Stop the Steal, a Baby is a Person, and COVID
The importance of epistemological consistency
“The election was stolen” is a lie.
Why do I press in on this? Why cause a stink over something so divisive?
Well, first, because affirmation of the democratic process ought to shame those in both parties who’ve made eroding trust in elections a hallmark of their public speeches. D and R both refusing to concede, saying the election was stolen, blah blah blah — that erodes democracy! Stop it!
Second, though, and more importantly, my particular branch of Christianity (American Evangelicalism) seems to have latched themselves onto a political leader in former President Trump who has made this statement — the 2020 election was stolen — the absolute centerpiece of his re-election campaign and of Republican politics in general. The central figures in Republican politics have been forced, by virtue of President Trump’s public sway, to either be silent or go on record as supporting “stop the steal,” the slogan that indicates that 2020 was stolen. Even Governor Youngkin (VA), perceived as a moderate, could only emerge from the Republican field after proposing an “Election Integrity Task Force.’
For months Mr. Youngkin’s website invited Virginians to sign up for their “membership card” in his task force on election integrity, to address what he insisted was a pressing “democracy issue that affects all of us.” That was a straight pander for Mr. Trump’s conspiracy-addled base; it also implicitly lent credence to the conspiracies themselves, and the pernicious “big lie” that Mr. Biden’s election was illegitimate.
President Trump is the odds-on favorite to win in 2024 and spent his most recent rally raising doubt over the 2020 election. His candidacy will be defined by “stop the steal” by his choice, and he is pushing that message down ballot. People who run in Republican primaries are going to be forced to affirm that the election was stolen.
After bringing some 60 lawsuits, and even offering financial incentive for information about fraud, Mr. Trump and his allies have failed to prove definitively any case of illegal voting on behalf of their opponent in court — not a single case of an undocumented immigrant casting a ballot, a citizen double voting, nor any credible evidence that legions of the voting dead gave Mr. Biden a victory that wasn’t his.
The man is running on a clear lie and forcing others to affirm that lie.
What does that have to do with human life?
Well, the veracity of anything a person says is built on their personal and public credibility. The core political issue amongst American Evangelicals for some time is simple: abortion. A good number of pastors, public thinkers, and parishioners describe themselves as “single issue voters,” meaning people beholden to the one issue of abortion.
Why? Because to them, the issue is so manifestly obvious that supporting the alternative is nothing short of wickedness. Abortion is murder.
The science of embryology states that from the moment of conception, a human being is formed. The DNA it has is not only human DNA but the DNA of an individual distinct from that of either parent. In forensic criminology DNA is used to distinguish one person from another. So the DNA of an embryo indicates that the embryo is a person…
What has been said above is science, not faith. Anyone who says that he personally opposes abortion but will not publicly oppose it because he does not want to impose his faith on others is talking nonsense. It is a matter of science, not faith.
If Christians are going to make positive moral affirmations on the basis of science which then lead to significant public policy changes for women and babies, the fundamental question is: is this true? Is this a human life at stake?
The truth or falsehood, the epistemological value of the thing, if of the utmost importance. And how can Evangelicals be trusted if they through their support behind a man who is a verifiable and repeated liar?
Why discuss this now?
- Conservative Christians are going to be under enormous pressure to vote for Republicans at every level, perhaps more so than ever, because of the Democratic Party’s leftward shift and the likelihood that Roe and Casey (the Supreme Court cases protecting abortion) are overturned. If you thought the political noise was wild in 2016 or 2020, just you wait! Churches are already under enormous pressure to participate in politics one way or another. You are going to see more please draped in Christian language from Christian groups right in your inbox, on TV, and in church.
- Conservative Christians can decide right now the kind of Republican they would support, if they have that political bent. Right now you can say, “I will not vote for a liar. I will not support ‘stop the steal.’” You can become registered as a Republican in order to vote in Republican primaries against Trump-supporting Republican candidates. You can fight, right now, against lies.
Churches and Christians need to decide what kind of influence they will accept into their political lives and just what kind of people they want to vote for at the ballot box. The primaries in 2024 will be extraordinarily important: will Christians embrace some kind of lie for the greater good, or will they cling to truth?
What does this have to do with COVID?
The idea of a lie told for the greater good seems to have infected our public health and politicians lately, and it is driving me up the wall.
I’m a nobody — a small-church pastor trying to do my best to keep up with public guidance here and there. But I can tell you I’m pretty verklempt nowadays when I think of all the muddled mixed messaging. I’m a firm believer in vaccines, but the masking debacle has me nonplussed. Some places say “get the booster even if you’ve had COVID” and others say “don’t rush out and get the booster.” And don’t get me started on how people are to know when and if they can go back to work after being sick, especially when tests aren’t available at all!
And what about the six feet rule we’ve all followed? Well, maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t.
And in the middle of washing hands, getting shots, social distancing, and wearing masks, what about ventilation? I hardly heard anything about upgrading our local schools, where kids have to constantly wear masks despite incredibly low risks for themselves. Why haven’t we focused on the science here?
When a person coughs and isn’t wearing a mask, most of the larger droplets will fall on nearby surfaces, but smaller droplets suspended in the air can quickly and easily spread well beyond the six-foot mark. How far and how quickly these aerosols spread will depend on the quality of ventilation in a room. In addition to the variables surrounding mask-wearing and ventilation, there’s also a high degree of variability.
In the end, we have all had to become our own public health experts, because the messaging from public health experts has been all over the map and tinged by politics and race. I had to stop reading the news entirely and just look at two websites: the CDC and my local health department. Even then the CDC shrank the quarantine period from 10 days to 5 for reasons having more to do with the economy than the actual disease. Or was it? Who knows!
And what about the possibility that the virus is human made? No, it is not just a conspiracy.
Just as with the nuances about vaccine safety, too many people were too quick to dismiss the lab-leak theory as a conspiracy. But once they took a careful look at some of the evidence, they sometimes had to update stories and statements to acknowledge the possibility, however remote, of a lab leak. (One correction by the Washington Post specifically removes the term “conspiracy theory.”)
Scientists admit to making decisions about even looking into a lab leak because of international politics!
he co-signed the Science letter calling for a more thorough investigation of the lab-leak hypothesis. But like at least one other signatory, he now has second thoughts about that plea, in part because it heightened political tensions. “I think it probably did more harm than good in terms of actually having relevant information flow out of China,” he says.
What about all the rank hypocrisy! I don’t even need to link to it, for I am sure you know the stories:
Politicians and pundits who question the vaccine and sew doubt among the bases but have already taken it, and been boosted !
Or politicians and pundits on the other side who require masking everywhere but don’t do it themselves — and even go out in public without masks against their own orders!
Politicians are being terrible hypocrites on the issues of vaccination and masking. They are requiring of others what they will not require of themselves. Hypocrisy like this destroys the truth.
People are losing faith in their public health experts. We now have a broad range of responses and effects that are all rooted in a mixture of public health guidelines, myths, politics, religion, and taboos. It is all over the map! All of these people think they are doing the best thing according to the science! Here are a few I see:
- People paralyzed of the thought that their young children will die of a disease that has a very low morbidity rate for that age. So their kids are stuck inside and are suffering severe mental health problems.
- People who judge others depending on masking or not masking, to the point of mockery, disfellowship, castigation, and anger.
- People who believe the disease is a hoax perpetrated on humanity to spread government control.
- Elderly people refusing the vaccine or booster and needlessly dying.
- People losing work, suffering depression, and even committing suicide because of the breakdown of their normal socialization at work when more freedom would’ve given them life.
- People so afraid of this disease that they have eschewed meeting with family and friends, wear two masks everywhere despite being boosted, and refuse to interact socially or eat with anyone else.
- Churches which have ignored any guidelines, churches that have closed because of fights over the best steps to prevent spread, and churches that have seen several, even dozens of people die from the disease.
COVID has been yet another tool abused by political parties, companies, and demagogues the world round. Responses to the disease are often divorced from reality. Everything has become political, and trust lost here may never be regained.
I believe some churches have lost considerable credibility by ignoring ANY health guidelines and pretending as though the disease isn’t real. The disease has killed people I know. It is very real. The vaccines have cut mortality globally — there is proof. I don’t believe you should be made to take it, but I hope you will.
At the same time, public health officials have lost credibility by abusing their power over churches as they singled out places of worship over restaurants or other public venues, as evidenced by lost court cases. Subsequently, some churches have lost credibility by adhering to the whims of political leaders instead of working hard to discern the truth about this disease, about vaccines, and about when to return to worship.
Credibility, credibility, credibility — it is so hard to gain and so easy to lose! I know that I have lost my fair share when I’ve lost my mind watching the media too much or adhering to narratives not borne of truth. I have had to repent privately and publicly. I am sure that I have more to do.
The sheer volume of work ahead for public health officials and churches alike is monumental. It will begin with apologies and carry on with a desire to find and speak the truth at the expense of partisan priorities.
Which is why I am begging for a public divorce from particular political parties and leaders in order to reclaim a moral center — truth — that is not dependent on personality or partisanship.
We need the truth.
Whatever it is, however it does or does not comport with our political persuasions, however uncomfortable it may make us feel, however much it may expose the lies of our chosen media, we need the truth!
We dare not take the words of Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” These are the words of the skilled politician who knows winning is everything. Truth only matters inasmuch as it lends itself to victory. But Jesus cares nothing for his question. He did not answer. He knew what Pilate knew: Jesus was truth.
Lovers of Jesus must love the truth. We must be willing to call it out from the morass of lies and darkness that surround us daily. We must recognize that we will often believe lies and speak lies and endeavor to repent of our lies. We must rid ourselves of the lies that form our narratives.
Winning is nothing compared to the truth. Winning at all costs is simply not a Christian ethos. “Win at all costs” does work — don’t get me wrong! It is an effective political strategy. But it will destroy your very being in the process. You will become a vessel for victory for something less that God, some demigod that you’ve placed as most important.
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
The political church will lose any sense of credibility. A church wed to lies — which accepts “stop the steal” as a mantra — is as bereft of truth as a church which proclaims a baby is not human life. We lovers of the truth must cling to the truth, however inconvenient, however much it may put us out of the main in either political party.
We need the truth.