How do you love your brother or sister in Christ through difference of opinion on public health? There are a few opinions on Covid-19; have you noticed? All of those opinions have been put on steroids by the fact that a vast majority of our communication is now happening online and everyone speaks like they have the authority of a prophet as soon as they get behind a keyboard. It’s been said before and bears repeating, the internet is the friend of information and the enemy of thought.
I work in a church. I had a professor who was fond of saying, “Church is a mess worth making,” and he meant that people are sinful and relationally messy but church, which is full of people, is still worth the inevitable mess. That being said, it would be wise to contemplate how we can minimize our mess and right now as the storm clouds of mess making are rolling in. Christians are to be marked by their love of God and love of neighbor . . . but that does not change the fact that Christians have opinions. My oh my do we have opinions.
And with the means of communication cards stacked against us, it is worth considering what the best disposition is towards those who would disagree with our opinion on Covid-19. Or perhaps to put it another way, are we nullifying our witness of our love of God and neighbor in the way that we communicate our opinions on public health?
Many people believe our country has massively over reacted to this crisis. There are suggestions that everyone should have followed Sweden’s approach of letting healthy people get the virus and build up herd immunity, there are those who are very concerned with the government overreach and the potential abuse of emergency powers, and there are those that are adamantly opposed to reopening any time soon.
It is difficult to know who is right and what concerns are the most pressing. None of this is helped by the data being questionable, deaths being recorded differently in different places, and questions on what percentage of the population has had the virus and were entirely asymptomatic. Depending on what data you encounter or who’s opinion on that data you are prone to lean towards you can justifiably come to very different conclusions on how the public health moment is being handled.
[Stage left enter the body of Christ] Those opinions, and everything in between, are represented in the metaphorical pew every Sunday.
When we fire up the message boards to lambast those foolish people, those people who think different then we think, we have to realize that our words include friendly fire within the body of Christ. In addition to that, our contempt towards difference of opinion on public health also attacks people who are not Christians and leaves a less than ideal after-taste on Christian discourse.
Our vitriolic opinions are not exactly the apex of love of neighbor.
As our Church has begun to discuss what it looks like to gather again, the wide range of opinion within our congregation has been an ongoing factor to consider. So, before we get to any decisions on reopening and the policies that accompany those gatherings it is worth looking towards the biblical guidance on similar situations.
The shining example of opposing opinions in the New Testament revolves around eating food sacrificed to idols. The same debate can be found in Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 and, interestingly, the problem flows in different directions in each passage. In Romans 14 those who abstain from eating the food sacrificed to idols are looking on those who partake with contempt because they are eating ‘unclean’ food and in I Corinthians 8 those who eat are looking down on their brothers and sisters who choose not to eat because it reminds them of their past idolatry.
In one passage it is the person who eats that is casting dispersion on those who abstain and in the other passage the person who abstains casts dispersion on those who eat.
The conclusions in both passages are very similar: if your opinion on an issue of Christian freedom harms or derides someone with a different opinion you are in the wrong. I really like the way Paul frames this in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
So, as we start to come back together we must remember that people we love and labor for the Kingdom of God with, feel differently on the best approach to handling this virus. If you are of the opinion that this is no big deal, do not disparage those who are still cautious. If you are of the opinion that opening things back up is happening too soon, do not speak poorly of those who want to physically meet. Your priority is not to win people to your opinion, rather you should prioritize peace in the Holy Spirit.
If your opinion on an issue of Christian freedom includes an aversion towards someone holding the opposite opinion on the same issue, then your opinion has become an idol. You are holding your view in higher esteem than the body of Christ.
Your opinion on public health should not take precedent over your love of neighbor. Have an opinion, be informed, and then communicate your thoughts in such a way that your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with you still find the love of Christ in your words.
As the roots of the gospel press deeper into your life and the love of Christ becomes your defining characteristic, don’t forget to let that love be extended to your opinions.