While many churches across the United States have wisely decided to protect their congregants from the current coronavirus pandemic by closing their doors and creatively using online platforms to continue being the Church.  Some Scamvangelicals have chosen to ignore the CDC recommendations and risk the lives of their congregants. “Pastors,” such as Rodney Howard -Brown, have encouraged their churches to ignore social distancing guidelines. The video below shows Howard-brown declaring that his church won’t close because they aren’t a bunch of pansies.

According to Fox News,

Tony Spell, the pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, said no “dictator law” could keep people from worshipping God.

“The virus, we believe, is politically motivated,” Spell told WAFB. “We hold our religious rights, dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

Spell said his church, which normally has more than 1,000 attendees on Sunday across five locations, will be distributing “anointed handkerchiefs” to provide members with “healing virtues.”

Christians have a long history of dealing with epidemics and pandemics. In 166 C.E., the Antonine Plague was brought to Rome by the returning army of Emperor Lucius Verrus after having defeated their Parthian enemies on the eastern border of the Roman Empire. It was during this plague that Christianity experienced a growth spurt. Christians made a name for themselves as they took care of the sick, both Christian and non-Christian. The second-century Christians also provided a new spiritual framework for understanding the epidemic. Instead of teaching it was a divine judgment from angry deities, they taught that the pandemic was the result of broken creation against a loving God. In other words, it was the natural consequence of departing from God’s ways, not angry judgment.

Their response during this time was to change the conditions that had created the spread of the disease. The disease spread because of too many people, especially soldiers, living in crowded, unsanitary conditions. The second-century Christians established hospitals as hygienic places for people to recover.

The third-century Plague of Cyprian would see another cycle of growth for Christianity. Again, Christians took care of believers and non-believers alike. They opened hospitals and shared resources. In a time when modern-day virology didn’t exist, they lifted people out of crowded, unsanitary situations and provided clean, healthy places for them to recover.  The sociologist and religious demographer Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History, claims that death rates in cities with Christian communities may have been just half that of other cities.

Perhaps the first lesson modern Christians can learn from our ancient forefathers about pandemics is this: caring for others, you know that whole love your neighbor thing, is better evangelism than pronouncing an angry god’s judgment on them. Fundagelicals and Scamvangelist have been quite active in proclaiming judgments against the LGBT+ community and women.

A second lesson might be to share resources and promote hygiene during an epidemic. If you bought a thirty-year supply of toilet paper and four hundred gallons of hand sanitizer, you are violating the “love your neighbor” command. If our neighbors can’t practice good hygiene, then we can’t stop the spread of the virus. It’s time for hoarders and price gougers to “do unto others.” As Jesus taught

Perhaps the most instructive lesson on how a Christian should respond to a pandemic comes from an essay by Martin Luther, the great reformation theologian, titled Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.

I would guess that if Rodney Howard-Brown lived during Luther’s time, he would hear a distinct sound of a hammer nailing this essay to his door. Howard-Brown thinks that by proclaiming the church is the safest place, and not using the wisdom and knowledge God has given us in modern times, that he sounds like a “Super Christian” full of faith. However, as Luther will point out, he is reckless and guilty of violating the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not murder.”

Luther, after explaining the Christian obligation to care for one another during a plague, and the sin of abdicating their responsibility continues,

Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are.

They say that it is God’s punishment; if He wants to protect them, He can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting Him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.

If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes.

Sorry Rodney Howard-Brown and Tony Spell, Martin Luther says you two guys are not only bad theologians but doofuses! (I’m paraphrasing.) One of the temptations Jesus faced in the desert was to test God by throwing himself off the summit of the temple. (Matt. 4:6) Jesus responds, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt. 4:7) Howard-Brown and Spell have decided to test God. Jesus knew not to test God, why don’t “pastors” like Howard-Brown and Small know it too?

One possible reason is strictly financial. They are afraid of a drop in tithes and offerings if people don’t show up.

Photo of a collection plate in a church.

A second possible reason is that they are willing to gamble with people’s lives. If no one in the congregation becomes sick, they can proclaim their faith as a “Super-Christian.” If someone does get sick, it’s easy to blame their lack of faith. If Howard-Brown or Small gets sick, it’s a direct attack by the Devil to stop their ministry. No matter what happens, they win, unless donations dry up.

During this challenging time, let us not tempt God but trust in the intelligence and medicine that He has provided us. Wash our hands and practice social distancing. Limit shopping to once a week and only buy what you need. Share with one another and look out for your neighbor. Don’t be a doofus!

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