Russell Moore on Protecting the Elderly in the COVID-19 Pandemic. Reflecting on an Older New York Times Op-Ed in Light of the Growing Coronavirus Situation in Texas

Back in March some of the Christian nationalists were arguing that it was okay to sacrifice the elderly for the sake of the economy. During the COVID-19 pandemic Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said that it was time for the elderly to be sacrificed. That they should die for the sake of their grandchildren. Against that train of thought Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist’s Ethic’s and Religious Liberty Commission responded in a New York Times op-ed. Today, over three months later the United States is watching a growing disaster take place in Texas with a soaring COVID-19 infection starting to overwhelm the system. This post looks at what Russell Moore argued and reveals how his words have aged well. In contrast the Christian nationalists have not.

“Time ripens all things; with Time all things are revealed; Time is the father of truth.”

  Francois Rabelais

“Time is what we want most, but… what we use worst.”

William Penn 

The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.

Psalm 138:8 NIV 

Russell Moore 

This is another post that I want to finish and get published. However I want to do a twist on it in light of the current news of the COVID-19 pandemic and Texas. If you recall in March of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic was descending on the nation. It first started to take off in Kirkland, Washington, and then New York City became the epicenter for the pandemic. Many parts of the country closed in March and April and then some people started to debate at what cost? How far should we go to save people’s lives? It was during this time that Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick went on Fox News and with Tucker Carlson spoke about how we should sacrifice the elderly to save the economy. Its time for the elderly to submit to COVID-19 for the sake of their grandchildren.  If you want to read more about what he said and the blow back in March below you will find the following articles that discuss the situation. 

  1. USA Today, “Texas’ lieutenant governor suggests grandparents are willing to die for US economy.” 
  2. Guardian, “Older people would rather die than let Covid-19 harm US economy – Texas official.” 
  3. Los Angeles Times, “Sacrifice the old to help the economy? Texas official’s remark prompts backlash.” 
  4. Dallas Observer, “Texas Alliance for Retired Americans’ Birthday Message for Dan Patrick: They Don’t Want to Die.” 
  5. NBC News, “Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggests he, other seniors willing to die to get economy going again.” 
  6. Washington Post, “Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick comes under fire for saying seniors should ‘take a chance’ on their own lives for sake of grandchildren during coronavirus crisis.” 

The comments by Dan Patrick created a stir, however in response to the debate Russell Moore of the ERLC wrote a rebuttal in the New York Times. 

 

Russell Moore’s Response in the New York Times 

On March 26, 2020 Russell Moore wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that advocated for the vulnerable. He spoke about how all life is sacred. And that included the elderly, the people in hospitals, the disabled, those in nursing homes and more. Moore acknowledged how life would be disrupted. But he said life is still important. In response to the debate he also said that people should not be prioritized. Instead they should all be valued. Everyone will one day give and account and even tell their grand children as to how they lived and how the responded in the Great Pandemic of 2020. Because of the paywall that the New York Times has, I am going to insert the article below. The name of the article is called, “God Doesn’t Want Us to Sacrifice the Old.” 


My grandmother always kept several freezers and multiple pantries loaded down with food, and hid emergency cash in a cubbyhole behind the medicine. As a child, I rolled my eyes at these habits, but she would say, “If you had lived through the Great Depression, you would understand.” I now realize that when I, or my children, are elderly we will be saying similar things to our own grandchildren: “If you lived through the Great Pandemic, you would understand.” I hope the lessons we take from our country’s experience with Covid-19 aren’t about food or avoiding the spread of germs, but about how we treat the most vulnerable among us. A pandemic is no time to turn our eyes away from the sanctity of human life.

We already are hearing talk about weighing the value of human life against the health of the nation’s economy and the strength of the stock market. It’s true that a depression would cause untold suffering for people around the world, hitting the poor the hardest. Still, each human life is more significant than a trillion-dollar gross national product. Stocks and bonds are important, yes, but human beings are created in the image of God.

We must also reject suggestions that it makes sense to prioritize the care of those who are young and healthy over those who are elderly or have disabilities. Such considerations turn human lives into checkmarks on a page rather than the sacred mystery they are. When we entertain these ideas, something of our very humanity is lost.

Social distancing and shelter-in-place initiatives are hugely disruptive; that is true. People who need to be working, and who cannot work from home, are suffering. That’s why we need both the government at work to enable us to help one another through this time, and why we need a vibrant civil society to empower people to care for one another.

Vulnerability is not a diminishment of the human experience, but is part of that experience. Those of us in the Christian tradition believe that God molded us from dust and breathed into us the breath of life. Moreover, we bear witness that every human life is fragile. We are, all of us, creatures and not gods. We are in need of air and water and one another.

A generation ago, the essayist and novelist Wendell Berry told us that the great challenge of our time would be whether we would see life as a machine or as a miracle. The same is true now. The value of a human life is not determined on a balance sheet. We cannot coldly make decisions as to how many people we are willing to lose since “we are all going to die of something.”

A life in a nursing home is a life worth living. A life in a hospital quarantine ward is a life worth living. The lives of our grandparents, the lives of the disabled, the lives of the terminally ill, these are all lives worth living. We will not be able to save every life. Many will die, not only of the obviously vulnerable but also of those who are seemingly young and strong. But every life lost must grip us with a sense of lament, that death itself is not natural but is, as the Bible tells us, an enemy to be withstood and, ultimately, undone.

That means we must listen to medical experts, and do everything possible to avoid the catastrophe we see right now in Italy and elsewhere. We must get back to work, get the economy back on its feet, but we can only do that when doing so will not kill the vulnerable and overwhelm our hospitals, our doctors, our nurses, and our communities.

And along the way we must guard our consciences. We cannot pass by on the side of the road when the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and the vulnerable are in peril before our eyes. We want to hear the sound of cash registers again, but we cannot afford to hear them over the cries of those made in the image of God.

This pandemic will change us, change our economy, our culture, our priorities, our personal lives. That we cannot avoid. But let’s remember: One day we will tell our grandchildren how we lived, how we loved, during the Great Pandemic. Let’s respect human life in such a way that we will not be ashamed to tell them the truth.

 

COVID-19 

As COVID-19 Soars in Texas Some Analysis on Russell Moore’s Words 

As you will note this article was written more than three months ago. Today as I write there is a growing calamity that is beginning to develop in Texas over the COVID-19 pandemic. In Texas there is a 14% infection rate, and Houston has an 11% infection rate. According to Texas Health and Human Services there have been close to 149,000 coronavirus infections reported. 80,000 are estimated to have recovered while 66,000 cases are active. The leading counties in Texas are Harris and Dallas with COVID-19 infections. According to KHOU of Houston there are 5,000 infections that have occurred in the past day alone.  The COVID-19 infection rate is so prevalent that even here in Washington, D.C. I learned of someone I know who tested positive for COVID-19 down in Texas.  And all this is occurring because Texas opened too soon

Dan Patrick is known for his Christian nationalism. And yet consider his remarks in March in light of this current health crisis taking place in Texas. Better yet read and re-read what Russell Moore said in March. Many people dismiss Moore because of his Calvinistic theology. But when you stop and consider ask yourself whose words aged well and which words didn’t? Is it Dan Patrick or Russell Moore?  Hands down its Russell Moore. The problem with situational ethics is that in the end you don’t have ethics. The ethics is flimsy and shifting. When it comes to being pro-life many evangelicals are stuck on abortion. And in the process they ignore the elderly, the disabled, those who have diseases and vulnerable. What if evangelicals -specifically the Christian nationalists in Texas listened to Russell Moore and took his words to heart? What if they had respected his words? How many lives would have been saved – and in the process you could have put the economy in a better position as well. My deepest fear is that as COVID-19 soars in Texas that the deaths will start to accumulate as well.  I am deeply afraid of Houston being like New York City in the spring of 2020. And keep in mind if this is likely going to happen in August or September then what will happen in the fall when the COVID-19 pandemic has a second wave? After all Texas is still in the first.  Will the Christian nationalists step back and admit error? This blog hopes that will happen but I don’t think that will develop. 

So stop and re-read the last three paragraphs of Russell Moore’s op-ed in the New York Times in March of 2020. In many ways they are prophetic. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic soaring in Texas these words carry much more weight. 

That means we must listen to medical experts, and do everything possible to avoid the catastrophe we see right now in Italy and elsewhere. We must get back to work, get the economy back on its feet, but we can only do that when doing so will not kill the vulnerable and overwhelm our hospitals, our doctors, our nurses, and our communities.

And along the way we must guard our consciences. We cannot pass by on the side of the road when the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and the vulnerable are in peril before our eyes. We want to hear the sound of cash registers again, but we cannot afford to hear them over the cries of those made in the image of God.

This pandemic will change us, change our economy, our culture, our priorities, our personal lives. That we cannot avoid. But let’s remember: One day we will tell our grandchildren how we lived, how we loved, during the Great Pandemic. Let’s respect human life in such a way that we will not be ashamed to tell them the truth.

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