“I hope this person believes this. Some days I am not even sure I do.”

Like most people, I sat down early Tuesday evening, November 8, 2016, to watch election returns fully expecting that, by the time I went to bed, Hillary Clinton would be declared the country’s first female president.

Instead, I saw my home state of Pennsylvania fall to Trump, followed by the Clinton “firewall” states of Michigan and Wisconsin. I was shocked. I was saddened. I was angry. But my emotions were less about the new president-elect and more about the large number of my fellow evangelicals who voted for him.

Five days later–the Lord’s Day–I took my seat in the sanctuary of the central Pennsylvania megachurch where I had worshipped with my family for the last sixteen years. As I looked around at my fellow worshippers, I could not help thinking that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of every ten people in that sanctuary–my brothers and sisters in my community of faith–had voted for the new president-elect. This seemed to reflect deep divisions in how we understand the world, and it was deeply distressing.

I still attend that church, but I have not visited in person since the outbreak of COVID-19. I wish I could say that COVID-19 is the only reason I haven’t returned. It’s been four years since that post-election Sunday and there are days when my anger and disappointment are still raw. This is not an indictment of the pastoral staff at my church or most of the members–past and present–of the church elder board. They are serious Christians who have been doing their best to navigate this season without dividing the church. I appreciate the work they are doing and I can tell when they are trying to bring biblical faith to bear on the times without naming names or “getting political.” I do not attend a pro-Trump church.

But I also get the sense that my church is keeping me at arms length. This is probably a smart move. I am a divisive figure. I have tried to use my voice and platform to criticize a morally corrupt President of the United States and the conservative media infrastructure, including the Christian media, that props him up.

Some of my fellow churchgoers have read Believe Me and have sent me wonderful notes of encouragement and support. Others have made it clear that I am a negative influence in the Christian community. When I taught a Sunday school class on Christianity and politics (a class in which I don’t think I ever mentioned Trump), I got a lot of positive feedback. I also got some pretty strong negative feedback.

Why am I bringing this all up right now?

Today I had an emotional conversation with a Christian I love. This person does not understand how friends, family, and fellow Christians can support Donald Trump. Tuesday night’s debate really set this person off. How could Christians vote for a man who refuses to condemn racism, lies endlessly, and lacks basic empathy? This person is considering giving-up on church and the Christian faith generally. She/he is trying to hold together her/his friendships with Trump supporters, but does not know how to do it and still be true to her/his deepest convictions.

We both had tears in our eyes. I didn’t know what kind of advice to give this person, but I certainly understood. Over the last four years I have had old friends cut me off because of my strong criticism of the president. I have had present friends pull back. I have had dozens and dozens of people tell me that they have stopped going to church (COVID-19 has become a convenient excuse). People who I have not communicated with in over thirty years have come out of the woodwork to condemn me in public forums.

I don’t want this person to give-up on Christianity. I encouraged this person to lean into our shared faith and not pull away. Current events have led me to read the Bible with new eyes, pray in different ways, and rethink how I live my Christian life. It is all a work of progress, but I feel like I have started a new spiritual journey of sorts. I shared all of this with this person. We must continue to live as people of hope and try not to let the anger overwhelm us. I hope this person believes this. Some days I am not even sure I do.

Many Americans do not see this as an ordinary election between two candidates committed to basic principles of decency, civility, truth, science, reason, and human dignity. This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (2008) or Al Gore and George W. Bush (2000) or Bill Clinton and Bob Dole (1996). This is an election between one man who believes that the president should be a steward of democracy and another man who is a racist, nativist, and narcissist willing to undermine democracy with almost every word he speaks.

And the majority of white evangelicals, whether they love Trump or held their nose and voted for him, are complicit. I know that statement will anger a lot of people. But how long will evangelicals support–either directly or indirectly through their silence– this immoral president?

When Trump is gone, I hope and pray I will be ready to participate in the healing work that needs to be done. But right now the cancer at the heart of the republic must be cut out. Americans have the chance to do this on November 3rd. As I have said before at this blog, let’s remember that Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (“bind up the nation’s wounds” and “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace”) occurred after the Northern victory over the slave-holding Confederacy was all but secured.

UPDATE: I wish the President and First Lady well as they deal with COVID. I am praying for them and for all who are struggling with this terrible virus.

Hope Hicks has COVID-19. What does this mean?

Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s closest associates, has COVID-19. CNN is reporting that she is at home and “fairly sick.” CNN is also reporting that the president and his wife Melania were just tested. Trump rarely wears a mask and he has been in very close proximity to Hicks. If Trump was a student or employee of Messiah University, the school where I teach, he would need to quarantine for two weeks.

UPDATE: CNN is now reporting that Trump is going to quarantine while he waits for the results of his test.

What does these mean for the United States government?

Here is Samantha Viongrad, a national security advisor in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations:

We deserved last night’s debate. We didn’t deserve last night’s debate.

Last night the nation got the debate it deserved.

Last night a nation suffering through coronavirus deserved better.

I think both of these things can be true at the same time.

The first 2020 presidential debate was a disaster. It was a perfect representation of the current state of our political culture. I think theologian Keith Plummer got it right when he tweeted:

Biden’s performance wasn’t great, but he hung in there. Historian Amy Bass nailed it:

Biden didn’t need to kill it last night. He is leading in all the polls. Trump did nothing to widen his base. The debate changed very little.

At one point in the debate Biden told Trump: “You’re the worst president America has ever had.” We will let future historians decide this, but right now it is hard to argue with Biden’s assessment. Here is presidential historian Jon Meacham:

As most of you know by now, Trump refused to condemn “white supremacy” and “racists”:

Here is Christian writer and editor Katelyn Beaty:

And then Trump empowered a neo-Fascist group by telling them to “stand back and stand by.” It is worth noting that the Proud Boys immediately made “Stand Back. Stand By” part of their new logo. Yes the President of the United States told a white supremacist militia group to “stand by.” This implies they he may need them at some point in the immediate future.

Actually, this whole Proud Boys thing sets me up nicely for my Pennsylvania history class today:

This may have been the first presidential debate in American history in which one candidate called another candidate a “racist.”

Trump did nothing to win women voters tonight. Here is historian Heather Cox Richardson:

A few odds and ends:

  1. Trump refused to say that he would concede the election if he loses.
  2. Trump interrupted Biden to attack his son Hunter at the precise moment Biden was talking about his dead son Beau.
  3. In the middle of a discussion on COVID-19, Trump attacked Biden’s intelligence. He also mocked Biden for attending “Delaware State” university. Actually, Biden attended the University of Delaware. Delaware State is a historical black university. One would think Trump would know this since he likes to brag how much he has done for HBCUs.
  4. I don’t want to see another debate. This was a waste of time. Let’s just vote in November and move on as a nation.

A few random tweets from the night:

Before the debate court evangelical Robert Jeffress was praying for unity:

I support national unity. I even support praying for national unity. One of the best speeches on national unity was Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Here’s Sean Hannity being Sean Hannity:

CNN commentators saw things differently:

Is this King George or Vladimir Putin?:

Even the Fox News moderator Chris Wallace was having problems making sense of Trump’s words:

I am hearing all kinds of stories about parents letting their kids watch this debacle. Here is Yahoo News writer Jon Ward:

Here is Amy Bass:

Hey, but at least Donald Trump did this:

34 more days.

Evangelical homeschooling in a pandemic

We did not homeschool our kids and never really thought seriously about it. I am not an expert on the movement, but I do know that people–even evangelical Christians–homeschool their kids for all kinds of reasons. Many of them use the materials Elena Trueba describes in her informative piece on homeschooling at Religion & Politics, and many do not. (It seems like everyone I know who is homeschooling is using some kind of classical Christian curriculum).

Here is a taste of Trueba’s piece:

The educational materials promoted by HSLDA [Home School Legal Defense Association] and its affiliates across the U.S. may not mention Rushdoony by name, but many of them carry his narrative of dominion-taking nonetheless. There’s K-12 curriculum produced by Bob Jones University, notorious for banning interracial relationships on its campus until the year 2000, which teaches that God gave the United States to Protestant Christians. There’s Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), which has seen an increase in demand for its materials during the pandemic and describes the history taught in public schools as “revisionist.” There’s Abeka, which denounces evolution, labels gay rights as a “radical social agenda,” and claims that enslaved people who “knew Christ” were better off than free people who did not. Besides being incredibly popular among Christian homeschoolers, what these curricula have in common is that they portray the United States as a nation belonging to Christians—and as a nation that Christians have to take back.

Christian nationalist narratives like these have existed in predominantly white and conservative religious spaces long before this pandemic, but their prevalence in homeschooling materials means these ideologies may infiltrate a new, unwitting audience. The pandemic-induced withdrawal from public schools poses what one homeschooling advocate recently called “the biggest opportunity for domestic victory the Right has had in 70 years.” Julie Ann Smith, a homeschooling mother and writer, explains it like this on her website: “When I started homeschooling in the early 90s, I went to listen to Christian homeschoolers speak and they would often sell curricula in another room. But one thing I didn’t consider was this: those running the homeschool conventions had an agenda and they only sold curricula which matched their agenda.” Later, she came to understand that the homeschooling materials and circles she encountered were embedded with patriarchal and Reconstructionist ideologies. It’s not difficult to imagine families facing a similar version of Smith’s problem, as they try to quickly cobble together a semester to a year’s worth of education for their student and opt for the materials that are the most heavily promoted and widely lauded by homeschoolers. They should understand that these materials come with an agenda.

In the era of Covid-19, homeschooling is, for many families, the only option. It has the potential to be a positive one, providing students and their families the opportunity to chart the course of their education. However, even in the midst of a pandemic and with so many responsibilities, parents have yet another fraught task on their to-do list: They must be mindful of the history and ideological backbone of American homeschooling. Many of the materials they may encounter have roots in Christian nationalism. Families who wish to take advantage of all the good that homeschooling has to offer are responsible not just for their children’s education but their own knowledge as well.

Read the entire piece here.

On COVID-19, Plymouth, and providential history

Many Christians believe in providential history. This is the idea that human beings can understand the will of God in the affairs of men and women as they lived through time. Most providential historians have no place for the mysteries of providence. Instead, they are certain that they know exactly what God has done in the world, especially if such divine action enhances the glory of the United States.

I have roundly rejected providential history on both historical and theological grounds. See my book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past for more.

But after I read a recent piece on the 400th anniversary of the settlement of the Plymouth colony, I thought I would imagine a way of doing providential history that does not invoke the glory of the United States or its supposedly Christian roots.

Based on the methodology (if you can call it that) of providential history, one could make some interesting interpretations of the relationship between COVID-19 and the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Plymouth colony.

What if God brought COVID-19 at this particular time, in this particular year, to remind Americans that the Plymouth settlement may not have been possible if disease had not killed-off most of the local native Americans before the Pilgrims arrived?

Just to be clear, I am not endorsing such a view. But if you are going to invoke God’s providence in founding Plymouth as the forerunner of an exceptional United States, then what is to stop someone from offering an alternative providential reading? This is why providence is not a useful category for historical interpretation.

Here is Allen Breed of the Associated Press:

The year 2020 was supposed to be a big one for the Pilgrims.

Dozens of events were planned to mark the 400th anniversary of the religious separatists’ arrival at what we now know as Plymouth, Massachusetts. But many of those activities have been postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Historian Elizabeth Fenn finds that deeply ironic.

“Novel infections did MOST of the dirty work of colonization,” says Fenn, a history professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who has studied disease in Colonial America.

Disease introduced by traders and settlers — either by happenstance or intention — played a significant role in the “conquest” of Native people. And that inconvenient fact, well known to the Natives’ descendants, is contrary to the traditional narrative of the “New World.”

Read the rest here.

Court evangelical Robert Jeffress says the debate over a new Supreme Court justice makes COVID-19 “background noise”

It’s all about the Supreme Court for Donald Trump’s court evangelicals. Everything else, including nearly 200,000 dead from a pandemic, is just “background noise.” Here is NBC News reporter Peter Alexander.

So much for being pro-life. For Jeffress, COVID-19 is simply a political inconvenience. Of course Jeffress’s political savior, Donald Trump, believes the same thing.

UPDATE: I misses this tweet:

Song of the Day

For all those who have sent their kids off to college for the first time in the midst of this pandemic. Replace “friend” with “son” or “daughter.”

Into the traffic changing
A good friend I have had
Today, today he’s leaving
Makes me sad

My friend is starting over
There is a trembling
Today, today he’s trembling
Through the trees

If you see him there on your street
Will you smile or shake his hand
Today, today
The brotherhood of man

“Trump does the lying. We do the dying.”

Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette nails it:

Naturally, the first defense Mr. Trump lunged for when the Woodward tapes came to light made no sense whatsoever. He didn’t want to panic anybody. Panic? Panic is the man’s brand. The drug-dealing criminal raping Mexicans are coming! The caravan is heading for our Southern border! Anarchists! Looters! Agitators! Rioters! Low-income housing will ruin the suburbs! Antifa! They’re coming for your beautiful Second Amendment! They’re gonna have late term abortions on demand! They’ll get rid of the death penalty! Radical left socialists! This will be the most rigged election in history! And my favorite, which I quote for you directly, “People that you’ve never heard of,” he told favored Fox bootlick Laura Ingraham, were controlling Joe Biden. “People that are in the dark shadows. They’re people that are on the streets. They’re people that are controlling the streets. We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane, it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that. They’re on a plane.”

Clearly, the man doesn’t want to alarm anybody.

It’s no accident that Mr. Woodward called his first volume on Mr. Trump’s monumental incompetence “Fear,” because when he asked Mr. Trump to define power for him, Mr. Trump answered, “Real power is – I don’t even want to use the word – fear.”

The hard truth is, Mr. Trump doesn’t mind panicking people if it adrenalizes his chances of retaining power; he’s only hesitant when it will clearly have the opposite impact, no matter how many people such hesitation might endanger, no matter how many weeks (25 in a row right now) more people file first-time jobless claims than ever before, no matter how many people who were alive when he knew what he knew in February have to die.

Ironically and tragically, the people whose safety he is least concerned with are his own loyalists. They’ve got to sign waivers when they come mask-less to his rallies, no social distancing necessary. These are rallies where he never mentions the “deadly stuff” he’s known full well about since January when he was briefed by the CIA. Herman Cain went to one in Tulsa. Indoors.

Herman Cain is dead. Along with nearly 200,000 others.

Former CIA director John Brennan, hearing Mr. Trump’s voice on Mr. Woodward’s recordings, blurted the inescapable 21st century conclusion: “In his comments to Bob Woodward, Donald Trump reveals what an absolute abomination he is. If he had a conscience or a soul, he would resign. Tragically for us, he has neither.”

I doubt that like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Trump will ever resign. Too many “smoking guns” and “bombshells” that have practically gone off in his hair have failed to alter our modern American dynamic, to which we always quickly return.

Mr. Trump does the lying. We do the dying.

Read the entire column here.

“There’s no COVID. It’s a fake pandemic created to destroy the United States of America”

Last night in Freeland, Michigan:

Kirsten Powers nails it when she says:

It’s interesting listening to that man who said ‘The good Lord is going to protect me and I have to go on with my life. I’ve heard some version of this from various Trump supporters. And yet when the caravan is coming, allegedly, the ‘good Lord” is not going to protect them. When Antifia is coming, the “good Lord’s not going to protect them. None of it makes sense. The things that they choose to be scared of and that Donald Trump scares them about aren’t even the real things they need to be worried about and yet they’re in this panic. And then you have the president saying [to Bob Woodward on tape) that “I don’t want to cause a panic” when that is essentially all he does as president is try to incite panics in the country and among the people who support him.

I also found it interesting that the man who said COVID is not real was wearing a shirt that said “Grace Adventures.” This appears to be an evangelical Christian camp and retreat ministry located in Spring Lake, Michigan. I write this not to disparage Grace Adventures, but to note that it is likely that this man who denies the existence of COVID is an evangelical who represents the feeling of a lot of Trump-loving evangelicals, including California megachurch pastor John MacArthur.

Los Angeles Superior Court: John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church can’t hold indoor worship services

Here is Religion News Service:

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction against Grace Community Church, prohibiting Pastor John MacArthur from holding indoor worship services.

The County of Los Angeles has sought to stop the megachurch from hosting indoor services that have filled the sanctuary with many unmasked congregants sitting next to each other in recent weeks. 

Los Angeles County attorneys recently sent a cease and desist letter to the megachurch, threatening arrest or a daily fine of $1,000.

County officials sent a statement to Religion News Service, saying they were grateful for the court’s decision to uphold the county’s COVID-19 public health orders that temporarily ban indoor religious services.

Read the rest here.

Warren Throckmorton has more details at his blog.

Here is a statement from the Thomas More Society, the public interest law firm that is representing Grace Community Church:

The Los Angeles Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction on September 10, 2020, against Grace Community Church and Pastor John MacArthur, refusing to follow the U.S. and California State constitutional protections for churches. The ruling fails to apply the appropriate constitutional standard of review. The order prohibits the church from “conducting, participating in, or attending any indoor worship services” and also bans outdoor worship unless onerous restrictions are followed in a heavy-handed move against the internationally known preacher and his congregation. MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s attorneys from the Thomas More Society said the judge refused to consider their important separation of powers arguments “in any meaningful fashion” and essentially “ducked the issue.”

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Charles LiMandri said, “We are disappointed in the ruling on the preliminary injunction as the court did not apply the strict scrutiny analysis to the government order that we believe is required by the California Constitution and legal precedent. The court also did not properly consider the medical and scientific evidence that the current number of people with serious COVID-19 symptoms no longer justifies a shuttering of the churches. Nor do we believe that the court gave adequate consideration to the fact that churches have been treated as second-class citizens compared to the tens of thousands of protestors. More than ever, California’s churches are essential. Therefore, we plan to appeal this ruling to ultimately vindicate our clients’ constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.”

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Special Counsel Jenna Ellis said, “Although this is a temporary setback, we will continue to fight for Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s constitutionally protected right to hold church. While the judge did go out of his way to repeatedly state that he is not ruling on the merits, only a ruling at this very preliminary stage, Pastor MacArthur is still harmed because he has every right to hold church. Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely. The County’s argument was basically ‘because we can,’ which is the very definition of tyranny. Without limiting government’s power in favor of freedom and protected rights, we have no liberty. We will fight for religious freedom, as our founders did when they wrote the First Amendment.”

Pastor John MacArthur said, “In an inexplicable ruling, the judge said the ‘scale tipped in favor of the county.’ 1/100th of 1% of Californians with a virus apparently wins over the U.S. Constitution and religious freedom for all? That is not what our founders said. Nor is that what God says, who gave us our rights that our government—including the judicial branch—is supposed to protect. The scale should always tip in favor of liberty, especially for churches.”

Read the Ruling explaining the Order Granting Preliminary Injunction, issued September 10, 2020, by Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff in the Superior Court of California – County of Los Angeles – Central District in County of Los Angeles et al. v. Grace Community Church et alhere.

Will MacArthur pay the daily fine or go to prison? Or perhaps he will adjust his interpretation of Romans 13 and obey the order. No word on whether or not he will hold indoor services on Sunday in defiance of the preliminary injunctions.

Trump is having a rough week. What are the court evangelicals saying?

If you are following the news (or this blog), you know that:

  1. Multiple outlets, including Fox News, have confirmed that Trump disparaged American veterans. He called them “losers” and “suckers.”
  2. Trump knew about the “deadly” nature of the coronavirus as early as February 7, 2020 and did nothing about it. (And I am sure there will be more revelations in Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book).
  3. According to Michael Cohen, Trump disparaged evangelicals, calling their beliefs “bulls–t.”

So what are Trump’s evangelical supporters–the men and women I call the “court evangelicals”–saying?

Some of the court evangelicals will be gathering at a Liberty University Falkirk Center event today. I will try to keep an eye on this.

Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow Jenna Ellis is not going to read Woodward’s book. But I don’t think Woodward’s reporting will be something she can ignore. If I were her, I would jump off the Trump train right now:

Ms. Ellis will not be able to change the subject much longer:

When Donald Trump candidate is in trouble, court evangelicals start talking about abortion and the Supreme Court:

If abortion and the Supreme Court don’t work, court evangelicals can always retweet stuff about truth and ethics:

But let’s not pick-on Jenna Ellis too much. Let’s see what Liberty University’s Falkirk Center co-founder Charlie Kirk is up to.

Again, pivot to abortion:

If abortion doesn’t work, say something about Nancy Pelosi:

Or this:

Court evangelical journalist David Brody is always ready to tweet favorable things about Trump, but all he has for us today is a story about Biden and a Washington football team hat. Maybe he is on vacation. 🙂

There is a reason Trump released his Supreme Court list today. Ralph Reed is more than willing to help the president in his attempt at misirection:

The same goes for Johnnie Moore, the guy who touts himself as a “modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

Gary Bauer refuses to believe the reporting:

Tony Perkins, as expected, focuses on the Supreme Court:

Jack Graham too:

Graham also seems to reject the reporting on Trump’s disparaging marks about the military. He retweeted this:

This is what court evangelicals do. When every major news outlet (including Fox News) confirms a story that they don’t like about Donald Trump, they desperately search for a source from a Trump loyalist to prove them wrong.

Jentezen Franklin is distracting his followers with a different story:

I think it is fair to say that the court evangelicals, with a few notable exceptions, have been relatively silent this week. They don’t have much to say about Trump’s remarks on military veterans, Cohen’s allegations, and the president’s mishandling of the coronavirus.

“Trump knew it was deadly and airborne” and “he lied about the coronavirus anyway”

Here is The New York Times:

On Feb. 7, during a taped interview with Bob Woodward, President Trump acknowledged that the coronavirus could be transmitted through the air, that it was very dangerous and that it would be difficult to contain. “This is deadly stuff,” he told the investigative journalist.

“You just breathe the air, and that’s how it’s passed,” the president warned.

Despite his apparent understanding of the severity of the disease and its method of transmission, over the next month, in five cities around the country, Mr. Trump held large indoor rallies, which were attended by thousands of his supporters.

Mr. Trump spent weeks insisting in public that the coronavirus was no worse than a seasonal flu. It would “disappear” when the seasons changed, he promised in late February. “We’re doing a great job,” he said in early March.

Why lie to the American people? Why — as the administration accuses the Chinese government of doing — lie to the world about the severity of what was declared a pandemic only days later?

Read the rest here.

On February 7, Trump knew this was “deadly stuff” (much deadlier than the flu) and it could be spread through the air.

Here is Trump in Manchester, New Hampshire on February 10, 2020. During this rally he knew about the “deadly” nature of COVID-19:

Here is Trump on February 19, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. During this rally he knew about the “deadly” nature of COVID-19:

Here is Trump in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 21, 2020. During this rally he knew about the “deadly” nature of COVID-19:

Here is Trump in North Charleston, South Carolina on February 28, 2020. During this rally he knew about the “deadly” nature of COVID-19:

Here is Trump in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 2, 2020. During this rally he knew about the “deadly” nature of COVID-19:

Bob Woodward may have taken down another President of the United States.

Who let Trump do eighteen interviews with arguably the best investigative journalist in American history? (I have heard rumors it was Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner). And these interviews are all on tape. Woodward has those tapes. Because many of these interviews were conducted in the White House private quarters on Trump’s private number, I am guessing that Trump’s staff do not even know what the president said.

We now know what the president knew and when he knew it.

Ultimately, it was Trump’s narcissism that did him in. He thought he could beat Woodward.

Peter Hitchens vs. *First Things* on COVID-19 and free speech

Peter Hitchens is a conservative journalist and author who writes a blog at DailyMail.com. Last week he published a post titled, “Please Protest against the Censorship of First Things magazine.”

Here is a taste:

For some years I have written occasionally for a thoughtful American magazine called First Things. Last week, they asked me to censor what I had written. They said: ‘We are trying to be slightly less critical of the lockdown measures on the site these days (though criticism is of course warranted), so we’ve made a few changes to the final paragraphs.

‘The First Things board has concerns about some of the pieces we have published on Covid. They have asked us to be less dismissive of Covid-19.’

They then asked me to ‘revise’ what I had written (which I have now published unrevised on the Peter Hitchens blog). I said no, and have ceased to write for them. It is a sign of the deep damage this panic is doing to Western freedom that the censor’s stupid, heavy hand should reach even into such gentle places.

Here is a taste of the piece that did not make into First Things:

The events of the past few months, in which men have tried to hold back the spread of a sub-microscopic virus with plastic screens, five-foot gaps, loose cloth muzzles, mass curfews and the closure of the world’s economies, have reminded me of the walls built to hide the Trill Mill Stream, and of my smug laughter at the story when I first heard it. Can such measures really be the answer, even if they are proportionate to the problem? We seem to be back in the era of making moonbeams out of cucumbers. Worse, most of us seem never to have heard or understood the fable of King Canute, who ordered the tide to turn back, to show his flattering courtiers that the power of governments, especially over nature, has very severe limits.

Energetic testing seems to show that the virus has slipped past these modern defences with ease, though in most cases without troubling its carriers all that much. But what it has also shown is that the more you test , the more you find and that in most cases, the virus is not that dangerous to those who catch it. Yet this discovery has absolutely no effect on government policies or on media accounts of the problem, which continue as if this was an exact repeat of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

Many, in fact never even have any symptoms. Yet up go the plastic screens and on go the muzzles (a beloved library known to me, supposedly a quiet refuge for thought and research, has followed this trend, so making it almost unbearable to go there any more). Does the clue to our current state of wilful folly lie in Donne’s warning that learning without an understanding of the true nature of the universe is hubristic and will never get us very far, that ‘all knowledge that begins not, and ends not with His glory, is but a giddy, but a vertiginous circle, but an elaborate and exquisite ignorance’?  

So what is going on here? First Things, especially its editor, R.R. Reno, has taken a lot of heat for questioning the COVID-19 lockdown. We blogged about Reno’s coronavirus columns here and here and here.

The names of the members of the First Things board can be found here.

The First Things e-mail to Hitchens suggests that there may be some tension between the board and the editorial staff. Meanwhile, Hitchens is upset because his piece downplaying COVID-19 will not get an airing at this conservative magazine.

I should also add that I learned about Hitchens’s blog post when court evangelical Eric Metaxas shared it on his Facebook page. Metaxas, who has been doing his radio show from a bunker in his house, also seems to think that COVID-19 is not a serious threat.

By the way, Hitchens and Metaxas did not seem to be entirely on the same page a few months ago when they were discussing topics such as COVID-19 and “taking a knee.” This is unusual for a Metaxas interview. He mostly interviews people who agree with him.

Gettysburg College sends students home due to COVID-19 outbreak

Here is the Gettysburg Times:

Many Gettysburg College students will be heading home soon, according to a letter President Bob Iuliano sent the college community on Friday.

First-year students and “a cohort of other students” will be allowed to remain on campus, Iuliano wrote.

The college identified 31 new coronavirus cases this week, Iuliano wrote, bringing the total of positive tests over the past eight days to 64.

Read the rest here.

When school was moved outside

Outdoor class

Are your kids going back to school? Perhaps your school district might consider conducting classes outside. Here is Daniela Blei at Smithsonian.com:

Today, as parents struggle with school closures and the prospect of many months of distance learning, some are asking why school can’t be held outside, where transmission risk of Covid-19 is lower. There are currently no large-scale plans in the U.S. to move classrooms into the open, but it’s not for lack of precedent. In the early 20th century, when tuberculosis killed one in seven people in Europe and in the United States, outdoor schools proliferated, first in Germany and then around the world. Physicians and public health officials worried that overcrowded cities and cramped apartments were unnatural and unhealthy, given the lack of fresh air and sunlight, and that children—cooped up indoors for much of the day—were especially vulnerable to the ravages of tuberculosis. The solution was to move school outdoors, where children would “learn to love fresh air,” according to Knopf. There, “the tuberculous child” would not “be a danger to his comrades.”

Read the entire piece here.

Out of the Zoo: Trying Our Best

IMG_20180904_195550199Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie reflects on the challenges of teaching and learning in a pandemic.  —JF

I remember how excited I was to work out at Messiah’s Falcon Fitness Center for the first time. Brand new, nearly 15,000 square feet, and decked out with state-of-the-art equipment, Messiah’s gym was a serious upgrade from my high school weight room. Plus, I heard on a campus tour that you could use the screens on the treadmills to play Netflix or Hulu while you exercise. As a freshman and a sophomore I remember going to the gym nearly every day–sometimes twice, if my fitness class was meeting–to lift weights and run. Needless to say, I finished several seasons of The Office, Brooklyn 99, and New Amsterdam over the past two years, all while getting my steps in. 

Due to recent circumstances, I don’t go to the fitness center as much this year. In fact, I haven’t been there at all since I moved in a week and a half ago.  Don’t get me wrong, the fitness center staff has implemented and enforced strict social distancing guidelines to keep Messiah’s community safe from COVID-19. Many students are comfortable going to the gym right now, but I’m just not there yet. So for now I’m getting up early to run a couple miles around the block before everyone is out and about on campus–with a mask hanging around my neck just in case. It looks like I might need to find another time to watch Netflix this year. 

It’s hard to be a college student during a pandemic. Classes, internships, volunteer opportunities, even exercise routines have been hastily interrupted, altered, or cancelled altogether. Names are more difficult to remember, friends harder to connect with. Every additional rule and extra responsibility feels like another weight added to an already-heavy backpack. The fear of an impromptu fourteen-day quarantine is ever-looming. We’re encouraged to have a suitcase of essentials packed to take with us if we start showing symptoms or have been exposed to someone with the virus. 

I’m sure it’s hard to be a professor during a pandemic, too. Technological difficulties arise. Masks muffle students questions and make conversations challenging to facilitate. At Messiah, classes are often held in two different rooms and professors are expected to teach students in both classrooms simultaneously. Even the most experienced teachers are thrown for a loop, apologizing to students when they feel they have not been able to deliver their usual caliber of education.

There are plenty of angry voices out there claiming they know what’s best for students and teachers alike during this season. “OPEN THE SCHOOLS!” a typical Facebook post reads. “CLOSE DOWN CAMPUS!” someone else writes on Twitter. They don’t ask. They don’t empathize. They just shout. They don’t listen or show compassion. They just politicize the millions of students trying to learn and teachers trying to teach in the midst of a world turned upside-down. 

Before you post,  before you reprimand a student or teacher or school board for the decisions they’ve made, please keep the following in mind. This year we are juggling what feels like a thousand things at once. It is a hard time to be a student, and it is a hard time to be a teacher. We are trying our best, and our educators are doing the same. We are all doing what we can. Instead of criticism, instead of hatred, some of us could really benefit from an encouraging word or two right now. And like always, we could all use a little bit of grace.

How John MacArthur politicizes science

Last Sunday John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, told his congregation that “there is no [COVID-19] pandemic.” The congregation cheered. Watch:

Notice that MacArthur says that he is not giving a “political speech.” I beg to differ. MacArthur claims that he just preaches the word of God. He does not get involved in politics or “social justice” issues. But as Yonat Shimron’s reporting shows, MacArthur’s interpretation of a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention report is deeply political.

Here is a taste of her piece at Religion News Service:

This past Sunday (Aug. 30) John MacArthur, the senior pastor of Los Angeles’ Grace Community Church, made a startling statement.

“There is no pandemic,” he said.

His proof? A recent Centers for Disease Control report that only 6% of U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19 listed the virus as the only cause of death; the remaining 94% listed additional underlying health conditions known as “co-morbidities.”

But according to health experts, MacArthur made quite a jump to conclude that, of the estimated 160,000 U.S. deaths examined in the CDC’s report, only 9,210 were due to COVID-19, and all the rest died of something else.

In fact, it’s wrong.

As of Monday, 6 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 — including 700,000 Californians — and an estimated 184,000 Americans have died from it. When recording the reasons for a patient’s death, doctors list all factors leading to the person’s demise — but the virus remains the main reason they died.

MacArthur’s non-denominational church has been defying California’s ban on large indoor meetings without masks or social distancing. In doing so, the church appears to be wading into a highly politicized campaign to minimize or outright deny the existence of the coronavirus. Recently, MacArthur told President Trump in a phone conversation that “any real, true believer” of Christianity will be forced to vote for him over Biden in November.

Shimron’s sources have led her to three conclusions:

  1. “Most people with underlying heath issues would still be alive but for COVID-19
  2. “Death is only one outcome from COVID-19.”
  3. “The science is being politicized ahead of the presidential election”

Read the entire piece here.

Here is Anthony Fauci: “Let there not be any confusion…It’s not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s 180,000-plus deaths.”  He adds, “The point that the CDC was trying to make was that a certain percentage of [deaths] had nothing else but COVID. That does not mean that someone who has hypertension, or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19. They did.”