The Church’s Failure in the Crisis

As we are beginning to see the signs of our economy opening up (well not here in CA, but in some others states), and as we catch glimpses of life beyond this crisis, our thoughts begin to settle again on the future. I, for one, have been thinking a lot about the lessons we will learn from COVID-19. What will be the takeaway for the Christian congregation that tried to navigate the waters of uncertainty and fear while striving to be faithful to their confession and mission?

It seems to be increasingly clear that the measures we took in this country have led to the loss of freedoms, greater national debts and livelihoods destroyed all under the sentimentality of, “Saving lives.” Over and again the numbers are showing a death rate closer to that of the flu which terrifies everyone even more, for it means these actions have, in fact, been pointless. And the churches have acted as accomplices in the whole ordeal. We shut our doors, got in line with everyone else behind the mantra of the day (#stayhome), applied for our PPP loans, responded with fear and patted ourselves on the back for figuring out how to use Facebook live.

I was recently in a Zoon meeting with some of my colleagues and our District President who wanted to make sure those of us who were still gathering folks together to receive the gifts of Christ knew we were on our own, that it is outside the legal counsel of our church body, but in the same breath we were encouraged to apply for the assistance of the government loan programs. In other words, we were to toe the line and, then, get in line. We are all in this together, as we are all to suck at the teat of the state.

I wonder what the pastor’s conference will look like a year from now. Will it sound like our current press conferences at both the state and federal level? Will they begin by saying how deeply sorry they are and how they feel for all those churches that have closed for good, not to mention the schools and preschools; just another nameless victim of the coronavirus. They loved their neighbor enough to die for them, just like Jesus. Then there will be some moment of silence where we lament the unavoidable. After this they will trot out the good news, the victories of the pandemic. Those newly crowned experts of streaming worship and innovative ministries who not only endured but thrived. They increased their market share and came out as new royalty. They will teach us lessons for years to come about church in the “new normal,” whatever that might mean.

I guess what I am concerned with is that the lessons we learned will often be devoid of repentance. No discussion of how we failed before the specter of fear and death. We will do what our politicians do, we will justify our actions as the best we could have done at the time. We will not think too much about what it means to have the church closed on the day we celebrate the promise of eternal life because someone might die.

But perhaps this was a moment for faithful resistance, not quiet compliance. Perhaps we ought to have acted less like the cultural majority and more like a creative minority. We need to ask questions about those whose faith was hanging on by a thread when the church turned tail and hid with everyone else. We need to challenge the creativity of live streaming a church service and question where this might be heading a year from now. We need to come to grips with the fact that, perhaps, we failed.

The good news is the Church is not ours to begin with but our Lord’s. The ministry is His as well. So, though we may fail there is an abundance of hope for there is forgiveness in Christ for us all.