I wrote this on April 14, 2021 after reading accusations that going to church was a violation of the sixth commandment, “thou shall not kill.”
I am burdened by some portions of your editor’s letter yesterday.
“The sixth commandment, you shall not murder, takes into account acting in foolhardy ways that jeopardize other people or ourselves.” God’s Law gives provision for those who do not “lie in wait” or “act presumptuously” (Exodus 21:12-15), offering refuge for those who kill “unintentionally” (Numbers 35:11). There is enough fear surrounding this virus. It chills me to label with murder those who spread it unintentionally. As a medical professional who lives with the daily burden of “doing no harm,” I can tell you the implication of murder for a mistake is too great a burden to lay on anyone.
“The Bible also has very strict laws about isolating those with infectious diseases.” True. Notice, however, that we isolate the infected, not everyone else.
“We should love our neighbors as ourselves.” Absolutely true. But how that looks can be different for different followers of Christ.
Our church has had someone praying for an hour each hour per day, seven days per week since March 22. As the coordinator of this “virtual prayer tower” (modeled after a real “prayer tower” in Kathmandu, Nepal where one of our members serves and they do have a resident assigned to pray every hour of the day), I send out a devotional and prayer every morning. I have been working my way through Scripture surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection and this morning covered Jesus’ interaction with Peter on the beach. When Jesus commanded Peter to tend His sheep and follow Him unto death, Peter asked about John. Jesus responded, “What is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:22).
I have been extraordinarily burdened by Christians pointing fingers at other Christians. We are to each individually seek the Lord in prayer and reading of His Word for His call and command to us and follow. When we are tempted to ask and judge and criticize about what others are doing (if not enumerated in the Bible), I think our first step should be to pray that they are seeking, He is speaking, and they are following.
Trying to put myself in your shoes as an editor of a magazine, I understand the non-Christian world does not understand the subtleties of our faith, where there are times we are taught Scripturally to defy worldly authority, e.g. the Hebrew midwives, Daniel, the disciples speaking about Jesus (Acts 4:19-20). I can thus understand the necessity of admonishing others to follow the advice of authorities and medical professionals.
“If we harm our neighbors by ignoring medical advice” is a very loaded phrase, however. Physicians disagree on how we should be handling this. I’m an anesthesiologist and I am one of them. There is conflicting evidence from different countries and different areas of the country on whether shutdowns are effective. If I grant that shutdowns seemed reasonable at first to flatten the curve and slow the spread, data should start to inform where we relieve restrictions. A universal approach to all geographic areas despite population density, disease burden, and even weather patterns does not make sense. We gave the medical community time to gather equipment and develop protocols for treatment and protection. In most areas of the country, medical capacity is now adequate for increased disease burden should restrictions be relieved.
We are going to have to get to a point where we accept some risk of this disease. We accept risk for getting in cars, flying on planes, and any number of other behaviors in which we engage. I understand that what has been different about this virus crisis is the lack of herd immunity, so it risked overwhelming the medical system and the health of medical workers. We have acted valiantly to address this. I say this as a medical professional: now is the time for the medical community to say, “Ok, we’re ready. We’ll take care of you.”
Just as Jesus said we will always have the poor with us, we will always have disease with us. Loving our neighbor means understanding how to act so as not to spread disease. You do not cough or sneeze on others. Use your elbow. Wear a mask if you’re sick. Don’t touch something others are going to touch unless your hands are clean. If you’ve touched your face, clean your hands before touching anything else. To protect yourself, clean your hands before touching your face. This virus has uncovered the fact that we do this poorly. We contaminate the environment for others and we haven’t understood that it is contaminated for ourselves. We’ve been passing around the flu and the common cold this way unknowingly for years. With this virus, we have additional means of protection. If you’re sick, stay home. Obviously, if you’ve tested positive for this virus or been exposed to someone who has, you stay home. If you are in a high-risk category and have someone in your home in a high-risk category, you take extra precautions.
The only way to eliminate spread of this virus is if we all stay home, always. That, as we know, is impossible. We’ve allowed “essential services” to continue but providing or interacting with essential services has still meant disease spread. We all have to learn to modify our behavior to avoid infecting others and infecting ourselves. As a Christian who is called to serve God and serve others, even to the point of laying down my life (John 15;13), I bristle at the idea of protecting myself. But if not infecting myself means not infecting others and means that I can continue to care for others, I’ll embrace it. The biggest fear with this virus is asymptomatic spread. Regarding bloodborne illnesses like HIV and Hepatitis C, the medical community knows to practice “universal precautions.” We assume everyone is infected and act accordingly to protect ourselves and others. We can do the same for this virus and the next virus that comes along. I do it every day as a medical practitioner.
All of this explains why “if we harm our neighbors by ignoring medical advice” is a very loaded phrase. Some of the restrictions being placed on us in the name of “medical advice” do not make actually make sound medical sense. In a lot of cases, fear has overtaken rational thought. As Christians, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). These restrictions are teaching us to fear, criticize, point fingers at, and ostracize one another. Even in this era of COVID-19, we can minister by interacting with one another while still employing behaviors to protect ourselves and protect others.
God said it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), but we requiring people to be alone and isolated. Since my physician husband is the pastor of our church, I am quite aware of the increasing phone calls he is getting, supporting my concerns of increased depression, suicidality, domestic violence, and substance abuse resulting from our restrictions on interaction. Our body of believers on Maui is represented by meth prostitutes to millionaires. We have homeless and housed. We have those that have families, those that live alone, and those that live in nursing homes. We have those that have computers who can LiveStream and those who do not. The call placed on us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is to minister to them. I submit that we can do so by employing behaviors that protect those we serve while not isolating those we serve.
May we all seek the Lord’s wisdom and guidance. May our “light shine before men in such a way that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) and come to know our Savior Jesus Christ. May we as the body of Christ have grace and mercy and charity for those who are called to act differently in this challenging time.
With love and respect as a fellow member of the body of Christ,
Kimberly Milhoan, MD