Greg Goebel and Joshua Steele collaborated on the following piece.
We’ve clarified what clarity and charity look like when it comes to navigating the Anglican tradition, but what do these Anglican Compass values look like when navigating the global Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic? If you’re a church leader, how do you balance the concerns for public safety, fellowship, and worship?
We offer the following for your consideration.
What does clarity look like in a time of coronavirus?
Without giving in to panic or complacency, we need to clearly acknowledge the scope and the seriousness of the pandemic. Turn off the misinformation and the partisan responses. Instead, rely on reputable sources for information and guidance, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Pay attention to what local officials are saying and act accordingly.
Yes, God is still sovereign. The opening words of Psalm 46 are as true now as they’ve ever been.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Ps. 46:1–3, NRSV)
Nevertheless, divine sovereignty ought not to be played off against human responsibility. Loving your neighbor doesn’t just mean feeling warm and fuzzy toward them, it involves taking action for their welfare (see Deut. 22:8 for a practical example of this: building a railing around your flat roof so that no one falls off).
Esau McCaulley put it well in his New York Times Opinion piece:
“This remains certain in the ever-shifting narrative of Covid-19: the most effective ways of stopping the spread of the virus is by social distancing (avoiding large gatherings) and good personal hygiene (washing our hands). The data suggests that what the world needs now is not our physical presence, but our absence.
“This does not seem like the stuff of legend. What did the church do in the year of our Lord 2020 when sickness swept our land? We met in smaller groups, washed our hands and prayed. Unglamorous as this is, it may be the shape of faithfulness in our time.”
We also highly recommend Andy Crouch’s essay, “Love in the Time of Coronavirus,” in which he advises the following for leaders to communicate:
- We should not say, “Everything’s going to be fine,” or even, “You’re going to be okay.”
- We should not say to fearful people, “You’re overreacting.”
- We should say, “Love is the reason we are changing our behavior.”
- We should say, “Prepare for trouble.”
- Above all, we should say, “Do not be afraid.”
The church of Jesus Christ has handled plagues and epidemics throughout its history. Now is the time for followers of Jesus Christ to once again wisely discern how to self-sacrificially love their neighbors and their enemies. This requires clarity about what we’re facing. Wisdom and truth go hand-in-hand.
What does charity look like in a time of coronavirus?
I (Greg Goebel) have been working in the past days to make contact with church leaders, to support our diocesan efforts to be a part of reducing the spread of the disease, while still seeking to maintain public worship where and when possible. I’ve heard many different expert opinions, theological viewpoints, and heartfelt emotions expressed. Almost all of them were expressed with genuine concern that different approaches around this issue would not divide us. One person said, “I have to speak my mind because this is important, but I also know we won’t all agree and that we all love the congregation and want people to be safe.”
It is tough right now because we don’t know a lot—certainly not as much as we would like to—about this virus. But we do know one thing for sure. The Lord calls us to love one another, to speak of one another with affection, with respect, and with constant movement toward unity. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Because we are brothers and sisters in Christ, when we state an opinion about responses to coronavirus, we might consider carefully speaking about each other with charity.
Charity calls us to affirm each other’s faith and our own frailty when we speak or post about whether or not we think churches should close, or about how gatherings should be handled, or about our own opinions about this event.
How we speak about each other is so important, even when we disagree. We can affirm one another in Christ and yet disagree, even strongly disagree. But our unity in Christ will hold if we constantly come back to our oneness in him, even when we are of divided opinions and responses.
We are trying to adopt the following questions for self-examination when posting or speaking:
- Does this need to be said? Is love the reason I’m posting it?
- Am I affirming the sincerity, competence, faith, and unity of my brothers and sisters in Christ, or am I encouraging division?
- Am I affirming the hard work of leaders, medical professionals, and first responders?
- When I have to be critical am I also being charitable?
When it comes to coronavirus and COVID–19, we are renewing our commitment to speak about this issue with both clarity and charity. When we do have to disagree, we are praying for the grace to do it without harming the unity of the Body of Christ.
We also pray that we will have a more accurate knowledge of this particular virus soon, as the experts who have dedicated their lives to studying and fighting disease learn more. As we follow their guidance, we may be more and more sure that we are following best practices together. In the meantime, and always, we are following Christ together.
Greg is the founder of Anglican Compass (previously known as Anglican Pastor). He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.