Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Solid Rock Church and the Evangelical War on Scientific Expertise | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Left: Photo of "King of Kings" Jesus statue with his arms raised towards the sky and part of the cross towards his midsection of his body.
Right: Photo of "King of Kings" Jesus Statue completely emblazed at night.
The King of Kings statue at the Solid Rock church in Monroe, Ohio, before and during the fire that destroyed it. Photograph: Nick Graham/AP and Tiffani West-May/AP via The Guardian.

Just down the road from us along I-75 is the evangelical Solid Rock Church, until now best known for the “Butter” or “Touchdown” Jesus that was hit by lightning on June 14, 2010. Within a few years the obliterated figure of Jesus was replaced by another equally odd figure of Jesus. 

While most other churches in the Dayton area – including our own – are abiding by Governor DeWine’s call for services to be cancelled and churchgoers to stay at home, Solid Rock has resolutely ignored this call. They have ignored this even as the governor has called large church gatherings “not a Christian thing to do” in the midst of a pandemic, and even as the mayor of Monroe (where the church is located) has implored the church to halt in-person services.

Photo of rock sculpture of Jesus in front of Church and in back of a lake under a clear blue sky.
“Lux Mundi,” the sculpture of Jesus at Solid Rock Church. Artist Tom Tsuchiya’s digital rendering of the statue. via Wikimedia Commons.

In response to the barrage of criticisms it has received, Solid Rock has posted a formal statement on its website, which includes the following:

We are taking all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of anyone who comes to Solid Rock Church. We have scaled back our normal services; and there are not large numbers of worshipers in the facility, but we are open and continuing to practice and sustain our faith. Fortunately, our facility is large enough that we are able to easily ensure that everyone who is physically in the facility is practicing the physical distancing; we are providing additional cleaning and hand sanitizing stations; and we are holding some services outside to allow for more distance. We have canceled any youth activities; we are encouraging older members to stay home and access services electronically. We are not shaking hands or greeting members with hugs. There is no collection or communion in a normal sense, just prayer and worship. Our protocols are such that there is no contact. And we also use this time to educate and inform everyone on the best practices. (Emphases mine.)

CNN sent a crew to Solid Rock. They were not allowed to enter the church, so they stayed outside, filming congregants as they entered the church. Whatever Solid Rock has said about “not shaking hands or greeting members with hugs,” it is clear from the CNN video that congregants were definitely hugging each other and definitely not practicing physical distancing.

CNN’s reporter talked to congregants in their cars as they were leaving the worship service, repeatedly asking a variation of the same two questions. 

  1. Aren’t you worried about getting sick?
    1. “No. No. I’m covered in Jesus’ blood.”
    2. “I am absolutely not concerned.”
    3. “The blood of Jesus cures every disease. Psalm 91. Read it.”
    4.  “It’s called values and liberty. You have a choice as an American [to attend church.]”
  1. Aren’t you worried about getting others sick?
    1. “I’m in the grocery store every day. I’m in WalMart, Home Depot. They [others who are shopping] could get me sick! But they’re not, because I’m covered in Jesus’ blood.”
    2. “What if you [the reporter] got it? You could get me sick!”
    3. “Why not flip it the other way? [They could get me sick.]”

A few comments. First, the “I’m covered in Jesus’ blood and thus I am immune” argument – is this being preached from the Solid Rock pulpit? – is not only absurd and dangerous, but it also strongly suggests that at least some Solid Rock congregants believe that only non-Christians can contract COVID-19, which would be news to the residents of Albany, Georgia who became ill (some have died) after attending a church funeral.

Second, it is appalling that these evangelicals are so unconcerned that they may infect others. In fact, their answers – all a variation of, “Well, other people could get me sick!” – are not only beside the point, but they fail to take into account that many of the people they encounter at the store have been following social distancing guidelines; that is to say, given the ways in which the Solid Rock congregants have gathered together during the pandemic, they are much more likely to be a threat to others than others are a threat to them. More than this, their turn-the-table type of responses suggest that they imagine themselves having come up with an argumentative slam dunk designed to silence the “liberal media.”

And that leads to the most disturbing conversation recorded by CNN, with the Solid Rock pastor:

CNN: What if you get others sick who don’t go to this church?

Pastor: There’s not one person sick [in the church].

CNN: How do you know?

Pastor: I’m the pastor. I would hear about it if somebody were sick.

CNN: You could be asymptomatic.

Pastor: You had better not print no fake news about me, or you’ll hear from me.

It is not surprising that the Solid Rock pastor followed the Trump “fake news” playbook, given that one month ago he and his church hosted an Evangelicals for Trump rally, which included the president’s spiritual adviser, Paula White.

In a soon-to-be published essay, “Religious Non-Affiliation: Expelled by the Right,” I argue that:

While the Christian Right has enjoyed significant political success, its fusion of evangelicalism/Christianity with a particular right-wing politics – which includes white nationalism, hostility to immigrants, unfettered capitalism, and intense homophobia – has driven many Americans (particularly, young Americans) to disaffiliate from religion altogether.

In the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic, I think it’s safe to add ignorance of and hostility to scientific expertise as yet another way in which the evangelicalism/Christian Right fusion is driving folks away from Christianity.