As one of the people at United Methodist Communications who sometimes (rarely) helps monitor our social media channels and email accounts, I get to see behind the scenes. This weekend I noted that we received angry messages calling us to open the church. Several implying that in-person worship is the only faithful thing to do.
I don’t want to argue about when and how our churches should open for in-person worship. Our United Methodist bishops, district superintendents and pastors are making those decisions, community by community, and they are doing a wonderful job.
What I am concerned about is our willingness to make enemies.
Principalities and powers
There’s this verse I can’t believe I’m going to reference because for the most part it gets used to justify “spiritual warfare,” a framing I have a lot of trouble with (but that’s a conversation for another day).
Ephesians 6:12 (CEB) reads, “We arenâ€™t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” You might be more familiar with translations that talk about “principalities and powers.”
I can’t help but wonder if situations like what we’re going through right now are what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote those words.
Our enemy is a microscopic, unseen virus called COVID-19 and it’s resulting illness, coronavirus. Right now, we’re relatively defenseless against it. There’s no known cure, no vaccine. Those “weapons” we’re used to wielding against disease simply don’t exist right now.
Because we cannot do battle against the actual threat, many have decided to instead create enemies of “the other side,” and right now in the US, that’s a political statement. Not that long ago, it would have been difficult for me to imagine a global health crisis being politicized (perhaps that reveals my naivete), but here we are.
The beginning of Ephesians 6:12 is instructive, “We arenâ€™t fighting against human enemies.” We need to remember that.
When we make enemies of one another, the real winner is the unseen power to which we are providing a foothold. By ignoring medical evidence and “demanding” others do the same, we are potentially empowering the virus.
Love your neighbor
So, you’ll have to forgive the church’s “overabundance of caution,” if that’s how you see it. We believe Jesus calls us to care for the sick and the weakest among us (see Matthew 25). We remember prophets who taught that God doesn’t enjoy our worship if we ignore justice and righteousness (see Amos 5).
Specifically as United Methodists, we read the words of John Wesley who taught the first Methodists to watch over one another in love, and whose first rule for their gatherings was to do no harm (see The General Rules).
No, we aren’t fighting against human enemies. Instead, we believe we are called to care for the human family, even when that means giving up something for ourselves.