What the Coronavirus Reveals about Protestant Piety

For Lutherans, the question is what do you do?

What precautions should my church take?

  1. Buy large supplies of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Masks too if you feel like it, but masks are not as essential as disinfectant materials.

  2. Establish a single, controlled point of entry to your church which you can use to force congregants to wash their hands and check for disease symptoms.

  3. Strongly discourage people with any sickness in their household from coming to church; the pastor or deacons can make a house call later.

  4. Eliminate non-essential activities at your church like social groups. Consider suspending church schools or peripheral activities.

  5. Communion is your highest-infection-risk element of the service. Avoid passing a communion plate, intinction, or a common cup. The safest way to take communion is in individual cups and pieces of bread, in small groups, at the altar.

  6. Other personal-touch service elements like peace-passing, offering, or attendance books should also be restructured or suspended.

  7. Put more space between chairs or encourage bigger seating gaps in pews.

  8. However, informal interpersonal contact at church and church fellowship time does not need to be cancelled, provided a few basic precautions are taken, like limiting food to individually-packaged snacks.

  9. It is especially important for church workers to wash their hands fanatically, wear masks, and maintain good personal hygiene.

For New Calvinists, the question is what this disease means for your walk with God:

Why should Christians be concerned about the coronavirus?

There are several reasons Christians should be concerned about the coronavirus, and for those who are suffering from the disease. But the primary reason, as the apostle Paul tells us, is that we should “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and that we “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

As a pastor of a church in Wuhan recently said in an open letter to fellow believers, “If you do not feel a responsibility to pray, ask the Lord for a loving soul, an earnestly prayerful heart; if you are not crying, ask the Lord for tears. Because we surely know that only through the hope of the Lord’s mercy will Wuhan be saved.”

Neither set of advice is wrong. But if you want an index to the way that confessional Protestants and pietists think about life in this world — especially about economics and politics — this is a good measure. Notice too the importance of the church and public worship to the Lutheran outlook. Just saying.

How To Talk About Sex (in public)

Conor Friedersdorf (via Noah Millman) suggested a way for Christians to talk to non-Christians about the value of sexual restraint:

Let’s imagine a private, residential college in purple America. It was once an explicitly Christian institution, and while now avowedly secular, the faculty still has a few beloved old-timers who retain a sense that part of their job is moral education. There is also a Christian pastor who lives on campus, runs a campus ministry for Christian students, and sits on a collegiate interfaith counsel. Each year, he plays a role in freshmen orientation—initially, to introduce himself to the students and invite any who are interested to join his ministry; and later, as one voice among many in a half-day session on sex and sexuality. He has 15 minutes to share whatever thoughts he has with the freshmen, who’ve already learned where to get free condoms and been counseled in consent and sexual assault. This is the only time he’ll have the whole class as a captive audience until graduation.

What should he say?

Should he say that abstinence is the only acceptable method for preventing unwanted pregnancy, because premarital sex is always wrong and contraception violates natural law by subverting God’s design of the human form? Should he say that while gays and lesbians are as loved by God as anyone and their desires are not themselves sinful, acting on them is immoral? Should he say that gay students should think about a vocation besides marriage, because the institution is inherently procreative and always will be? Or that students who never accept Jesus as their personal savior may be consigning themselves to eternity in hell? Should he say that anyone who aborts a pregnancy is murdering an innocent human? Or that the weight of tradition should cause students to look askance at masturbation? These are all beliefs a particular traditionalist Christian might well hold. You can imagine why he might feel impelled to speak them aloud—to “stay true” to his beliefs, despite their present unpopularity, or to facilitate what he regards as the potential saving of as many student souls as possible.

Should he say that you should imagine your future wife going to one of these parties and thinking of how to encourage men to show her respect?

Here’s part of what Friedersdorf came up with:

Some students will become depressed after hooking up with someone who doesn’t reciprocate the emotional intimacy they sought. Does that fact affect you? How? There’s always a chance that sexual intercourse will result in a sexually transmitted disease or the creation of a new life. What does that imply, if anything, about your own sexual behavior as you try to be good to one another?

There are so many situations you’ll face—so many more questions I could pose.

I don’t pretend that confronting these situations with the question, “How can I be good to others?” will lead all of you to the same answers, let alone to my answers, though I hope that you’ll keep your hearts open to the possibility. But if you really wrestle with that question in every situation that involves sex, romantic intimacy, dating, hooking up, whatever you kids call it these days—instead of thoughtlessly acting in whatever way most people seem to be acting—you’re much more likely to do right by others, much more likely to be proud of yourselves, and much less likely to remember your time here without the regrets that haunt some people, people who look back at their younger selves ashamed of how they hurt others. You’ll also bring about a community with fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer sexual assaults, less depression—just by trying your very hardest to be good to one another!

Can you imagine a chaplain talking like this to students at a Christian college? Of course, not (unless it’s Boston College — ahem).

But can you really imagine Christians talking to other Christians about movies — MOVIES!?! — the way Samuel D. James does (via Tim Challies)?

The first thing I should clarify about my original blog is what I did, and did not, intend to communicate. My aim was to help Christians affirm their conscientious objections to watching simulated sexual acts by offering some substantive reasons why, in my opinion, violence and profanity are not similarly problematic. I was not trying to argue that all sexual content in movies demands the same response from everyone, nor was I making a case that all movies that contain it are equally problematic. There is, of course, a significant difference between talking about the sexuality of a James Bond film and that of 50 Shades of Grey, just like there’s a difference between the violence of The Exorcist and The Human Centipede. My conviction is not that all these films are equivalent or that Christians must treat them as such, but that a consistent ethic of avoiding explicit sexuality in any film is not hypocritical, unrealistic, or even particularly “legalistic.”

The reason I think this is a point worth making is that when most Christians ask about sex in movies, they’re not asking about whether they should walk out of the theater when it comes on, or if they should leave the party or close their eyes or only watch with their spouse and fast forward. Those might be important questions, but in the majority of cases that’s not what is being asked. What is being asked is, “Is it even worth trying to avoid?” And, “Don’t I have Christian freedom to watch if I’m resisting the temptation to lust?” My blog was specifically directed not toward the details but toward the larger point that, yes, for the Christian, avoiding a dramatic encounter with the erotic outside of the marriage covenant IS realistic and IS spiritually wise.

Why can’t Christians talk about sex in public in ways that suggest they’ve read narrative of David and Bathsheba and the Song of Solomon and don’t think those parts of the Bible are dirty?