Falwell Jr. Says *The New York Times* Story on Coronavirus at Liberty University is “False”

jerry-falwell-696x362

Get up to speed here.

Here is Falwell’s statement as it appears on the website of WSET News–Channel 13 in Lynchburg:

The New York Times ambushed Liberty University to publish a false and misleading story claiming that, “students started getting sick” after the University received students back after spring break. The Times attributed the reporter’s conclusion about the scope of the COVID-19 symptoms being about a dozen students to a local doctor who has consulted with LU. The truth is a far different story. Both the numbers and the sequencing are wrong.

At about 12:30 pm on Sunday afternoon, a New York Times reporter emailed university spokesperson with a list of 12 questions to be answered for a story that was going to run in the paper Monday. About 20 minutes later, she wrote to say that the story would go online in a few hours. Unable to gather specific answers to all the questions, President Falwell called the reporter and gave her an interview. The story was posted at 3:00 pm and contained several errors.

The University promptly provided the reporter detailed numbers on the student cases and requested corrections. No correction has been forthcoming so this statement is being issued.

Liberty disputes the number of students with symptoms that the Times reported. Liberty is not aware of any students in its residence halls testing positive for COVID-19 or, in fact, being tested at all, much less any residence hall students having sufficient symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested.

Liberty can confirm that, following the US Surgeon General’s recommendations concerning persons who had been in the New York City metropolitan area, Liberty University asked four students who had recently been in that area and who were living in campus residence hall rooms to self-quarantine for the recommended period in single rooms at Liberty’s otherwise unoccupied housing annex (a former hotel a few miles from campus). Two did and two opted to return to their permanent residence, instead. There were three students in close contact with these individuals and they were also asked to self-quarantine in separate rooms in the annex. They did.

Liberty is providing meals and attending to their needs there. This was precautionary and not based on any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 among the eight. The health professionals did not recommend these asymptomatic students be tested and they were not.

Liberty is also aware of one off-campus student who returned from an out-of-state county with a high number of cases who was running a fever and had a cough. He was tested and advised to self-isolate pending the results. He elected to return to his permanent residence instead.

Another off-campus student came in for COVID-19 testing during spring break and her results came back negative.

Liberty is also aware of a recently graduated student who is taking online classes and who lives off campus with his family. He remained in Lynchburg during spring break who was advised to self-isolate based on his reported symptoms while his test results were being processed. Despite his status as a graduate, he came through the campus clinic to see the doctors he had been seeing while a student.

Liberty University has a protocol in place for informing members of the University community as necessary in the event we confirm a student or employee on our campus tests positive for COVID-19. No such notification stands in place as of yet.

So despite the Times’ sensational headline and story lead, Liberty is only aware of three off campus student who were sufficiently symptomatic to qualify for COVID-19 testing, two of which did not leave Lynchburg for Spring Break and one of which tested negative during Spring Break.

The story also forwards a misleading narrative about how government officials were informed of Liberty University’s decision. The following statement was shared publicly on March 16 with advance copies to both the City of Lynchburg and the Governor’s office following Liberty’s decision to move most all classes to online delivery, thus allowing fewer students to need to return to Lynchburg from Spring Break to take classes, as had been the prior plan.

More coverage here.

Former Liberty University Executive on Jerry Falwell: “He doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do, and he’s going to do whatever he wants…”

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

This article packs an even stronger punch now that we know Liberty University is probably dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus. Liberty is an unhealthy place. And now people are getting sick.

Here is Brandon Ambrosio at Politico:

Lynchburg, Virginia, isn’t a stereotypical college town. It isn’t politically liberal. It doesn’t have the crunchy affect of an Ann Arbor or even a Charlottesville.

But even here, where Liberty University drives a large part of the economy—and where school president and chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. strides across the landscape as a local grandee—anger over Falwell’s decision to bring university students back amid a coronavirus pandemic is boiling over.

“Remember when people wanted to tar and feather folks? That’s about the level it’s at in the Lynchburg community right now,” a former longtime Falwell associate told me over the phone. “You have … 16,000 petri dishes he’s inviting back to Lynchburg, who have gone out all over country for spring break—he’s inviting them back into our city, our community, knowing that at some point they’re gonna have to interact with the public.”

Throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus have led colleges to upend their plans for the semester by moving classes online, canceling commencement ceremonies and—critically, from a public-health perspective—moving students out of dorms. Virginia Tech is practically begging students to stay away, enticing them with cash rebates. The University of Virginia has shut down its dorm system, save for those few students “who have no other option.”

Liberty University, meanwhile, has invited its students to return to the dorms, whatever their circumstances might be. Falwell has said this decision was in students’ best interests—that students would be better off if they returned to campus before the coronavirus spread—but that suggestion has met with exasperation by public health experts, state and local officials, and many residents of Lynchburg.

As President Donald Trump pumps out messages that fears of the coronavirus are overblown, and Americans try to square that with their local regulations and personal worries, Liberty has become an even more intense version of the national conflict, with students and faculty left trying to weigh their own interests against a defiant leadership with a constantly pivoting message—in this case, a person who is used to having total control of the institution.

For people who’ve traveled in Falwell’s orbit, the decision is classic Jerry.

“He doesn’t think anyone should be able to tell him what to do, and he’s going to do whatever he wants,” a former Liberty University executive told me.

“He’s very defiant,” said another longtime Falwell associate with close ties to the Falwell family. “It’s very much in his character. That’s a family trait. His father was the same way.”

Now, Falwell has maintained that people have this all wrong: Liberty simply allowed students to return to live in the dorms, if they so choose, while finishing up the semester in online courses. “We think Liberty’s practices will become the model for all colleges to follow in the fall, if Coronavirus is still an issue,” Falwell told the school’s news service in a March 23 statement.

Read the rest here.

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Books written in isolation

Court evangelical Charlie Kirk wants to see your on-line class

Hershey in times of crisis

We need baseball!

What happened to Jake Millison?

The National Emergency Library

Upton Sinclair: revolutionary

Aaron Ben Ze’ev reviews Martha Nussbaum, The Cosmopolitan Tradition: A Noble But Flawed Ideal

Jon Meacham on presidential leadership

Jodi Eichler-Levine reviews Katherine Stewart, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

John Brown’s wax body

A descendant of James Madison and his slave

Baptisms by zoom

The Bunker Hill Monument

5000 surgical masks hidden in the National Cathedral

“Nearly a dozen” Liberty University students are “sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19…”

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

This was inevitable.  Here is a taste of Elizabeth Williamson’s reporting at The New York Times:

As Liberty University’s spring break was drawing to a close this month, Jerry Falwell Jr., its president, spoke with the physician who runs Liberty’s student health service about the rampaging coronavirus.

“We’ve lost the ability to corral this thing,” Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr. said he told Mr. Falwell. But he did not urge him to close the school. “I just am not going to be so presumptuous as to say, ‘This is what you should do and this is what you shouldn’t do,’” Dr. Eppes said in an interview.

So Mr. Falwell — a staunch ally of President Trump and an influential voice in the evangelical world — reopened the university last week, igniting a firestorm, epidemiologically and otherwise. As of Friday, Dr. Eppes said, nearly a dozen Liberty students were sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Three were referred to local hospital centers for testing. Another eight were told to self-isolate.

“Liberty will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law,” Mr. Falwell said in an interview on Sunday when confronted with the numbers. He added that any student returning now to campus would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“I can’t be sure what’s going on with individuals who are not being tested but who are advised to self-isolate,” said Kerry Gateley, the health director of the Central Virginia Health District, which covers Lynchburg. “I would assume that if clinicians were concerned enough about the possibility of Covid-19 disease to urge self-isolation that appropriate screening and testing would be arranged.”

Of the 1,900 students who initially returned last week to campus, Mr. Falwell said more than 800 had left. But he said he had “no idea” how many students had returned to off-campus housing.

“If I were them, I’d be more nervous,” he added, because they live in more crowded conditions.

For critical weeks in January and February, the nation’s far right dismissed the seriousness of the pandemic. Mr. Falwell derided it as an “overreaction” driven by liberal desires to damage Mr. Trump.

Read the rest here.

Coronavirus Diary

Ally at CFH

This kid just got home

The other day Joy (my wife) and Caroline (my youngest daughter) joked that my life has not changed a whole lot since all this social distancing and quarantining started. They are partly right. While I no longer go to campus to teach any more, I still spend a lot of time in my basement reading, writing, and studying.

I just finished my first week of teaching online. As some of you know, I am teaching a reading and discussion course for first-year Messiah College students called Created and Called for Community. I am trying to make the best of it, but it is not ideal. My students are doing their best to adjust. They are much more adaptable than I am. Since I am using a discussion board to facilitate class dialogue, I am actually “hearing” the voices of students who were relatively quiet during our face-to-face classes.  This is good.

As some of you may have noticed, I have been reading and sharing a lot more theology lately. I think the questions raised in Created and Called for Community have led me to think more deeply about transcendent things. I am sure the pandemic has also pushed me in this direction as well. Last Friday, I taught Exodus 19-20 and the Sermon on the Mount. Tomorrow I am teaching Acts 1-4 and the Nicene Creed. I have been wrestling, alongside my students, about what it means to be created in the image of God and how  such a belief translates into what we are called to do and how we are to live in this world.

Our empty nest has become full again. It is good to have the girls home. Caroline has been home for two weeks. Ally got home last night. They both loved being at college, so we are trying to walk alongside them in their disappointment and anxiety. This is especially the case with Ally, a senior. Last night everyone tolerated my reading of part of Pope Francis’s coronavirus blessing. I’d encourage you to read it as well.

And yes, we often get on each other’s nerves. Our house is small. We bump into each other a lot. Sometimes we just need to retreat to our spaces and shut the door or go for a walk. I think we’ll all survive. 🙂

Thanks for reading.

Slavery at Mount Vernon

Thompson_comp_newMary Thompson is the author of The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret”: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon. Here is a taste of Robin Lindley’s interview with Thompson at History News Network:

Robin Lindley: How did Martha Washington see and treat slaves? It seems she was more dismissive and derogatory than her husband concerning black people.

Mary V. Thompson:  Like her husband, Martha Washington tended to doubt the trustworthiness of the enslaved people at Mount Vernon.  Upon learning of the death of an enslaved child with whom her niece was close, she wrote that the younger woman should “not find in him much loss,” because “the Blacks are so bad in th[e]ir nature that they have not the least grat[i]tude for the kindness that may be sh[o]wed them.”  

The Washingtons never seemed to realize that they only knew Africans and African-Americans as people who were enslaved, which meant that they were not interacting as equals and any ideas they may have had about innate qualities of this different culture were tainted by the institution of slavery.

Robin Lindley: I realize that direct evidence from slaves is limited, but what did you learn about how slaves viewed George Washington? 

Mary V. Thompson:  Because Washington was so admired by his contemporaries, many of whom came to Mount Vernon to see his home—and especially his tomb—those visitors often talked with the slaves and formerly enslaved people on the plantation in order to learn snippets about what the private George Washington was like. 

Extended members of the Washington family, former neighbors, official guests, and journalists, often wrote about their experiences at Mount Vernon and what they learned about Washington from those enslaved by him. Some people were still angry about how they were treated, while others were grateful for having been freed by him.

Robin Lindley: In his early years as a plantation owner, Washington—like most slave owners—saw his slaves as his property and he bought and sold slaves with seeming indifference to the cruelty and unfairness of this institution. He broke up slave marriages and families, and he considered black people indolent and intellectually inferior. However, as you detail, his views evolved. How do you see the arc of Washington’s life in terms of how he viewed his slaves and slavery?

Mary V. Thompson: That change primarily happened during the American Revolution.  Washington took command of the American Army in mid-1775.  Within three years, he was confiding to a cousin, who was managing Mount Vernon for him, that he no longer wanted to be a slave owner.  In those years, Washington was spending long periods of time in parts of the country where agriculture was successfully practiced without slave labor and he saw black soldiers fighting alongside white ones. He also could see the hypocrisy of fighting for liberty and freedom, while keeping others enslaved.  There were even younger officers on his staff who supported abolition.  

While he came to believe that slavery was something he wanted nothing more to do with, it was one thing to think that slavery was wrong, and something else again to figure out what to do to remedy the situation.  For example, it was not until 1782 that Virginia made it possible for individual slave owners to manumit their slaves without going through the state legislature.  After an 8-year absence from home, during which he took no salary, Washington also faced legal and financial issues that would also hamper his ability to free the Mount Vernon slaves.

Read the entire interview here.

What is the Role of the Church During This Pandemic?

Christianity

As readers of this blog know, I have taken some comfort and instruction during this pandemic from the writings of Anglican clergyman and Oxford University theologian N.T. Wright.  Churches may be closed, but the church–as the Christian people of God–still speak and act in the world.  But what should this kind of acting and speaking look like?

In his book God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today, Wright writes:

…when God wants to change the world he doesn’t send in the tanks…he sends in the meek, the mourners, the merciful, the hungry-for-justice people, the peacemakers, the incoruptibly pure in heart. That was never a list of qualities you  need to try to work at in order to get to heaven. It was always a list of human characteristics though which God would bring his kingdom on earth as in heaven. That is how God works. And by the time the bullies and the arrogant have woken up to what’s happening, the meek and the mourners and the merciful have built hospitals and schools; they are looking after the sick and the wounded; they are feeding the hungry and rescuing the helpless; and they are telling the powerful and the vested-interest people that this is what a genuinely human society looks like…

The church has another role in times like this.

Here is Wright from Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues:

From pre-Christian Judaism to the present, God’s people have claimed the right and responsibility to speak truth to power, sometimes with words, often with bodies. Martydom has frequently been the most powerful statement of all. The post-Enlightenment world has developed two other ways of speaking truth to power, but neither has done the job well.

On the one hand, we have opposition parties, which easily generate a two-party-culture-war polarization, which both Britain and the United States suffer from. Every issue is seen in black-and-white terms of us and them…

On the other hand, we have the electronic and print media, the increasingly complex world of journalism that takes on itself responsibility of holding government, and indeed the opposition, to account…

These two methods of speaking truth to power–official opposition parties and the media–regularly fail. As we all know, opposition parties often collude with governmental folly and wickedness, and newspapers can easily egg them on in precisely those areas where critique is most needed. The church’s vocation of speaking truth to power has thus been taken over by two systems that aren’t up to the job. We urgently need the voice of Christian wisdom to approve that which is excellent and to call to account that which isn’t. Of course, when we try to do that, the media regularly tries to rule the church out of order, not just because it doesn’t like what we might say but because we are treading on turf they took from us, and they don’t want us to have it back. So, once again, we have colluded with this diminishing role and God-given vocation; or, worse, we have been herded like sheep into the lobby of this or that party, swept along on agendas we assume too readily to be God’s agendas and unable to differentiate between the whim of the party and the conscience of the Christian.

Acts of love and mercy. Speaking truth to power. That is pretty good advice to build on.

Churches Will Not Be Open on Easter. But What If They Were?

Trump and Easter bunny

Donald Trump is hoping to celebrate three resurrections on April 12, 2020.  Here they are in order of how I believe the president has prioritized them:

  1. His own political future
  2. The American economy
  3. The resurrection of Jesus

Trump knows that he needs evangelicals to beat Joe Biden in November. By saying that he wants the country “opened up” and “churches packed” on Easter Sunday he is linking his profane political fortunes to the most sacred day on the Christian calendar. Trump wants Easter worshipers to think about him on the morning of April 12, 2020.  Some churches may even mention his name and give him credit for such an “opening.” It is a brilliant political strategy.

If the nation is indeed “open” (to be honest I am not sure what this actually means) on Easter Sunday, there is a danger of replacing the true meaning of this day–the resurrection of the son of God–with a celebration of capitalism.  This is not a new thing. Easter and the success of the American economy have been closely connected for a long time. This sacred day has always been associated with parades, chocolate, sugar, fashion, and flowers. (See Leigh Eric Schmidt’s Consumer Rites on this front).

It is certainly appropriate to give thanks to God for improved economic conditions.  Easter baskets filled with jelly beans and chocolate bunnies are fun. When this pandemic is over, I hope the churches will be places where we can express both gratitude and lamentation. But all these things–a better economy, sugary treats, and pandemics– ultimately distract us from the true meaning of the day. Easter services should not be about the recovery of the economy.  A Christian’s hope is rooted in the belief that “if Christ has not been raised” our “faith is futile” and we are “still in our sins.” On April 12, we will celebrate that belief. We should not celebrate the fact we can go to Walmart again.

Moreover, Easter is not about our common life as citizens of a democracy. In the Christian tradition, the resurrection inaugurates the Kingdom of God. Citizenship in this Kingdom–a Kingdom defined by love, compassion, justice, mercy, etc.–is not the same thing as citizenship in the United States. Trump wants to turn Easter into a patriotic celebration of the American spirit in the face of adversity.  It is not.

In the end, however, it is unlikely Trump is going to get his Easter celebration. Christians are going to have to celebrate the resurrection in different ways this year.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

gettyimages-1208425743

From America magazine: “Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ address during the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing he delivered while praying for an end of the coronavirus.”

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

Read the rest here.

Conservative Website to George Bush and Barack Obama: HELP US!

OBama and Bush

A.B. Stoddard is an Associate Editor at Real Clear Politics. She is also a regular commentator on Fox News. Real Clear Politics, according to its Wikipedia page, is a “conservative news site and polling data aggregator.”

Here is a taste of her letter to Bush and Obama.  It is published at the conservative website, The Bulwark:

Dear President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama,

The moment you have sought to avoid for nearly four years is here. We are witnessing one of the worst crises to ever confront the United States and one of the worst government failures in the history of the country you served and love.

Together, you have a collective 16 years as president, during which you dealt with a number of crises: the September 11 attacks, two wars, the collapse of the financial system, and the Ebola and H1N1 outbreaks. Faced with these events, you marshaled the vast forces of our government, trusted our best experts, told hard truths, led capable teams on complex missions to tackle these emergencies, and called upon our citizens to unite in patriotic spirit to ride out the storm together. Neither of you were perfect presidents—you both would be the first to admit that—and you each have your detractors.

But both of you knew what the job of the president is in times of crisis and how to manage the basic blocking and tackling of government responses.

President Donald Trump has now proven what many of us long suspected: He has not done any of this, because he cannot do it. He lacks the most basic capabilities required of a president in this moment.

America doesn’t just deserve better. We need better.

And you can help.

This is the time for you to join forces and publicly demand that the government create a plan to manage the COVID-19 outbreak.

The United States is now a worldwide epicenter for the virus. We have outpaced the rest of the world even though we had a long lead time to prepare for it and were one of the last large countries to be struck by it.

But the scariest part is that we are leading the world in total number of cases and the wave has still not crested here: The pace of infections is still accelerating.

These are not political talking points. They are facts. Because COVID-19 doesn’t care where you live in or what party you vote for. In a pandemic, there are no red or blue states—only infected states.

These facts have developed for one reason and one reason only: They are the catastrophic consequences of President Trump’s leadership. He denied the threat the virus posed for weeks. He ignored months—years—worth of warnings and calls to action to move faster on testing capacity and to stockpile essential medical supplies.

And even now, with the evidence of his failure everywhere around us, President Trump continues to push for an arbitrary, dangerous end to the suppression measures which have been enacted by state and local authorities.

You both know that Trump’s response has failed and that continued failure could result in damage which will extend not for years, but decades, to come.

So it is time for you to step forward publicly, rally Americans of both parties to heed the recommendations of public health officials, and demand that the current executive leadership do better.

I know you are both loathe to do this and believe that former presidents should not criticize sitting presidents. Under nearly every other circumstance, that impulse is a wise one. But in this particular situation there is an ongoing disaster where a course-change by the current leadership could effect a material change in America’s outcome. And the only two men in America with enough moral and political leverage to make a difference are the two of you.

Please do not wait another day.

Read the rest here.

Commonplace Book #141

Out of all its vocations the church prophesies: its administration, its charity, its music, its art, its theology, its politics, its religious ecstasy, its preaching. Prophecy is the archetypical charism, the paradigm of all the others. The church prophesies to the world, discovering the situation of the world and passing judgment on it. But the individual prophet, like all who exercise a charism, does not address the world immediately, but the church, and, by contributing to the church’s prophetic identity, addresses the world through the church. There is no private Christian counsel to be delivered to the principalities and powers, bypassing their need to confront the social reality of the church. A theologian, for example, who invited to participate in an exercise of secular deliberation about matters of social concern, has no independent standing to give advice. Such a one either speaks for and out of the church (not its hierarchy or synods, of course, but for its faith and tradition) or is a false prophet. Yet this does not imply that the church‘s concern is wholly with its integrity and not with the redemption of the world. It is true that the church addresses the world with its being and not only with its talking. But the very essence of the church’s claim on the powers of the Kingdom is speech, and God’s speech, as the psalmist knew, runs into all lands and his words unto the ends of the world.

Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology, 188.

Need Something to Read During Your Self-Quarantine? Check Out Hearts & Minds Bookstore

Hearts and Minds 2

Please consider Byron and Beth Borger at Hearts & Minds Bookstore for all of your reading needs during the coronavirus outbreak and beyond. Hearts & Minds is especially strong in theology, biblical studies, church history, and Christian perspectives on social issues and culture. I just got a big box from Byron on Thursday. I bought some N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, James K.A. Smith, John Inazu, and Tim Keller!

Here is a taste of Byron’s recent “Booknotes”:

I didn’t send out a BookNotes newsletter last week – thanks for noticing – because, well, I just didn’t want to add to the noise. We are all inundated with information. We are still working 12-hour days (more or less) six days a week and find it hard to keep up with the videos, Zoom meetings, news stories, Facebook posts, updates, calls to action, and articles I need to read. I’m sure many of our readers, customers, and friends are feeling it, too. It’s hard to read and write when one anxious and exhausted.

So no big Corona Virus essay from me (other than the reminder to stay home the best you can. This is serious stuff and we love our neighbors well by minimizing contact, despite what our President has foolishly tweeted.)

We are, of course, closed for in-store business. Last week we were making mad dashes to the parking lot and doing curb-side deliveries, but we now believe that violates our Governor’s ruling about closing “non-life sustaining” businesses. We are now just doing mail order and some local deliveries. For now it is our hope to continue to ship stuff out daily, so send us a note or give us a call. We need the business, believe me… and maybe you need some books.

So let’s get to it. Here are a dozen or so new books (and one or two others I just have to mention.) I’ll try to keep it mostly brief, with hefty apologies to the good authors who deserve more extended reviews. These excellent titles are almost all of that deserving caliber of consideration and I could wax eloquent about them. If you order them, you’ll see for yourself…

As always, you can click on the link at the very bottom of this column to be taken directly to our secure order form page. Just tell us what you want and we’ll deduct the discount and take it from there. It is our pleasure to serve you in this way. All books are 20% off.

Read the rest here to learn about new books on beauty, Bonhoeffer, the Psalms, belief and unbelief, writing, creation care, cultural engagement, common grace, the book of Exodus, child-rearing, and the current state of evangelicalism.

Michigan Governor: Medical vendors are “being told not to send stuff to Michigan”

Whitmer

If Whitmer is right, and I have no reason to believe that she is not right, this is immoral.

Here is WWJ News (Detroit):

After President Donald Trump issued scathing comments about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, saying she’s “not stepping up,” and “doesn’t know what’s going on,” she told WWJ 950 the state is having trouble getting the equipment they need to fight the novel coronavirus.

“What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we’ve procured contracts — They’re being told not to send stuff to Michigan,” Whitmer said live on air. “It’s really concerning, I reached out to the White House last night and asked for a phone call with the president, ironically at the time this stuff was going on.”

The other stuff was Trump speaking with Sean Hannity on FOX News about Whitmer, a Democrat who has said very pointed things about the federal government’s lack of coordinated response to the coronavirus crisis. Trump said of Whitmer, “She is a new governor, and it’s not been pleasant … “We’ve had a big problem with the young — a woman governor. You know who I’m talking about — from Michigan. We don’t like to see the complaints.” 

Michigan’s request for disaster assistance has not yet been approved by the White House, and Trump told Hannity he’s still weighing it.

“She doesn’t get it done, and we send her a lot. Now, she wants a declaration of emergency, and, you know, we’ll have to make a decision on that. But Michigan is a very important state. I love the people of Michigan.”

In her public addresses closing schools, bars and restaurants, and issuing a shelter in place order, Whitmer has complained about the federal’s government lack of organization and state assistance, but she told WWJ she has never personally attacked the president.

“It’s very distressing,” she said about Trump’s attack, noting that she was only one of several governors who noted “the federal preparation was concerning.”

But she apparently struck a nerve with the president. And now the question is whether the leader of the free world could possibly take it out on medical professionals, patients and communities who desperately need help.

“I’ve been uniquely singled out,” Whitmer said. “I don’t go into personal attacks, I don’t have time for that, I don’t have energy for that, frankly. All of our focus has to be on COVID-19.”

Read the rest here.

Is the Christian Right to Blame for the Coronavirus?

Trump-Bachmann-Pence-religious-right

As some of you know, earlier this week I participated in a conversation with Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationism.  I think you can still watch the conversation here.

Today at The New York Times, Stewart has a piece titled “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals.”

Here is a taste:

At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.

This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis. On March 15, Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an “apostle” and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. “Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,” he said.

Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida mocked people concerned about the disease as “pansies” and insisted he would only shutter the doors to his packed church “when the rapture is taking place.” In a sermon that was live-streamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, said, “We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.”

By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.

A couple of quick thoughts:

First, most op-ed writers do not write their own titles. The title of this piece is misleading. As Stewart noted in our conversation this week, and repeats in the Times piece, she is writing about a particular kind of evangelical, not all evangelicals.  Her focus is on the anti-science, Trump-loving parts of the Christian Right.

Second, those who are upset by Stewart’s piece should get a copy of Mark Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Stewart is essentially making the same argument about evangelical anti-intellectualism.

Here is conservative writer Rod Dreher:

 

I don’t think Stewart is scapegoating anyone. If one reads the piece carefully, it is hard to argue with the fact that people like Guillermo Maldonado, Rodney Howard Browne, Tony Spell, Jerry Falwell Jr., and others have been reckless. I think it is also fair to say that the white evangelicals who empower Donald Trump bear some of the indirect blame for his bungling of this crisis. Dreher obviously has a beef with The New York Times, but Stewart’s piece, and much of her book Power Worshippers, is pretty accurate.