Jesus said that the entire law was summed up in two statements, which I'll paraphrase. We should love God with everything we have in us and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. A lot of the time, I'm not sure what loving my neighbor means, practically.
Today, it's not hard to know how to love my neighbors. I am loving my neighbors by staying home when I would rather be out and about. I am keeping my children home during their spring break when they are begging to see their friends.
The recommendations that everyone stay at home as much as they possibly can are crystal clear. We are free to ignore the advice of experts, but doing so risks public health because America has a shocking shortage of respirators and ECMO machines. If this disease is allowed to take its course naturally, the death rate will skyrocket from the 1-4% that has been predicted. It could climb up closer to 20% because that's the percentage of people who will experience complications, and the only thing that saves those people is access to hospital equipment.
So, I am loving my neighbors by canceling everything and staying home to slow down the contamination rate. Many churches have done the same thing. Sadly, a few have not.
I have read Facebook posts from friends who I respect, defiantly insisting that we can't let the government shut down the church! I wonder, could we let love and compassion shift how we approach church? Christianity was never meant to be an institution. We always say church is not a building. However, our outrage that we would have to temporarily close the doors of a building in order to love and serve our communities well implies that perhaps we have been relying on the institution of the church more than we have been trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us.
People are afraid. Are we willing to acknowledge their fear and respond by doing everything we can to protect them? Every business I've ever visited has sent me an email describing how much they care about their community. But some people in the church are sending out memes instead, not broadcasting their concern, but shouting their assertions that they refuse to be controlled or told what to do!
The defiance seems to stem from a few key talking points which I will address. People who are refusing to love their neighbors by canceling church seem to believe that the fear is unfounded.
Well, as a mother, my children have plenty of unfounded fears, but I love them best by acknowledging them and caring for them, not shouting, "That's ridiculous!" at them when they show me that they are afraid. And, in this case, the fear is not ridiculous. A person with diabetes has a 9% chance of dying from Covid-19 if they contract it. A person with high blood pressure has an 8% chance of dying from this virus. If I told you that you had a 9% chance of dying today, it would scare you too. You would want the people around you to do whatever they could do to keep you safe.
Some are concerned about the bible's assertion that we should "not forsake the assembling together." We are fortunate to live in a time where people all over the world regularly assemble through technology. We have a treasure trove of tools for video conferencing and connecting with one another online at our disposal.
Some in the church assert that, as Christians, they should not be afraid, and they are hoping that their lack of fear will amaze people and cause them to wonder how Christians are so confident. Keeping churches open to prove our lack of fear is not only unloving but foolhardy. You know who else never seems to be afraid? Drunk drivers. And yet, I've never stopped and wondered where their boldness comes from. Foolish behavior that puts others at risk is not inspiring. It does not come off as brave, hopeful, or peace-filled. It comes off as hateful. The world is reading your memes about how you care more about your rights to assemble than you care about the safety of the people around you.
If you want to impress people with your boldness in the face of a natural disaster, do what Christians throughout history have always done. Run toward the danger to help people who need help. Go deliver groceries to people who are diabetic, have a history of high blood pressure, or are over 60. Tell them you will isolate yourself in all other ways except for running their necessary errands, and then take extreme precautions when you do. But if you're going to insist on gathering in physical groups of hundreds every week, no one wants you handling their groceries, and no one will praise you for standing up for a truth that is actively endangering everyone around you.
I am proud of the boldness of Christians who are shutting down their churches for the time being. I see a brave statement of faith in their position, "We are not afraid that we will love God less if we don't meet face to face every week. We know that we can love God with everything we have in places and times other than ones we are accustomed to. We believe that God will meet us in solitude as readily as He meets us in assembly."
Some days it is hard to know how to love our neighbors. Today, it is easy to know what to do, but it requires sacrifice. Will we sacrifice our pleasure, our leisure, and our freedom in order to love people well? I hope so.
Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game "That Dragon, Cancer." The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.
She is the author of the upcoming book, "Dear God, How Could You?" (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.