Faith in the time of coronavirus
(To equate fear with common sense is nonsense, says Bishop Brian Tamaki.)
It’s no less nonsensical than equating fearlessness with faith. Because in some cases, fearlessness arises from the oh-so-human failings of vainglorious delusion, wilful ignorance and arrogance.
The Government has declared among its Covid-19 measures that gatherings of 500 or more people in New Zealand – outdoors or indoors – are not to go ahead. Tamaki, whose Destiny Church church is one of comparatively few whose congregation sizes would pass this threshold, stands defiant.
Christians – sorry, let’s be clear on this, tithe-paying Christians – are protected from coronavirus, Tamaki says.
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Not that Destiny is eschewing all earthly instruction on the matter. Tamaki adds “for the public’s knowledge and reassurance” that his church will practise good hand hygiene, avoid person-to-person contact, including a reduction of physical greetings including the hongi. Physical proximity isn’t required, either, for unwell church members, who will be encouraged to stay home and watch the Livestream or pray with elders over the phone.
So there are degrees to which the protections Tamaki invokes from on high don’t, even in his view, render the assertions of governments and scientists unnecessary. It’s rather the view that other churches tend to take..
He’s being wilful about not letting the powers that be – the earthly ones, anyway – tell him what to do. Jesus said that where two or three were gathered in his name, he is in their midst. It’s tempting to assume that Tamaki doesn’t clearly welcome downsizing of gatherings of triumphal size, though he describes it as not wanting people to feel alone and scared. Does this require business-as-usual, though?
Not that the bishop’s wrong on one point – fear is itself problematic.
As UK immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi has just reiterated, stress has a known dampening effect on our immunity. Worrying “definitely” makes us more susceptible to infection. But this scarcely means that positivity makes us bulletproof. By reducing the effects of stress, we can raise our levels of protection, but Macciochi is quick to acknowledge that we can’t make ourselves invincible, even so.
And that’s the thing. The Destiny congregations are endangering more than themselves when they emerge from their services and disperse back into the general population.
Since the virus emerged into public view it hasn’t escaped notice that there weren’t immediate strict rules about mass gatherings, due to the paucity of evidence about community transmission. But even as more information comes in, the stage is upon is where the Government must, here and now, out of an abundance of caution, for the wider good.
The closures and downsizing of many social gatherings will be part of a cost that will cut through many areas of society. People of faith will feel the disruptions as deeply as any of them.
But surely that faith isn’t so brittle that it must resist public health measures.
If Destiny is prepared to do so it is not standing up against an unreasonable Government and health advisors. It is acting heedlessly of the wellbeing of the broader community and, with a breathtaking lack of humility, is seeking to sanctify issues of mere scale.
This article in New Zealand’s ‘SOUTHLAND TIMES’ is very timely (no pun intended).
Spiritual arrogance can have a deleterious effect on the public good – especially when, in this case, it contrasts the safety of other people with the supposed ‘faith’ of a spiritual leader’s own (blessed?) community.
For Bishop Brian Tamaki (of ‘Destiny Church’ – a conservative Pentecostal community in Aotearoa.New Zealand) – to categorically state that Faith alone can guard against any infection from the Coronavirus (COVID 19) outbreak in this country, is not only a problem for themselves and other practising Christians, it can also have a profoundly detrimental effect on other people with whom they mix after gathering together in numbers that have been contra-indicated as providing a basic means of protection from the virus by both the N.Z. Government and other responsible national and local medical/scientific authorities.
Such an attitude is tantamount to saying that only people with ‘faith’ can be protected against an environmental situation common to everyone – whether religiously-inclined or not – when the Bible itself proclaims that God sends rain (goodness and well-being) ‘on both the just and the unjust’ – in other words, upon people of faith and also non-believers.
To believe that faith alone will automatically guarantee protection from viruses, sickness and disease, is an outright misrepresentation of the fundamental reality we all experience. And for any protestation that ‘tithe-paying’ congregations are more immune to infection by this virus now afflicting many people around the world (including faithful Christians) – can be a very damaging version of the Gospel (Good News to ALL people) that ought to be proclaimed in this time of fear and danger.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand