Some evangelicals continued to wage their culture wars in Kentucky when Governor Andy Beshear ordered law enforcement to take down license plates of Christians who gathered in church in violation of health rules during a pandemic. This post looks at the situation and also raises an ethical question. Should evangelicals who spurn public health guidance and have contempt for the law be eligible for medical treatment after they get sick with the coronavirus?
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Romans 13:1-2 NIV
Andy Beshear on how Christians in Kentucky who violate health rules should be quarantined.
In various parts of the United States evangelicals are reacting differently to the COVID-19 pandemic. A large number of them are following the law it appears and are engaging in social distancing. I chronicled a sampling of that in, “A Sampling of How a Number of Evangelical Free Churches in the United States Celebrated Easter Online in the Middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” However there are a number of places where evangelicals are not following health guidelines. Last week I wrote about a church in Monroe, Ohio that was not following health requirements. You can read about that in, “When a Church Becomes a Threat to its Community. Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio Continues to Meet During a Pandemic While Public Anger Grows Toward the Church.” In Kentucky this has been a hot issue especially among the fringe elements of evangelicalism. This is not the first time I have written about the evangelical culture wars. This blog did an article about Matt Bevin and Christian nationalism in, “Former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin Who Issued a Number of Controversial Pardons Illustrates Why Christian Nationalists are not Pro-Life.”
What Kentucky Did With Christians Who Violated Social Distancing Rules to Make Communities Safe
In Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear had an order that prevented large meetings during a pandemic. The order which you can read here was issued on March 19, 2020. The order prevented all large scale gatherings from religious to sports and other social activities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While most people understood some evangelicals reacted in outrage in Kentucky. Many evangelicals have a warped perspective when it comes to persecution. You can read about that in, “As White Evangelicals Believe They are Being Persecuted in the United States, a Story About Evangelical Christians and a House Church in Chengdu, China Reveals What Persecution Really Is.” On Good Friday Kentucky Governor stated that any Kentuckian who attends church and violates health rules in a pandemic will be quarantined for 14 days. At the time this was announced at least seven churches in Kentucky were considering to meet for worship. On the day that the order was issued 1,693 were infected with the coronavirus in Kentucky and 90 died as a result of the infection. This is what Beshear said about worship on Easter in person. “I hope everybody knows that even on a weekend like this we cannot have in-person gatherings of any type. We absolutely cannot bring people together in one building like that because that is how the coronavirus spreads, and that’s how people die.”The governor talked about his own faith and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected his son’s baptism. The governor asked Christians to be responsible and to love their neighbor as themself. Some clergy put together a video calling for people to stay home and stay safe and echo Beshear’s message.
Those who attended a worship service in person would have their license plate recorded and they would be quarantined for 14 days. Some churches have a drive in service where people stayed in their car as they were following social distancing they were okay. In response to Beshear’s order three Christians filed a lawsuit saying their Constitutional right to worship was infringed.
If you want to read more you can do so at the following articles:
- USA Today, “Fact check: Did Kentucky order police to record the license plates of Easter churchgoers?“
- Louisville Courier-Journal, “Easter churchgoers defiant after Kentucky troopers write down their license plate numbers.”
- NBC News, “Kentucky gov. announces mandatory quarantine for anyone who attends Easter services.”
- The Hill, “Kentucky governor announces state will record license plate information of church attendees, impose mandatory quarantine.”
- Lexington Herald-Leader, “‘Take a step back.’ Beshear’s plan to quarantine Easter churchgoers draws fire from GOP.“
How Evangelicals Move the Goal Posts When it Comes to Religious Freedom
Many evangelicals like to rally around the term, “religious freedom.” But the question must be asked what is religious freedom? Evangelical Christians are notorious for moving the goal posts when it comes to the culture wars. Before the COVID-19 pandemic religious freedom meant the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. That is how it was interpreted and practiced. In the COVID-19 era religious freedom takes on a whole different meaning. It means the right for people to violate health rules and meet in person in large gatherings. Or in another description religious freedom means the right to be able to kill your neighbor of loved one by exposing them to the COVID-19 virus. Because of the constantly shifting sand religious freedom in my view has lost much of its meaning. It has been warped and twisted in many ways that are quite toxic.
What Andy Beshear was trying to do was prevent the flare up of a pandemic and what he is saying is rooted in science and history. In 1918 the Spanish flu (which originated in Kansas) broke out and had a foothold in Philadelphia when the city held a parade to sell Liberty bonds. As a result of the Liberty parade influenza broke out and in the end of the first week 4,500 were dead. By the end of the pandemic in Philadelphia alone 12,000 residents would be dead. St. Louis in contrast shut everything down and became the model for social distancing which is used today. If you would like to read more you and can do so here and here. By the way this is why Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans were so deadly and why the COVID-19 pandemic took off in Louisiana. The 1918 Spanish flu can teach us a lot about how to respond to the current pandemic.
Ethics Question: Should Christians Who Disobey Health Rules Be Eligible for Medical Treatment When They Get Ill?
Here is an ethics question that I want to pose. What Andy Beshear is doing in Kentucky is reasonable. Its for the good of the community and most Christians understand. For those evangelicals who reject it can you expect anything more from those who reject science and biology? But here is the question that needs to be asked. The COVID-19 pandemic is straining resources due to the large volume and nature of the situation. For those evangelicals who violate the health and safety guidelines what should happen to them when they become ill? What they did was negligence in that it exposes other people in their community to the coronavirus. The same is true in that they exposed a dangerous disease to law enforcement, first responders and medical personnel who work in the hospitals. So what should happen to them?
When the AIDS outbreak started in the early 1980’s in the United States it challenged modern medicine. Its also challenged the social system at the time. During the epidemic people learned how AIDS develops from HIV and that it can came about because of risky sexual activity by gays or drug use. Today we know that HIV can spread to many people both gay and straight. At the time some evangelicals deemed AIDS as being God’s punishment for immoral living. As a result that led some evangelicals to ask the following question. Why should I pay for treatment of someone who picked up a disease by engaging in risky behavior? After all some evangelicals pointed out that through moral living or that by not being gay HIV can be avoided. In some parts of evangelicalism this was said and believed.
Now let’s turn the table and ask the question in another way. What should be done about Evangelical Christians who violate health rules and then get sick? From a Christian perspective you can say that they have contempt for Jesus in that they do not love their neighbor as themself. One can also say they they are also not following Romans 13 about following civil law which is designed for health reasons. Their reasons are selfish and leads me to ask a question if some are addicted to religion and go to church for the wrong reasons. The pastors of these places are narcissistic most likely. But this COVID-19 situation in Kentucky is revealing some of what I wrote about not long ago in, “How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Going to Reveal the Dark Flaws and Systemic Issues of Evangelical Christianity.” But here is another aspect that is troubling in addition to exposing and possibly killing their neighbors and loved ones by passing on the coronavirus. Evangelicals are also causing a drain on crucial medical supplies during a pandemic. The medical system does not need additional stress right now. So here is the question in light of this health situation being made more dire by some evangelicals; should evangelicals have a right to health care after they get sick when they show contempt for the law? Should they be given all the treatment, ICU privileges, medicine and more when it could have been avoided if they followed health guidelines?
While this might bother some people I think an argument can be made that those evangelicals who spurned the law can be denied medical treatment. Many no doubt will be in denial as they thought they could not get sick or the illness was overblown. But the reality of the situation is that they were explicitly warned. They made a choice. They were warned by health officials. They were warned by people like Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. They were warned by law enforcement. And they spurned all of that. Why should we have sympathy for those who show contempt for the rules? This is not like its a first responder who gets infected. Or a grocery store clerk who was doing their job who came down with the virus. Its not like this is someone in a nursing home where there was an outbreak. No this is someone who could have avoided the illness most likely if they followed the guidelines. While nothing is guaranteed in life following the guidelines reduces your likelihood of infection. Why should we have sympathy for someone who used his religion in a selfish way to engage in risky behavior? So when you look at competing resources and the strain of a health care system I think an argument can be made that those evangelicals who show contempt for following the rules should not be afforded the health care when they get sick. Following Andy Beshear’s guidance like 99% of evangelicals who are doing so do can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.