Lutherans vs. Coronavirus

I didn’t want to write a blog post about coronavirus. But if I didn’t, then I would be writing another review of The Purpose-Driven Life today, so this can act as a break in an endless sea of book reviews. I’m sure you don’t mind!

Last Saturday, I was planning to do a video chat with a friend, and she mentioned to me that she was busy on Sunday morning with virtual church. Until then, I hadn’t thought of what church-goers are doing in regards to church attendance, but it made me wonder. If I was still attending the church that I had gone to for twenty-one years, would I still have gone last Sunday? Would that church be partaking in the “sharing of the peace” and the excessive shaking of hands which has always struck me as unsanitary? Would they still be taking communion from a shared cup? I couldn’t help but cringe at the thought.

So I decided to check in my old church’s website for the first time in months. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod operates on a church-by-church basis, so the response from my old church was decided by its pastor and elders alone. The response was the best that I would have anticipated: every extra event besides services themselves was canceled, and services were also streamed online.

As a supplement to online services, the pastor started writing letters to the congregation on the church website. The first letter, from March 16th, is mostly informational, but I couldn’t help but be concerned that the pastor only heeded the new state and federal limitations on gathering size because of Luke 20:25, which says to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The pastor says he is cooperating because he “take[s] Jesus’ Words very seriously.” It’s great that he’s cooperating, but could he not have followed orders without Jesus’ specific permission? God forbid he be proactive and take preventative, cautious measures with his elderly congregation (and source of income) before the government forced him to.

But I shouldn’t expect much from someone who, in the same letter, said, “[B]eing faithful to Christ and His call for us to gather together and be nourished by Him in Word and sacrament [is] truly the right medicine in the face of a pandemic!” I mean, they also listed praying as the first thing people should do to address the spread of the virus and other illnesses. So my confidence is low. Like, Mike Pence low.

The two sermon-style letters are where things get really interesting. The first one was posted a day after the initial announcement, on March 17th. I would have expected nothing more than this kind of harmful irreverence of science and health from the pastor who led this church during my final years there.

The general thesis of this letter is that Christians are turning COVID-19 into an idol, because they are fearing it more than they are fearing God. It reads, “We are suddenly washing our hands with almost religious devotion out of fear to Covid-19.  We are limiting our interactions with other people – people made in the image of God – because we are afraid of what Covid-19 may do to us. . . . Such godly fear we are showing, and it is being offered to what?  A virus.”

I’ll be indiscreet with you for a moment and just say that this is disgusting behavior. And at the risk of being redundant among atheist voices, I will say that there is a reason people are fearing the coronavirus more than God. As I write this at 2:45 p.m. on March 28th, 2020, 30,299 people worldwide have died from this virus (source). God has killed no one. Ever. Belief in a god has caused millions to kill, and the bible says the God himself killed millions. I’m not talking about those two numbers. I’m talking about real life. God doesn’t exist. He can’t kill anyone. Deadly viruses exist, and they do kill. So yes, that’s something to be afraid of.

On March 21st, the third letter was posted. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it gets worse. Now do you see why I left this church?

The third letter is a continuation of the ideas developed in the second: the virus is an idol, a false god that we shouldn’t fear more than the Christian god. After piling fear of God on top of people’s already growing fear of the coronavirus, the pastor tries to spin this into a positive light. (Hint: it doesn’t work.) He says that “we could see this as an opportunity in which God is intervening in the temple of our lives and in the face of false gods.  He is breaking them to smithereens!” Conveniently, now the idol is not the virus itself but instead what it has taken away from people.

The pastor gives three examples. He says to consider a teenage girl whose sports practice has been canceled for the rest of the year, a man who can’t go to the gym for his daily workouts, and a woman who can’t enjoy her favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and stores. These people have just lost great outlets for the stress in their lives that presumably just got exponentially more stressful. But fear not! Now they can look forward to the eager reader of this letter texting them to say, “Hey! Do you have a minute to talk about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Forget working out which is proven to be beneficial for your mental and physical well-being. Check out these plagues that God sent to Egypt! And cubits! That’s way better than being able to live your life, right?”

The pastor writes, “If there is a benefit to the coronavirus it may be this – in one fell swoop God has laid before our eyes false gods that have been lurking within our lives. . . In doing so, God is asking all of us to look inward.” Essentially, he is saying that God has ruined all the joy that you get from your life—uncontroversial activities that even conservative Christians would appreciate, might I add—so that you can remember how much you need him. How absolutely manipulative! If anyone in your life really did this to you, it would be crystal clear that it is toxic behavior! Many Christians view Christianity as not a religion, but a relationship. Well, if a significant other did this, it would be considered abusive. But when someone who is supposed to be capable of perfect love does it, it’s okay?

In the past weeks, different Christians have proposed dozens of reaching explanations for why God may have allowed or caused the coronavirus. It can be an interesting application to the classic problem of evil, but viewing it as a good thing because God used it to take away the things you love most is strictly horrific.

14 Replies to “Lutherans vs. Coronavirus”

  1. Oof. Not the first I’ve seen of other Christians writing such ridiculous nonsense. Churches like the LC-MS make being a Lutheran in the world like me so much more difficult than it should be because of crap like this. I’m glad you got out of there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel like people usually think of more reasonable ELCA believers like yourself when they hear the word Lutheran, so it can always come as a surprise that the LCMS side is still like this!

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      1. Really? My experience is the opposite–that folx equate the LC-MS (or even WELS) teachings with all of Lutheranism. Could be that I now live in one of the main LC-MS states, and just moved from Wisconsin, so my perception may be skewed 😉 .

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I… wow that is messed up. You know if your old pastor had his way then potentially millions of Americans would die. When he talks about ‘fearing a virus’, that isn’t necessarily fear, it’s being proactive and realistic, so that it doesn’t spread. The old Christian me would have cringed at the stuff your old church put out, and that is really saying something. It’s good to not put up with that anymore right?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ok, that’s it. After reading this I’m going to go kill a goat (or is it a sheep?) and scatter its blood all around my front door, the door of my car, and all over my motorcycle. Then I’m off to the grocery store to do that same thing. It’s the biblical thing to do, right?
    Welcome to religious logic, or the lack there of. If there is just one god, everything has to be as that god wishes. Which is why even a god needs scape goat. Enter Lucifer, stage up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The “church” never misses an opportunity to keep and/or increase their income … whoops! … members by appealing to their “spiritual” nature over (as in this case) their “worldly” fears of a pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great insight and post. If there ever was an opportunity to test the veracity of prayer COVID-19 is it. All Christians should pray, pray, pray in their crowded churches: maskless! The big guy, if he really wants to show us his mercy, will answer positively. And there you have it.
    If he doesn’t act positively it will prove he doesn’t care about those of us innocents or he believes there are too many Christians.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Missouri Synod is the worst. The psychology of it is bizarre. No comfort, little charity, nothing to help in the real world. Just blind obedience and fear. After describing it to a therapist (who is Catholic) she said “That’s not religion!” Yup, lady, that is one of the bizarre forms taken by religion.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I also haven’t gone to a religious gatherings in years. My sister emailed me the link for her church, which is doing streaming Sunday sermons.( SSS) I might check it out just so I can say, “ya, I checked it out” I can’t go to the gym daily or coffee shops, but in reality, the coronavirus has fallen right into my isolationist wheel house. I run beautiful early morning miles along a river with nature, earphone music and I have started up my home yoga practice again. I make coffee at home and can read quietly without human chattering background noises to block out. They say to keep a 6 foot distance between people…I’m thinking more along the lines of 6 miles. One thing I need to do is distance myself from the verbal virus infection of social media and news outlets. Tower of Babble

    Liked by 1 person

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