Righting America

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BioLogos, Answers in Genesis, and Two Wildly Different Evangelical Responses to the Pandemic | Righting America

by William Trollinger

In the Age of Trump it is very easy to imagine that white evangelicalism is a monolith. But when it comes to science, in general, and the pandemic, in particular, it turns out that it is not.

In 2007 Francis Collins – who then was director of the Human Genome Project – founded BioLogos, which sees its mission as encouraging “the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.” It is, as we note in Righting America, the “quintessentially evangelical organization” (220), with its statement of faith (which begins in good evangelical fashion with an assertion that the Bible is “inspired and authoritative”), with its scientists from evangelical colleges, and with its headquarters at Calvin University.  

On August 17 BioLogos released its “Christian Statement on Science for Pandemic Times.” This warmly empathetic statement — replete with biblical citations, and (without using this language) attentive to the common good – proclaims that, “because of our faith in Jesus Christ,” the signatories will

  1. Wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines, as “mask rules are not experts taking away our freedom, but an opportunity to follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 6:31).”
  2. Get vaccinated when that is possible, as “vaccination is a provision from God that will prevent disease not only for ourselves but for the most vulnerable among us (Matthew 25: 31-36).”
  3. “Correct misinformation and conspiracy theories when we encounter them in our social media and communities.”
  4. Work for justice among “the disadvantaged and vulnerable” who have suffered the most from COVID-19.
  5. Pray for healing, comfort, and “wisdom to decision-makers.”

As of August 31 6,587 individuals had signed this statement. While not all the signatories are evangelicals – one finds a few Catholic clergy, for example – it is striking how many evangelical luminaries and institutions have signed on, including:

  • N.T. Wright, Rich Mouw, Ed Larson, Scot McKnight
  • The president and editor of Christianity Today, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Vice-President of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Folks from Dallas Theological Seminary, Denver Theological Seminary, Hope College, Gordon College, Messiah College (including my old friend Ted Davis), Point Loma Nazarene University, Southeastern Baptist Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Westmont College, Wheaton College 

But no Answers in Genesis (AiG), and no Ken Ham. In fact, Ham’s AiG has taken a very different approach to the pandemic.

As of August 30, 182,149 Americans had died from the coronavirus. Worldwide, the number was approximately 851,000. But Ham – very much in keeping with Donald Trump – has had almost nothing to say about these deaths, almost nothing to say about the pain and suffering brought about by COVID-19. Ham’s lack of empathy is striking . . . although it must be said that, as the creator of a tourist site designed to commemorate (celebrate?) the drowning of up to 20 billion individuals in Noah’s Flood, a show of concern for those who have suffered in the pandemic would be strikingly out of character for Ham.

Instead, for Ham, what is salient about the pandemic is that it gives government and other hostile forces an excuse to accelerate their campaign of persecuting Christians:

Even though it seems we hear nothing but coronavirus stories and statistics in the news, we need to be reminded of the spiritual war raging around us and the enormous threat to Christian freedom in the West. One of the things the coronavirus situation has shown me is how easy it is for one person (like a state governor, for instance) to close down church buildings overnight! And we’ve seen blatant discrimination by certain leaders in the community to stop Christians from worshipping.

(Note: In this article Ham goes on to give other examples of “Christian freedoms” that are being lost. One of his examples is that “for the first time in a major US city, the historic Ramadan call to prayer is now echoing from loudspeakers on the roof of a Minneapolis, MN, mosque.” Christian church bells ok, Muslim call to prayer not? It is hard to imagine a better example of the fact that Ken Ham and others in the Christian Right do not seek religious freedom, but, instead, a legally enforced Christian America.)

Facebook post by Ken Ham with a picture of a man in suit at a lectern addressing a crowd of people in the background.
Screenshot of Ken Ham’s Facebook post, August 31, 2020. Image via Facebook.

But while “the COVID-19 situation has been weaponized in many places to use against Christians” (but, apparently, not against Muslims or Jews), there are heroic figures who are “courageously standing” against the forces of anti-Christian persecution. One of these individuals is John MacArthur — founder of the Master’s Seminary and long-time pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California – who has been engaged in an ongoing battle with the state of California to hold worship services indoors. 

Interestingly (and thanks to Camille Lewis for passing this along), MacArthur holds to a conspiracy theory – also promoted by QAnon supporters – that:

In truth, 6% of the deaths that have occurred can be directly attributable to COVID, [but] 94% cannot. Of the 160,000 that have died, 9,210 actually died from COVID. There is no pandemic.

I have no idea whether Ken Ham shares MacArthur’s notion that there is no pandemic – but I would not be surprised if he did. For one thing, Ham and AiG have not – in contrast with BioLogos – taken a firm and public stand in behalf of wearing masks and social distancing, nor have they had anything to say about the “COVID hoax” theories that are rampant in conservative evangelicalism. More than this, there is a good deal of evidence that those who – like Ken Ham and AiG – deny global warming also deny the reality of the coronavirus pandemic

Of course, what is great about labeling the pandemic as a hoax is that there is no need for even the pretense of empathy.