My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I also blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
Pandemics are a sad and deadly part of human history, yet, like every pandemic before us, this one too will end (hopefully sooner rather than later).
What we do during the pandemic matters now, and it will also create trajectories that last long after the masks are gone. That being the case, as we wait for the blessed day of relief when the pandemic is over, it is a healthy and helpful enterprise to pause and do some critical self-reflection on how we are coping. A mid-term exam so to speak. The aim, of course, is to be encouraged to continue doing the good, and, if necessary, change tack in light of the bad and ugly.
My comments relate primarily to the Canadian context.
There is much that can be identified as good in the midst of the suffering. The sacrifices of many medical professionals have been stellar. The various acts of kindness towards vulnerable citizens are noteworthy. Many businesses and organizations have pivoted and not only survived but thrived. Countless churches have reimagined what a Sunday service looks like – and carried out weekly ministries that were surprisingly innovative. New technologies like Zoom revolutionized human interaction and relationships. And even air quality improved due to the lack of traffic on the roads!
Some of the good has a dark side. For instance, technology has made many good things possible, but, at the same time, it has not necessarily changed relationships for the better. Also related to technology is how the bizarre conspiracy theories on the internet have shown just how dark and harmful the web can be.
In other matters, mental health has struggled due to fear and isolation. Medical concerns have been put on the shelf due to crammed hospitals. Businesses have been closed. People have lost jobs. Government debt has ballooned. Looming tax increases are on the horizon. Some church leaders have acted irresponsibly and needlessly provoking government crackdowns. Other clergy have refused to adapt and try new things – much to the detriment of the congregation.
There are some ugly parts of the Covid experience, especially as fatigue sets in, and wave after wave of new variants keep coming. In Canada, politicians have recently weaponized the issue of mandated vaccines in order to win an election, and the shaming of “antivaxxers” – or even those with legitimate hesitations – is increasingly a political tool to score political points. State and workplace coercion of dissenting voices is increasingly a problem for a society that is supposedly ardently concerned with defending of the rights of minorities. Ugly and hateful discourse is increasingly a problem.
So where does this brief mid-term exam leave us? A few concluding thoughts:
Like all other pandemics this one will pass. And once gone historians will begin to evaluate what went right and what went wrong to see if we passed the test. However, we don’t have to wait for that final accounting. Recognizing the good, bad, and ugly now can compel us to act even in the midst of the pandemic.
As for the good, it needs to be supported and continued, even in the face of entering yet another winter of pandemic. The biblical admonition “Let us not become weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9) comes to mind in this regard.
As for the bad and ugly, a careful, deliberate, and prophetic rethinking of responses is needed. Perhaps the words of Bones in the Star Trek episode “The Omega Glory” are a good reminder of a fundamental truth regarding making things right through circumspect engagement in the public square: “I’ve found that evil usually triumphs unless good is very, very careful.”
Underlying the necessity for such engagement is the conviction that the state needs the input of the church, for left to its “own devices” the state will devolve to “demonism and error.” And as John Howard Yoder argues, the church is ideally situated for a critique: “[T]he Christian church knows why the state exists – knows, in fact, better than the state itself – and that this understanding provides both the justification for her speaking and the standards which she will apply in evaluating the way in which the authorities exercise their function.”
 Helmut Thielicke, Theological Ethics, Volume Two (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 568.
 John Howard Yoder, The Christian Witness to the State (Scottdale: Herald Press, 2002), 16.