As we are creeping up on spring, I would like to look back on this past year with an appraising eye. There are lessons learned -- difficult lessons, and they're not all done yet. Unlike the man who lost his deer-meat because he failed to preserve it ("The lazy do not roast any game, but the diligent feed on the riches of the hunt", Proverbs 12:27), I don't want to lose what I've learned. If I emphasize any one lesson, it's that God wants me to show mercy.
We all, as a national evangelical church, were called-upon, in a short period of time, to respond to something with which few of us had any practical or scientific experience. Everyone was scrambling. In addition, early on we were not as a nation receiving consistent guidance. There was a lot that simply wasn't known yet. Some of the ambiguity came from both media and government, as reports over-emphasized, under-emphasized, misstated, erred, omitted facts, or just didn't have certain answers yet. All us regular people were dealing with all of this. It felt like playing badminton in the fog.
Churches struggled to form a response to the disease, partly because of how congregationalism works. Congregational churches are run democratically. I'm not apologizing for this. I don't believe in government by kings, popes, or authoritarian church boards. Democracy is a good thing. But democracy means that it takes churches longer to get into gear when something extraordinary happens. Democracy also forces us to work toward achieving consensus on hard subjects. Hammering out a group response among non-experts, on a difficult subject, in a democratic setting creates more total buy-in at the end (which is important), but it causes a lot of stress. We all went through this very thing.
Looking back, I came to think that U.S. Christians listened to too many worldly voices. The apostle Paul wrote, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy" (Colossians 2:8). In a similar vein, Solomon said, "Guard your heart with all diligence, because from it flows the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). I speak here of any non-Christian philosophical influence.
Non-Christian op-ed writers, media influencers, even entertainment companies sometimes say good things. But they are not trying to filter their thoughts through God's Word. They are not trying to advance God's kingdom. Some of them were spreading insane things, like QAnon. Non-Christian media influencers led us astray in various ways.
As best I could tell, most of the churches around us did their best to respond rationally. Churches set up distanced seating, cleaned their buildings, limited occupancy, and provided sanitizer and breath-masks at the doors. Many, including us, temporarily stopped live meetings completely. We crack open windows, prop open the doors, and blow fresh air through. We wipe down handles and surfaces. Of course, this would not protect our people Monday through Saturday, but our building has been clean, because our people worked hard at it.
There was also freedom over disputable matters. One church has live Sunday meetings, but requires everyone wear masks. They have the help of those masks, but someone could still catch something because of being together with a greater number of people (since people can still transmit the virus through lateral and upward/downward streams). Another local church requires a mask to enter, but allows you to unmask after you are distantly-seated. A third church I know still isn't meeting, and will not meet live until this coming summer. So, there is zero chance of catching the virus there, but what injury has been done to their cohesion as a congregation? And then you have people with mental-health issues, chronic respiratory problems, autism, and so on, who can't stand masks (or can wear them, but only for a short time) but still want to hear God's Word.
I think all these different churches showed sensitivity to the danger, and all devised rational responses, using the majority of recommended methods. But each church had to choose, and they did not all choose exactly the same.
This is why I won't judge the churches. I don't know every church's room architecture, air flow, HVAC systems, seating capacity, congregational health, or ages in attendance. I don't know how much unanimity existed on each leadership team, or within each congregation, versus whether a church might be split asunder. The world urges us to condemn one another, but Christ in Scripture forbids that. I too changed my mind about this or that. So, within reason, I don't want to point any fingers. Mercy should triumph over judgment (James 2:13). Mercy will last, long after COVID is gone.