Dollars and Sense — Christian Rights and Responsibilities in the Age of COVID-19

I must say that I am sympathetic to those who are experiencing COVID fatigue and who articulate their wish to have restrictions lifted. I am not qualified to judge whether the science behind the restrictions is capable of reducing the impact of the virus and reducing the number of infections that will accrue from the pandemic. There do seem to be sound reasons to continue the present course, but I want to focus on two important theological considerations that are of more pressing concern to Christians.

I recently was made aware of an article from a group called the Frontier Centre for Public Policy that suggests that the measures intended to address the pandemic may create conditions that are ultimately worse than the pandemic itself. The two main planks of the argument in the article concern the suspension of certain rights and freedoms, and the economic impact of restrictions on businesses, the economy in general, and government spending. I find it interesting that these are the most prominent issues I have heard raised by Christians in the present circumstances, because neither concern is a particularly theological one.

Personal rights, and the freedom to gather for religious assemblies, are trotted out as inviolable rights that are being transgressed via prohibitions on public gatherings. Christians would be wise to consider that there is no mandate in Scripture for self-assertion of personal rights. The concept of personal rights is not a biblical one; rather, it is a product of modern political ideas about human flourishing and governmental operation.

In Scripture, the clearest reference to personal rights is in the treatment by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9, where, after talking about his rights as an apostle, he then talks about not asserting his rights in order not to hinder the gospel of Christ. This willingness to set aside one’s rights in the interest of mission seems a far sounder principle for Christians. It is also necessary to point out that it is not Christians who are being singled out uniquely for restrictions. Christians are among many who are affected. And the restriction is temporary, for a particular reason, within the mandate of the government, and does not restrict a variety of church activities. As has been articulated elsewhere, the inconvenience that these restrictions present does not constitute persecution. How soft and self-entitled are we if we insist that they do.

The economic argument also falls short on a couple of fronts. First, the federal government spending program intended to help Canadians get through COVID-19, as unpalatable as it seems to many (and people are not wrong to ask tough fiscal questions of governments), is arguably no worse than alternatives posed by the opposition that would send money to business interests and owners. That plan would send money to a different subset of Canadians, but it has not been demonstrated that it would create greater benefit generally.

Economics are shaky ground for Christians to attempt to take a stand. Economics are not a science based on empirical evidence, nor are they a theological battlefield with clear lines of demarcation. Economics are a place where ultimately arbitrary principles are implemented, and conservative Christians arguing about them should be aware that they are making conservative claims about economics, not Christian ones, when they argue for discipline based on the mantra of fiscal responsibility. Should Christians want to remedy the present crisis based on theological principles, it would be better to argue for the implementation of something akin to a year of jubilee (cf. Leviticus 25) than to argue for tighter spending by governments.

The present situation is difficult, but not impossible, and it is temporary. Perseverance and creativity will serve us better than opposition and defiance. Harboring suspicions that sinister motives lurk behind government announcements and anticipate more draconian measures will not help us.

3 thoughts on “Dollars and Sense — Christian Rights and Responsibilities in the Age of COVID-19

  1. Thanks Brian, it’s encouraging to hear your voice in this space. Thank you for this thoughtful perspective. I’m hopeful that offerings like yours will create unity in a landscape that wants something else.

  2. Thanks Brian, I spent time in 1 Peter yesterday – a letter to persons facing true persecution and loss… I didn’t see or hear anything different than what you have so clearly reminded me. Thank You. Hold the course. As you say, this too will pass, and hopefully, we will have become a little more like our saviour in the process.

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