“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” Matt. 22:36-40
If the age of COVID-19 has given me anything, it’s the assurance that there are certain phrases I never want to hear again: “social distancing,” “new normal,” “we’re all in this together.” No more. Stop!
Yet no phrase during this pandemic has exasperated me more than the Woke evangelical leaders’ favorite new directive: “Love your neighbor.”
Mind you, I love the Lord’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s the Second Greatest Commandment in Scripture. What I don’t love is the invoking of “love your neighbor” as a way to try to spiritualize what Woke evangelical leaders actually want you to obey, which is: “Mindlessly comply with all government tyrants during COVID-19, without objection.”
Christianity Today highlights this trend, in an article this week, entitled: “Christian Colleges: God Wants You to Wear a Mask to Class.”
The magazine reports that a number of evangelical institutions are issuing COVID-19 policies to returning students that indicate “complying is a Christian obligation,” framing those policies in spiritual and moral terms to “justify pandemic precautions that go beyond the norm.” It further notes: “In 20-plus evangelical college COVID-19 pledges reviewed by CT, the most common references were to love of neighbor and the importance of community.”
This comes on the heels of article after article on Woke evangelical websites, urging Christians to comply with even the most outrageously unconstitutional and non-scientific directives from (mostly) Leftist politicians.
On March 21, at the website of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Josh Wester posted, “Thinking about religious liberty and love of neighbor during a crisis.” In the article, he invoked the need to “love our neighbors,” writing, “We should do all we can to stop the spread of this disease by doing as the apostle Paul instructed us, and putting the needs of others ahead of our own.”
On March 25, Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear penned an article, “Love Your Neighbor: Stay at Home.” He wrote, “We are taking precautions against COVID-19 not only because we’re concerned about what it may do to us, but because we are concerned about what it will do to our more vulnerable neighbors.”
On July 1, Brett McCracken posted a piece at The Gospel Coalition’s website, called, “4 Reasons to Wear a Mask, Even if You Hate It.” Reason No. 1? “To Love Your Neighbor,” he writes! Then, he asks what he apparently regards as a rhetorical question: “Even if you aren’t convinced by the science behind it, why not wear one, anyway?”
On July 20, the ERLC’s Brent Leatherwood stated that refusing to hold in-person church services is a way to “love your neighbor” as a matter of “obedience to the Lord,” writing, “the testing of this season and of churches unable to gather is a matter of obedience before the Lord, who seems to be calling us to ‘love our neighbor’ as we sacrifice our desire for the greater good. In so doing, we are called to give up much in this moment. But, we are called to be a people of sacrifice (Luke 9:23-24; Gal. 2:20). And that may mean sacrificing more than just our earthly preferences. For now, it includes many of our weekly rhythms as we seek to grow in Christ and coming together for corporate worship.”
On July 28, Baptist News Global’s Rick Pidcock offered: “How John MacArthur loves the Bible but not his neighbor,” chastising Grace Community Church’s pastor for reinstating in-person worship over and against California’s jackbooted, inconsistently applied government orders. Pidcock wrote, “As John MacArthur stood before his congregation to preach, he rejoiced in their decision to ‘return to what we love the most: the fellowship of the saints and the worship of our Lord.’ Noticeably absent was any mention of loving their neighbors as self, which was what Jesus said he loved the most.”
Note the timeline. In March, the vast majority of Christians agreed with the rationale that complying with at-home lockdowns to “slow the spread” was a wise and prudent decision. No one wanted to get sick or die. No one wanted their neighbors to get sick or die. And this was all during the time period when Americans feared overcrowded hospitals and millions of deaths. So we all closed our churches, went online for (what we thought would be) a few weeks and prayed for a quick return to in-person worship. We were good, obedient citizens.
But soon thereafter, a few Christians started to notice something important. Why were churches shut down, but abortion clinics and liquor stores were allowed to stay open under the label of “essential businesses?” A few churches had drive-in services and were threatened with fines and arrests. A few more opened their doors and were shouted down by Leftists who accused them of wanting to kill people. Several pastors and churches took their cases to court. Some won. Some lost. Woke evangelicals were quick to chastise them for not “loving their neighbors,” even though these pastors were fighting back because they loved God.
But then came May, and the jig was up. All of a sudden, crowds of Leftist protesters were permitted to swarm into the streets of Minneapolis and beyond, looting businesses, setting fires and even killing people. Where were their mandatory shutdowns and enforced masks? Not only did their local Leftist politicians fail to force them into compliance; they openly supported these protesters.
Even worse, Christians began to notice that some of the very Woke evangelical leaders who’d implored them to “love their neighbors” by staying home were participating in Leftist/Black Lives Matter marches and protests themselves! Out on the streets, in person!
One of the proud marchers was Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. After offering Christianity Today readers a steady diet of “stay home from church” scoldings, Stetzer suddenly joined other progressive church leaders for an in-person “racial justice” march in Chicago. “As a follower of Jesus, my fellow pastors asked me to come and engage with them in their pain and to stand with them in their plea. How could I not go?” Stetzer emailed Baptist Press.
In a June 6 piece, Stetzer further crowed: “I’ve marched for life like lots of evangelicals. I encourage you to march for black lives as well. Protests are part of who we are.”
Yet on March 23, Stetzer affirmed the wisdom of the then-emerging COVID-19 guidelines for churches and shamed those churches who wanted to meet in person: “Governors like Governor Pritzker (of Illinois) have issued a ‘shelter in place’ order for their states. These recommendations should be and have been (for the most part) taken seriously in the faith community (although there are outliers that continue to meet in almost prideful defiance).”
A few days earlier, he also had reinforced the “love your neighbor” mantra in an opinion piece for USA Today, calling on Christians to care for the vulnerable during the COVID-19 era: “Today, my evangelical brothers and sisters and I have been known for being more about ourselves than our neighbors. I’m hoping that changes … and fast.”
Curiously, Stetzer noted in a July 8 piece at Christianity Today that his church still wasn’t meeting: “My church is not gathering. I’ve cautioned churches not to rush to do so.”
In other words, keep your church closed out of “love for neighbor.” Yet be sure to get your physical self down to that crowded Leftist march, pronto, lest you be found not “loving your neighbor” (I guess there’s a special dispensation from contracting COVID-19 if you’re a social justice warrior). But your love of God, your need to worship Him in person, at your congregation, with His people, in obedience to His Word — that can wait until California Gov. Gavin Newsom gives you the arbitrary high sign.
Same story in Washington, D.C., where Woke evangelicals like David Platt, Jonathan Leeman and Thabiti Anyabwile, for example, also physically marched with Black Lives Matter activists, while keeping their own churches closed. Activists from the ERLC showed up, too, even as they continued to advise Christians to keep their churches closed. To “love your neighbor,” of course.
Not only was this move shockingly hypocritical, but it begged the question as to whether these activists actually have jettisoned the Greatest Commandment in the name of upholding the Second Greatest Commandment.
The Greatest Commandment, as we know, is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” It is the command reminding us that our love for our Lord and Savior comes first in all things, even before our love for our neighbor. It is why the apostles, when told by the high priest not to preach in Jesus’ name, rightly replied, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
But when Woke evangelicals are invoking “love your neighbor” as a way to get evangelicals to comply with blatantly unconstitutional, double-standard, unscientific directives by Leftist politicians — all while personally violating the very “stay home!” standard they’re imposing on other Christians — it’s time to cry foul.
I’d like to ask these men a few important questions.
First, why should Christians keep their church doors shut anymore, when you’re marching in the streets yourselves, oh Woke ones? How long must we obey man rather than God, who told us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near?” (Heb. 10:24-25) Where does God tell us to stop worshiping Him as a body because government ordered us to do so, amid a virus with an admittedly very low death rate per case in America?
And what of the freedom of religion that Christians have under the First Amendment, dear Woke leaders? When does our precious constitutional liberty to gather for public worship come back into the discussion? Should all healthy Christians in America permanently sacrifice their rights as Americans to worship the Lord freely in order to “love our neighbor?” And where does Scripture even require such a thing?
More to the point, does “loving our neighbor” mean we all lose our freedom of religion when any future respiratory virus hits the nation, and are we now required to endure in perpetuity “emergency shutdowns” for as long as any Leftist politician arbitrarily decides we have an “emergency?” Federal judge James C. Dever III doesn’t hold to that view, writing, “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.” In fact, it was the judge’s correct understanding of the U.S. Constitution that led him in mid-May to block North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order, which criminalized Christians if they attended indoor worship services of more than 10 people.
Even U.S. Attorney General William Barr agrees, unlike you guys, that churches are essential.
And should we always obey government blindly in order to “love our neighbor,” Woke sages? Should we ignore the double standard of Leftist politicians happily allowing Antifa/Black Lives Matter protesters — including some of you – to flood our city streets, while those same politicians stomp on the church’s face with a tyrannical boot? Maybe you should tell your Leftist pals in government to “love their neighbor” — and also invoke a little “let My people go!” while you’re at it.
Further, what of the science in all this? Should we comply with draconian mask mandates because they actually work? Or should we just comply in order to “love our neighbor” and obey our Leftist betters, scientific evidence to the contrary? Are we allowed to use our brains in all this and even question our elected overlords, or should we just submit to them without a peep? Is that what Romans 13 requires of “we the people,” who are the ones allegedly governing ourselves in this constitutional republic? For starters, see here and here.
And what are we to make of your hypocrisy, Woke evangelicals, when some of you have even preemptively cancelled your church services for the rest of the year, even though no government has demanded you do so? How do you justify this, from either a biblical or a scientific standpoint? (Examples here, here and here.)
It’s a tragic state of affairs when many of the very shepherds and church leaders who ought to be the most enthusiastic and the most determined advocates for returning to in-person worship are instead acting like they don’t even want to be in church themselves. Set aside the “loving their neighbors” part for a moment. Where is their love for God?
Well, they’re certainly free to close their churches. Their spiritual priorities actually make that more of an asset for the Body of Christ than a loss. The God-honoring pastors across America who are opening for the sake of Christ and his flock in the face of governmental tyranny are showing us who the real Christian shepherds are, anyway: here, here and here.
But even as they continually chastise evangelicals for not obeying the Second Greatest Commandment, perhaps Woke evangelical leaders should stop and reconsider their own lack of obedience to the Greatest One.