of the ages includes two easily overlooked aspects:

  • Our personal and church-wide battles against sinful attitudes, desires, and conduct (1 Pet 2:11, Rom 7:23, Gal 5:17).
  • Our struggle against the nonphysical rulers of the darkness of this age (Eph 6:12).

Paul goes out of his way to point out that our war is “not … against flesh and blood.” Ultimately, human beings are not really the enemy. Subtler but weightier things are going on, and the toughest and most important battles are the ones closest to home, in our own movements, our own congregations, our own families, and our own lives.

2020 reads

There are 13 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

Well said, Aaron!

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

To draw a picture, in Michigan, Governor Whitmer just vetoed a bill that would have required nursing homes to exclude residents with COVID when the vast majority of deaths from the disease are from people with preexisting conditions--e.g. the kind of person who lives in a nursing home.  In MN, fully 75% of deaths are among nursing home residents, and yes, our Governor also is allowing nursing homes to care for COVID patients instead of insisting that we find another place to care for them.  What we're doing here is quarantining the healthy while allowing the sick to live their lives as normal--just the opposite of a normal quarantine, really.

Other states with this problem; New York and New Jersey.  Those states also infamously failed to clean the subways routinely until 2 months into the epidemic--a step that those who have ridden them would tell you should have started at least half a century ago.

In this case, what we have is not policies that are stupid at the margins, but rather are failing to protect those who are most vulnerable from the disease.  Honor leaders, yes, but plead with them to take active steps to stop getting people killed!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Assuming you've accurately summarized the policies, it would be interesting to hear what their reasons are. I'm pretty confident neither of these people are Joseph Engel (Edit: Josef Mengele... apologies to Mr. Engel!) in character or Homer Simpson in intelligence, so they must have put some thought into it. Do we have any info on that?

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

Maybe the assumption is "we can handle the risk with PPE" and such.  I do know--as of today--that here in MN, a nursing facility needs to be certified as COVID-free to reject the re-entry of a patient with the virus.  (source; my daughter, a CNA at a nursing facility who would have dealt with the patient)

Perhaps instead of suggesting Mengele, we ought to remember Hanlon's Razor; never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.  Brilliant men all over have done some incredibly foolish things over time, and that's what I'm chalking this one up to.

Another possibility is "not thinking outside the box." I know, for example, that Mayo and other medical chains have shut down a fair number of rural hospitals (e.g. Austin, Albert Lea), and all you would need to do to make those into COVID care centers would be a little dusting, HVAC work, respirators, and the like.  And in doing so, you wouldn't have shut down big teaching hospitals like St. Mary's.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There's at least one point here in defense of the rulemaker-critical. There is clearly a failure to communicate.

Until I know otherwise my assumption is that these decision makers (duly appointed, I might add) are neither evil nor stupid (what I meant by not Mengele and not Bart Simpson), regardless of their politics on, say, abortion... or what party they claim.

But it's too often way more difficult than it should be to figure out what their reasons are for some of these rules. I suppose they're busier than usual dealing with all these unprecedented (in our lifetimes) problems, but communication should be a higher priority, given all the antagonism and hyperpoliticization out there.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

....but there is a point where the obvious errors being made--and governors even vetoing laws seeking to repeal the worst of the errors--it comes to a point where I can no longer be "nice" enough to abstain from wondering whether it's stupidity or malice--the latter of which will include the possibility that certain things are being done for political reasons.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mike Harding's picture

We have many politically corrupt leaders who are ruining life for their citizens.  The Mayors/Governors of places like Seattle, Chicago, New York city, Portland, Minneapolis (city council), et. al. serve as prime examples of ruining life for their most vulnerable citizens and as a result people are leaving in large numbers.  They (corrupt political leaders) have abandoned their most basic functions of government in order to assist a potential Marxist-like revolution with the aid of the Democratic party.  Yes, the Corona crisis is difficult for all mayors and governors.  Some have done an excellent job such as the Governor of South Dakota; many others have done a poor job such as Governor Neusome in California or Cuomo in New York.  Most of these edicts have not had legislative approval and in our state are in violation of legislative Law limiting the emergency powers of the chief executive.  It is easy for some to sit back in their easy chair and philosophy about these matters, but I have to deal in the real world every day running a church of 500, a school of 250, a music academy, and an assisted living facility for the elderly.  We are now dealing with over 160 edicts from Lansing, more than all the surrounding states combined.  These edicts come without warning, without explanation, without justification, and without any measure of logical consistency, while numbers are purposely being manipulated for corrupt political goals.  Raw power and some of these leaders love it and can't let go.  We are a constitutional republic, but you would never know it judging by the last 5 months. A nation of laws not of men. Some churches and Christian schools, Christian colleges and camps will not survive this.  Tragedy!!!!

Pastor Mike Harding

TylerR's picture

Editor

Mike:

You wrote:

They (corrupt political leaders) have abandoned their most basic functions of government in order to assist a potential Marxist-like revolution with the aid of the Democratic party.

Did you watch Chicago Mayor Lightfoot's press conference after the rioting began in Chicago, last week? It was excellent. Are you certain all these elected officials are part of a fiendish plot to institute a Marxist revolution with the aid of the Democratic Party? Is that the best prism through which to interpret their incompetence and fecklessness? Maybe their worldview is just not capable of dealing with the problems facing them. That's a more accurate lens than tossing the Democrats into it, isn't it? Or by claiming the entire thing is a conspiracy orchestrated by a cabal of incompetent politicians who, amazingly, would have to be very competent at this Marxist takeover but simultaneously incompetent at governing ...

It is easy for some to sit back in their easy chair and philosophy about these matters, but I have to deal in the real world every day running a church of 500, a school of 250, a music academy, and an assisted living facility for the elderly.  We are now dealing with over 160 edicts from Lansing, more than all the surrounding states combined. 

You have some big challenges. It also appears your Governor is incompetent. I don't envy you.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Governor Walz has outright banned the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID.  There is no new data in, no particular evidence of any shortages, and our state's major provider for medicine is none less than the Mayo Clinic, really the premier example of how to deliver best practices in medicine.  

Now how do we address the Governor's meddling in this situation, when he ought to know full well that there are any number of entities in the state that understand the evidence far better than he can?

In the same way, how do we address Governor Whitmer's refusal to allow nursing homes to refuse to care for COVID patients until they are cleared by two virus tests?  You can do your best to protect people--and that's the clear implication of the MN regulations I read a couple of days ago--but the simple fact remains that several governors of which I'm aware (NY, NJ, MN, MI) are insisting that likely carriers of this virus be admitted into buildings filled with the population most vulnerable to it when that is not necessary by any stretch of the imagination.

Is this foolishness, or is this being evil?  We might note here as well that there is a practical difference between cunning or raw intelligence and wisdom--as many of us observed in college, there are any number of professors/politicians/executives/etc.. who are intellectually as sharp as a tack, but whose lives are so disordered that no sane person would follow their example.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think it is clear that there are an extraordinary number of incompetent politicians around. It's always been a fact that the bureaucracies are really run by the civil servants. Nobody knows who they are, but they make the trains run on time. The elected officials come and go.

I am inclined to not interpret failures on COVID as a plot. It's always more likely to interpret this as (1) old-fashioned incompetence, and (2) stupidity. Our Gov, for all his leftism and his failed run for President on a climate change platform, has done a credible job and is not insane. I still won't vote for him in November, but he's done ok.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

TylerR wrote:

I am inclined to not interpret failures on COVID as a plot. It's always more likely to interpret this as (1) old-fashioned incompetence, and (2) stupidity. 

I mostly agree with this, at least with regards to governmental authorities, but I feel compelled to resist incompetence and stupidity almost as strongly as I feel compelled to resist evil, and even more often since incompetence and stupidity are the more likely explanation for much of what we are seeing.

Dave Barnhart

TylerR's picture

Editor

I should nuance my last a bit. It often isn't pure stupidity. It's sometimes more a disconnect between theory and the reality of a situation. The refusal to see that, perhaps, is stupidity. Still, it's easy for me to type this. I don't have to make the decisions. We should remember that, too. We should also remember that unsaved individuals, in a world with no Christian gloss left on society, have no reason to see religious services as essential. None. They're just acting according to their framework for reality. Should we expect less!?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

It shouldn't need to be said, but with the conviction of Kevin Clinesmith, a lawyer in the "Russiagate" FBI investigations, for falsifying evidence, we can also add "bureaucrats" to the list of groups that can be incompetent or evil, and given who Clinesmith is--a career lawyer in the FBI who understands very well the damage that prosecution and investigation can do to people--it becomes harder and harder to argue against the notion that some of these people are evil.

The trick is that that in some of these cases that I've mentioned previously, we can only guess as to why these things were done until someone fesses up or an incriminating document is found.  In some of these cases, Tyler's comment seems to hold--many of these people seem caught between their ideology and reality.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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