Let’s face it. Some folk are simply crazy in a Julia Sugarbaker kind of way, “I’m saying this is the South. And we’re proud of our crazy people. We don’t hide them up in the attic. We bring ’em right down to the living room and show ’em off. See, Phyllis, no one in the South ever asks if you have crazy people in your family. They just ask what side they’re on.“
If you are reading this publication you are very likely a part of that delightful crazy.
There are equally delightful prayers that talk about foolishness. Here is one such prayer that has been recently said at St. Anna’s, “May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
So, my friends there is crazy. There is eccentric. There is odd. And then there is insanity.
In this case, the insanity of irresponsibility. As a pastor in this community, I am acutely aware of a popular critique of “The Christians” and their utter disregard for safety and health standards during this pandemic. “Christian” insanity can be seen in headlines like, “A pastor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, says he will defy government orders intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” Or, one of the most outrageous from a Guardian headline, “The rightwing Christian preachers in deep denial over COVID-19’s danger. A number of American religious leaders have endangered their flock by holding services – and by claiming the virus can be defeated by faith in God.”
Let us be clear. Pastors who endanger their communities and disregard the science of the day are practicing a form of social insanity which is totally irresponsible. Not only that, their actions seem to void much of what more progressive churches preach, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Perhaps this phenomena becomes even more offensive when the government closes bars, but not churches. Particularly in light of the big evangelical churches that act with reckless abandon. Our bars and our pubs, especially in this neighborhood, are so often those safe gathering places that provide some of what progressive churches provide. A safe place to be with friends and like-minded folk. So we become offended when they are treated unequally.
When we become offended, we often tend toward quick generalizations and assumptions that are culturally and socially easy to leverage. Things like, “Churches do nothing but hurt people and they get a free ride on taxes.”
The anger against the insanity of irresponsible religion pours out. I believe that some of that is COVID-anxiety playing out. Who is not tense these days? I believe that some of that is legitimate unresolved traumas caused by religion, particularly in our LGBTQ+ community. Yet, many congregations and communities of faith today do provide a powerful witness to the Way of Love. We provide community services, and we become safety nets for those who are marginalized.
The imperfect institution of religion, the flawed doctrines and dogmas of faith, are only reflections of our humanity and, sometimes, our inhumanity. Our imperfections often define us as a species. Yet, when faith is well worked out (and it often is) it aspires to the sublime idea that there is something greater than us and “It” is good and creative. “It” is a force of moral and ethical judgment that seeks to establish love as the highest form of our humanity. To be clear then, if a church says, “Let’s pack the house, ignore science, and it is our Constitutional right at the expense of the rest of the world”, they are working against “It.”
If a church simply sings a few hymns and says a few nice things about their savior and does nothing for the community to make it a better place, they are working against the will of “It.” If a church or denomination creates such a toxic space using toxic language that divides and despises some, someday they will be held accountable by “It.”
The Episcopal Church, along with several other denominations, takes a very different view than the churches considered to be “Evangelical Right.” As a pastor in this community, I am particularly aware of the health disparities found in our below-Canal Street community. I am also very aware that Christianity can be a moving target for high anxiety and can quite easily become the target for most of the ills of the world. As a pastor in this community and to many who seek to worship here, I am aware that voice and opposition to religious insanity must be given.
Let me introduce you to Bishop Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop (Archbishop), of the Episcopal Church USA. On March 11, 2020 he wrote:
“We are facing an unprecedented challenge with the COVID-19 outbreak, which the World Health Organization has just deemed a pandemic. In this context, Bishops are encouraged, for a designated period of time, to suspend the administration of the common cup to the congregation in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and/or to cancel in-person gatherings for public worship.” [Episcopal News Service]
So, this denomination, along with dozens of other expressions of faith, has suspended public worship and/or has limited attendees at worship services, while following best health practices.
Another example of a COVID response by a faith community is “The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans, and the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana have partnered with a number of area synagogues to create a Jewish community response helpline program for problems related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.” [Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans]
St. Mark’s UMC on North Rampart continues to suspend worship service trying to help the community stay safe. We do not hear, however, that St. Mark’s, during this very difficult time, continues to feed about 200 people a day. Or that St. Anna’s feeds over 40 families monthly via a food pantry program. Alas, it’s just not newsworthy.
For the churches that I have mentioned as being on the right side of this issue, that means wearing a face mask because you love others, washing your hands often because you love others, social distancing because you love others.
It means sacrificing the comfort of weekly worship so that we can meet and greet our more vulnerable friends after the pandemic has passed, and hold all things in common. This form of Christianity is not insane nor useless. But the other form, “Evangelical Right” is, in my opinion, dangerous and destructive.
In the meantime, just know that many of us love you and want you to be healthy. Many of us faith folk want to provide what we can to insure that you are safe, loved, and cared about.
We do that by prayer, by conversation, and by proclamation.
We do it by community engagement in food pantries and safety net medical clinics.
We express our faith by distributing masks for worship, and in many other ways.
We express our mutual love and trust by empowering those that we cast out so long ago.
If we walk upright with integrity, we can only apologize, recognize, and atone for our sin of exclusion. Here and today is how we do it. We call all whom we encounter “friend.”
If we do this we honor the heart of “It”, and just for the record, we call “It” God. So, feel free to walk with us; invite us to walk with you. Stand against the insanity of the extreme and rejoice in the power of love.