Christian living

The way to racial harmony

I am convinced that there is only one way to achieve harmony among people of different “races” or ethnic groups, and it was spelled out for us about two thousand years ago. To understand this, it helps to remember that the early church was made up of people who were natural enemies. Most famously, the Jews and Gentiles disdained, and even hated, each other. Against that backdrop, the apostle Paul described our status in Christ in this way: 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NKJV)

His point is unmistakable: we all share the same spiritual “genes.” We are all on the same level. No one is better than anyone else. Therefore, in the context of describing how Christians ought to treat each other, it’s not surprising to find this statement: 

…there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11 NKJV)

To the ancient Greeks, who had achieved the pinnacle of learning, culture, and civilization, anyone who was not Greek was a barbarian. So, who were the Scythians? According to ISBE, they were a nomadic people whose chief occupation was war. They drank the blood of the first person killed in battle, used scalps as napkins and skulls as drinking bowls, and never washed in water. Clearly, such behavior would be repugnant to Greeks and Jews alike. Yet when a Scythian came to Christ, he became a child of God, and was to be treated the same as all the other brothers and sisters. 

The clear lesson here is that the way to have harmony in a diverse group of people is to recognize that each individual is of equal value in the sight of God, and for all members of the group to treat one another accordingly. Regardless of ethnicity, culture, economic status, or sex, we are all fundamentally the same. Therefore, when building a community, the focus must be on what we have in common, not on what makes us different. Certainly, our differences can add value and richness to our relationships and our collaboration, but if we focus on them, we will not hold together. 

No one could deny the fact that Christians have often failed miserably at applying this teaching. History provides plenty of examples. However, whenever it has been applied faithfully, it has proven to be effective: it builds unity and harmony, and it promotes selfless love and willing sacrifice for the good of others. 

The lesson is not limited to churches; it can be applied to other diverse groups of people. If we accept the innate value of each individual, and focus on what we have in common as human beings created in the image of God, then we can work together harmoniously and effectively. By contrast, any approach that categorizes people based on ethnicity, economic status, sex, etc., and assigns a different set of rules to each category, is doomed to failure, because it will inevitably produce envy, resentment, bigotry, and hopeless division. 

Our response to COVID-19 has been a triumph of evil

I was skeptical about our national response to COVID-19 from the outset, because it didn’t seem likely that a respiratory virus would justify closing down our entire society. After all, respiratory infections are a natural part of life here on Planet Earth. Some are worse than others, but with modern sanitation standards, none of them has been devastating. (Of course, any illness is devastating to individuals and families if a loved one dies – I’m talking here about society as a whole.) But, even if the virus were horrendous, it seemed to me that the damage we would do by shutting everything down would be worse. 

Over time, as I have learned more about the the virus, the consequences of our response, and the people and organizations that have benefited from our response, I have become more and more opposed to lockdowns, mask mandates, mandatory social distancing, and vaccinations. Many have spoken about the loss of civil liberties, and that is a real concern, but to me, it is not the main concern. The primary concern is that we have lost some of our humanity, and we have placed a higher priority on our physical safety than on our responsibility to God. 

Here are some examples of the damage we have done. 

We have forsaken the sick, the elderly, and the afflicted. 

Visiting the sick and afflicted is a beautiful act of kindness, as well as a basic responsibility for those who would follow Jesus (Matthew 9:9-13, 25:31-46; Luke 10:25-37; James 1:27). Phone calls and cards are good, but they do not take the place of an in-person visit. Zoom meetings may be adequate for business purposes, but they are no substitute for physical presence and touch when someone is suffering. Yet, we have decided that all of this is unimportant when compared with protecting people from a virus. We have effectively said, “God, we’ll take Your advice, as long as we can do it without significant risk.” And we’ve congratulated ourselves on how virtuous we are in doing so. 

We have driven people to despair. 

It is a known fact of economics that suicide rates rise with unemployment rates, yet, as far as I can see, this fact was not even considered when the lockdowns started. As a result of the lockdowns and other restrictions (for example, schools going fully remote), we have seen suicide rates go up, but not only among those who lost their jobs. We’ve also seen suicide rates go up among children. Moreover, we’ve seen more drug overdoses. We’ve seen elderly people in nursing homes requesting (and being granted) euthanasia. And we seem to be quite comfortable ignoring or minimizing these deaths of despair, because the virtuous thing to do is to protect ourselves from a virus. 

We have separated ourselves from family members and other loved ones

Nothing can take the place of in-person interactions. Before COVID-19, I believe, the importance of such interactions, especially among family and friends, was universally recognized. However, now we believe that the virtuous thing to do is to distance ourselves from  our loved ones. Prolonging our physical existence has become the ultimate virtue, even if it comes at the cost of those connections that give our physical lives their meaning. 

We have created additional division and strife

Imagine how foolish it would be to think that you could strip people of their livelihoods, forbid them entering nursing homes to visit their parents, separate them from loved ones who are dying, and expect that none of them would resist you. Even if you really believe that all of these restrictions are reasonable, surely, you must realize that human beings tend to act on emotion more than on reason. So, we set up restrictions that we know will cause some people to rebel, and then we proceed to accuse them of all kinds of horrible things (even racism) when they do what we knew they would do. Is this a way to bring peace and harmony? Or would it necessarily add do the strife and division that already pervaded our society?

We have handed additional wealth and power to people and institutions that already had too much of both

As a direct result of the restrictions we imposed, institutions such as big tech, big-box stores, and big Pharma, have all become wealthier and more powerful, to the point that it is difficult to see how they can ever be brought under control again – apart from an act of God. Our government is certainly too weak to do it, largely because many of our elected officials are in their pockets. 

We have taken money and opportunity away from those who already had too little 

The poorest people, not only in our country, but throughout the world, have become poorer as a result of our restrictions. The amount of illness, malnutrition, and death that will result from this may never be calculated. But again, we feel comfortable with our position that the virtuous thing to do is to protect ourselves and each other from a virus, regardless of how much suffering we cause along the way. 

We have promoted the idea that it is wise and virtuous to trust in human effort rather than in God

Instead of living our lives in the way God designed us to, we have affirmed that the right thing to do is to restructure our lives according to the dictates of mortal public health experts in order to control the virus, as the above points illustrate. Now, in addition to all of that, we have the vaccines. You may remember that the term “herd immunity” was coined by scientists who studied the phenomenon of humanity adapting to new illnesses without intervention. We have known for generations that humans were designed with immune systems that have the power to adapt to things like new respiratory viruses, yet we now say it is unscientific to think that we could ever get back to normal unless the vast majority of the population gets vaccinated. We need “science” to save us. But we think we’re too enlightened to be idolaters. 

We have extolled our own self-righteousness

One of the things that struck me at the outset of the lockdowns was how we all considered ourselves to be so virtuous for complying with them. This self-righteousness has only grown more pronounced in the months since, and it has become enhanced with an increasing tendency to despise, ridicule, and demonize anyone who questions the rules and restrictions.  

We have forsaken the assembling of ourselves together to worship God

Physical togetherness is essential to the health of any community, and so it is no surprise that it has been an integral part of the life of Christians from the very beginning (Acts 2:42-47). Lest anyone think that this was just incidental, allow me to remind you that we are explicitly told not to forsake our assembling together (Hebrews 10:24-25). Nonetheless, we have decided that it is more virtuous to keep separate from one another to protect ourselves from a virus. We are somehow convinced that the loving thing to do is to replace God’s design of physical togetherness with human-designed video conferencing technology. 

Concluding thoughts

It is terribly ironic that we have inflicted all of this physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual havoc in order to protect ourselves from a virus that has a survival rate of about 99.95%. Even among the elderly, who are most vulnerable, the survival rate is over 94%. In other words, even if you gave Grandma the virus, she’d have better than a 94% chance of surviving it (even higher if she didn’t have any pre-existing, potentially fatal conditions). Moreover, it is by no means certain that we saved any lives with all of our rules and restrictions. On the contrary, there are many scientists who have performed the analysis and concluded that we have not. 

And even if we have saved some lives with our extreme measures, we have merely delayed the inevitable for those whom we saved. Remember, we are all going to die. We may die from a virus, or from a car accident, or cancer, or heart disease, or something else, but we will all die. This life is not forever. No individual has control over when that day comes, but it is certain that the day will come. We cannot control the quantity of years that we are allotted. 

On the other hand, we do have quite a bit of influence over the quality of the time we have in this life. To me, it seems wiser to focus on maximizing the quality of my life, rather than extending its duration. For example, if you told me that I could have one hour to live surrounded by my loved ones, or 30 years without ever seeing them in person, I would choose the hour. This goes for other things, too, such as visiting the sick, helping the poor, and assembling with Christians to eat the Lord’s Supper. If I can’t do any of those things, what am I living for?