Religious Excess During Coronavirus Pandemic

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted March 24, 2020

In the midst of the global novel coronavirus outbreak, many worshippers are staying isolated, but others are taking extreme risks.

News stories from around the world are filled with details of large congregations now connecting remotely via online platforms like Facebook and YouTube. But the streaming of such services isn’t without hiccups: Alongside a “Praise the Lord” might be a request to mute one’s computer microphone; a poor Internet connection might result in an interrupted prayer meeting. Pastors must now attempt to preach an effective sermon to rows of members’ photographs instead of actual members.

Religious Reactions to the Virus

Some churches, however, are ignoring government orders and other federal health guidelines. The Life Tabernacle Church in the district of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has defied calls by the state’s governor to cancel meetings of more than 50 people. Rev. Tony Spell, the church’s pastor, said more than 1,100 people attended Sunday worship on March 15, with another large crowd assembling the following Tuesday.

“It’s not a concern,” Spell told WAFB-TV regarding COVID-19. “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.” Moreover, he claimed “anointed handkerchiefs” would protect congregants from the infection.

Islamic worshippers in Iran took even greater risks. At least two men released videos of their licking and kissing various shrines, monuments which some believe prevent or cure disease. A member of Iran’s parliament said the men could face between two months and two years in prison, as well as corporal punishment.

And in Greece, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Saint Gregory Palamas Holy Metropolitan Church doled out a sip of wine through a communal spoon to each of his parishioners. He reasoned that the cup of wine, having been blessed, was immune to the novel coronavirus and any other disease.

According to The New York Times, clerics in one Southeast Asian country had a creative preventative: “In Myanmar, loudspeakers broadcast advice from Buddhist monks: Seven ground peppercorns, exactly seven, placed on the tongue will ward off the coronavirus.”

Faith-Based Foolishness?

While much of the world reacted with panic, hoarding, and self-quarantining, these religious devotees have taken a more confident approach.

A fair number seem to be relying on a type of talisman or ritual as a form of protection from the virus. Scripture warns us, however, against placing our faith in an object instead of the God behind the object. When the children of Israel were attacked by serpents in the wilderness, God instructed Moses to construct a bronze serpent on a pole so that those who had been bitten would, upon looking at it, be healed (Numbers 21:8, 9). Centuries later, King Hezekiah destroyed that same bronze serpent because the Israelites had begun to worship it, mistakenly believing that it—not God—had the power to heal (2 Kings 18:4).

There is also a strong sentiment that through these social distancing measures, people’s religious rights are being stripped. The Bible gives clear instruction on this as well. As Jesus said to His disciples, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). In other words, as Paul reiterates, believers should obey civil authorities as far as possible (Romans 13). Peter likewise advises, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13).

As long as the civil law does not go against God’s law, we, as God’s representatives, are to act as exemplary citizens in order to demonstrate to others the beauty of God’s character (v. 16). What kind of Christian witness are we exhibiting when we adhere to cautionary measures against the spread of this virus? What about when we oppose them?

Ultimately, in times of crisis such as this, we can claim God’s promises in the Bible. In Psalm 91:1–3, we read, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.’ Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence.” While this does not mean that all believers are immune from the virus, it does mean that God has given all who trust in Him deliverance from fear and, with that, the sure promise of eternal salvation.

The first two verses of Psalm 46 assure us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed.”

And 2 Timothy 1:7 proclaims, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” In the midst of global anxiety, God can and will grant His peace to those who ask for it.

The Amazing Facts International team is carefully following government guidelines and restrictions during this crisis while still proclaiming the everlasting gospel. In place of in-person meetings, we’re relying on video presentations and online Bible study resources. (You can find these and much more on the homepage of this website.)

And for those who are self-isolating, our free Media Library offers a wide range of audio and video messages that will help to not only strengthen your faith but also provide inspiration and insight during perilous times. (Did we mention that it’s FREE?)

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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