Americans are giving people. Whenever there is a crisis somewhere in the world, the people of the United States step up to the plate and give, with time, money, and resources. Specifically, the Christian church in America gives:
- We give something like $130 billion dollars to the church
- Local churches and non-profits are responsible for most of the food banks
- Churches support homeless shelters and outreaches
- Churches are often the centers for Alcoholics Anonymous
- Many Scout units use the local church
- You can find marriage and family counseling at a local church
- The American church routinely responds to natural catastrophes, many times the first on the scene after a hurricane or flood
- The USA is #1 in the world in private giving at 1.44% GDP (nearly twice as much as Canada, three times the UK, and China clocks in at only .03%!)
This is a direct result of our founding principles, as President Reagan beautifully said it in his 1988 State of the Union address: “A shining city on a hill”, a place where the people will sacrifice and give to see good done at home and around the world.
But it is not all good news.
- Christians in North Korea are routinely imprisoned
- Christians in China lose all they have, end up in prison, and even have organs harvested
- Christians in Iran can be executed by beheading
- Christians in Afghanistan fare the same as in Iran
- Christians in Nigeria can be murdered by Boko Haram, with the women and girls kidnapped and forced into “marriages”
- Christians in the USA are forced by local authorities to wear masks, but then win a lawsuit and get $800,000 awarded for violations of religious freedom
Yes, we are a bit spoiled here in the good ol’ USA. Our version of persecution is someone trying to give us direction for public safety and screaming about my “freedoms” being stripped away. Not to be too cynical about it, but I do not think that we will qualify for Persecuted Church status.
I believe we, the Christian Church in the USA, have missed a grand opportunity during this current pandemic. COVID-19 has brought out the worst in us, with open defiance of local mandates, resistance to science, refusing to observe any kind of protocols in the name of “freedoms”.
The global death toll is well over 5,000,000 people. The number in this country is over 760,000. That is a lot of people and does not take into account the long-term effects on those who manage to recover. It is especially troubling because observing protocols and getting vaccinated will end this, the most terrible public health crisis in my lifetime.
But what has all of that got to do with how I began this blog post? Glad you asked.
Many years ago I was part of the management team that sent short- and long-term missions around the globe. There were a lot of details involved, and one of them was vaccinations. We had to know what was required for each country, and make sure our missions teams all met those requirements. I recall sending our own teenage son to Mexico. We had to take him to the local health department and get all the shots required to enter that country. It was not optional – no vax, no go.
Fast forward to 2021. We have friends we support in their long-term mission to Panama. They come and go occasionally, but they can do neither without vaccinations. Including COVID-19. But their mission is their mission, and a simple shot is not going to stop them – there are much bigger hurdles to overcome! I have yet to hear them cry about their “freedoms” being taken away. I have not seen them openly defy mandates in their host country.
Jesus commanded his disciples to “Go into all the world and make disciples” and, as you read the Book of Acts or Paul’s letters, you see the hardships they experienced in a world that was mostly controlled by dictators. Go meant go, so go they did.
So let’s say you are headed to Ecuador for a little short-term mission. Maybe along with the Gospel you are going to help rebuild a church, distribute food and clothing, do some public music and even a puppet show for the kids (all those are typical activities of short-term missions). You will need to get vaccinated for Polio, Measles, Malaria, Yellow Fever, Hep A & B, and a host of others. And you will need COVID-19 vaccination. Or you ain’t going anywhere, whether you scream “freedoms!” or not.
It turns out that masks and distancing and restricting travel and even vaccinations are not about Me, it is about Others. A little thing called public safety. It is about deciding that maybe the health and well-being of others is important to you. It is about taking the leadership role in facing this terrible crisis we find ourselves in. It is about this:
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” Galatians 5:14
Many years ago I was helping our local church in South Carolina do a general cleanup of the building and grounds. I was working with my wife when we stumbled across an old sign, left behind by the former tenants of the property. It had the church name, pastor’s name, hours of service, and this profoundly poor use of grammar in the slogan:
“The Church – Who Cares”
We get a laugh to this day about it. Of course the Church cares, and I’ll even concede that, theologically, the idea of the church being the Bride and therefore a person, maybe it was correct. But it was too easy to read as: “the Church, who cares?”
I hope you hear my heart here. I have been on this pilgrimage for forty years. I know the Church does good. I know the Church gives. I know the Church is full of loving, kind, giving people. I know the Church does indeed care, for the people that go there, for the local community, for the world at large. And maybe your own local church has done the right thing during this dreadful pandemic, has been part of the solution, has tried to exercise good protocols to protect, not just the members, but society as whole.
But I also know that maybe the Church has confused politics for faith. Maybe the Church needs to stick to the core values expressed in the New Testament. Maybe the Church should focus on being the “shining city on a hill,” a light to the world, at the forefront of the battle.
This battle, the pandemic, is not over. We can still be part of the good fight, a testimony to the good sense and kindness and love that exists among the people of the Church. We can decide to be “the Church that cares,” so the world doesn’t look at us as “the church – who cares?”