The church has now entered into dangers far greater and longer lasting than those presented by any virus. We have ceded to the state the right to define for the church the meanings of health and safety, and we have consented to constraining our community life according to state-mandated means to achieve these definitions.
The church has an inviolable responsibility to articulate, steward, and model the holistic theological understanding and practice of health and safety entrusted to it through its Lord, its scriptures, and its faithful members throughout history. Questions of health and safety are never value-neutral, nor are they “secular” questions outside of the church’s realm of responsibility, experience, and expertise. The church’s historical and scriptural frameworks of health and safety, while not inherently incompatible with nor mutually exclusive of those of the state, are not identical to the state’s, nor subordinate to them, nor less comprehensive, nor less binding on the Christian, nor less attentive to physical well-being, nor less caring of those outside the community of faith.
To the contrary, they are eminently more so. The church is required to include in its understanding and practice factors not recognized or regarded by the state. Where the church’s models share factors with the state’s models, the church’s models often weigh those factors substantially differently. For example, Christian models of health and safety emphatically reject the inherent problematization of assembly, the prioritization of one’s own personal protection, and the practice of isolation as a preventive or therapeutic strategy.
When the church’s practice dissents from that required by the state, it does so humbly and transparently, seeking concord where possible, and accepting punishment where concord is not possible.
The church’s historical practices of health and safety are deeply principled and arise from millennia of reflection, sacrifice, and prayer. It is not these practices, but rather the uncritical abrogation of them in favor of submission to the state’s alternative practices, that the church must regard as reckless, irresponsible, and dangerous.
The church need not and cannot constrain its theological, communal, and financial responsibilities and resources to a state-defined, state-administered model of health and safety. This is especially true in the worst of times, because it is in such times that our understandings and practices of health and safety are needed the most.
The church has been on the front line of the battle against plagues for thousands of years. It is a battle-hardened, experienced, wise, compassionate, collaborative, humble leader when it remembers what it already knows. If the greatest care that a church can think to show its neighbors during times like these is not to meet, then we have already succumbed to something far worse than the Coronavirus.