18 East 34th Street
Savannah, Georgia 31401
The Rt. Rev. Scott Anson Benhase is the tenth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. This website serves as an online archives for his weekly email reflections, the eCrozier.
If you stand out in a crowd it is only because you are standing on the shoulders of others. – Desmond Tutu
Bishops should consider in themselves not the authority of their rank but the equality of their condition. – Gregory the Great
The above quote from Bishop Tutu reminds us that our life in the Church is never about one person, even someone as important to history and the Church as he. None of us is a “lone ranger.” We’re always dependent on those who came before us and we pray we won’t mess things up for those who come after us. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we’re always “standing on the shoulders of others.” Bishop Gregory’s quote admonishes bishops never to exercise power for its own sake. Bishops must remember we’re “miserable offenders” (BCP 1928 Morning Prayer Confession) just like everyone else. Bishops, or anyone exercising authority in the Church, should always focus on helping others thrive in their ministry, especially when they’re unable to help themselves.
Life in the Church should teach us these truths, that is, if we’re paying attention to our lives. I’ve tried to pay attention to my life. As I have grown older, I’ve realized I’ve had to relearn those truths again and again (I’m a slow learner). You’ve helped me do that these last ten plus years as have countless other Disciples of Jesus who’ve been part of my life. John of the Cross wrote: God has so ordained things that we grow in faith only through the frail instrumentality of one another. That’s how I’ve experienced it. Our faith grows as we experience one another’s witness, even as that witness remains fragile because such fragility displays God’s power and not our own (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Verna Dozier wrote: The Bible has given me all the help it can by offering me the story of God acting in history. The Bible cannot tell me what to do on Monday morning, because the Bible tells me that there is a God who calls me to humanity, and my humanity means that I have to make decisions and live in the terror of making those decisions. I know the terror of which she writes. I’ve often wished the Bible were a rule book, but it’s not. “We see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), St. Paul reminds us. We do the best we can, given our personal limitations and the material with which we get to work. God makes do, even when we fall short. And we often do.
There’s a tendency among bishops as they retire to say in so many words: “look how hard I’ve worked and sacrificed for you in this ministry!” Me? I’m still surprised you allowed me to do this. Yes, at times it was an “impossible vocation,” but it was always more privilege than burden. That’s not to say I don’t have some wounds from my time as bishop (I do), but as Alan Paton in Cry, the Beloved Country writes: I don’t worry about the wounds. When I go up there, which is my intention, the Bid Judge will say to me, “Where are your wounds?’ And if I say I haven’t any, He will say, ‘Was there nothing to fight for?’ I pray the wounds I incurred as bishop were for what was right in God’s eyes and, in some way, furthered your faith in Jesus, who is our only true help.
In spite of ourselves, we’ll end up a’sittin’ on a rainbow Against all odds, Honey, we’re the big door prize.
– The Legendary John Prine
This past Tuesday, Kelly and I celebrated 36 years of marriage. And although we’ve been married continuously for 36 years, we’ve had many marriages during that time. No, I’m not hinting at some previously unacknowledged polygamy (although I think historically the Mormons had it backwards: In polygamy, women should be the ones with multiple spouses). All I’m noting is the reality that our marriage hasn’t been the same one during that time. Indeed, no marriage can be. When our marriage was a “baby,” we had babies. As our marriage became a “teenager,” teenagers infested our house. And now, our marriage is approaching “middle age.” We’re no longer new at this. We’re entering the mature years of our covenant together.
Anyone married for a long time knows they’re in many different marriages during their married life, because they haven’t been married to the exact same person all that time. Yes, in one respect, they have, but it’s also true the other person has matured, learned new things about themselves and their relationship with the world, and through the day in and day out of marriage, has become a new, and perhaps a better, human being as a result.
Although we have different marriages during our marriages, it’s actually an aspect of a marriage’s “sameness” that allows for the possibility of becoming better human beings. If we came home each night to a totally new spouse (a warped Ground Hog Day), then we’d never have the time or space to really know one another, and in the process, know ourselves in a more honest way. Each night, we’d have to do the dance of courtship, wondering if the other person noticed the piece of lettuce stuck in our teeth or if our underarms didn’t smell quite “fresh.” It’s the sameness of marriage that gives us the time and space to get through all that so we might become new and different.
When we first say, “I will” at the church altar, we may be ignorantly thinking “I can.” That illusion gets shattered pretty quickly when we learn how hard it is at times to live with one another. Marriage, maybe more than any other relationship, helps us learn what God intends for us through the imputation of the grace given in Jesus. By grace, we receive undeserved mercy and hopefully from that we learn how to share undeserved mercy to another soul. Mercy (which is grace operationalized to another) is a virtue that needs cultivation. Where best to cultivate it than between two sinful people who’ll at times behave in selfish, petty ways? Each time we receive mercy, God gives us an opportunity for renewal, so that we may forgive and love one another more deeply.
So, since I’m in constant need of mercy, I’m thankful to have had so many different marriages. By the grace of God, Kelly and I have been able to love ourselves through each one. I hope we have many more marriages ahead.
Ahmaud Arbery should still be alive and with his family. But he isn’t. On the afternoon of February 23 of this year he was jogging, as was his custom, in Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick. While jogging, two men approached him in a truck, believing he fit the description of someone they’d seen on a surveillance video who might have engaged in criminal behavior in the neighborhood. And here’s where we need to exercise empathy for Mr. Arbery or, to put it another way, place ourselves in his shoes. Imagine you’re jogging where you regularly jog and two men, who you don’t know, follow you in a pickup truck trying to stop you. They don’t appear friendly. They aren’t the police. And they have guns. So, you try to avoid them by jogging in the opposite direction. But they cut you off. What do you do when you have nowhere to run to get away from these strangers? My hunch is you would “stand your ground” and defend yourself, if possible.
The recently released video of the altercation shows one of the men in the bed of the pickup truck and the other outside the truck confronting Mr. Arbery. Again, put yourselves in Mr. Arbery shoes. You don’t know these men. They aren’t police officers. And they have guns. One comes at you. You have no idea what this about, but you’re a young black man and these two white men have guns. You know the history of how these encounters have gone before. Is it any wonder why Mr. Arbery “stood his ground” to defend himself when approached by strange white men with guns? The video shows Mr. Arbery struggling with one of the men trying to take away his shotgun. Shots are then fired. Mr. Arbery tries to get away, but he’s mortally wounded and falls to the ground. That’s where the video ends.
And what transpires afterward makes this tragedy all the more bizarre, but historically predictable. The police don’t even arrest the two men who were involved in the killing of Mr. Arbery, pending a full investigation of what happened. They just drop it. No arrests. But wait: The two white men were the aggressors (by their own account). They sought out and confronted Mr. Arbery. They came at him with guns. He had done nothing wrong. And now he’s dead. Due to this incident getting some attention, it now appears the local prosecutors are going to convene a grand jury to investigate. Two and a half months after the killing, they’re now going to have a criminal investigation.
To be sure, all the facts aren’t known. I’m not rushing to judgment. I’m not suggesting these two men should be convicted by any court, especially the court of public opinion. But seeing the video and reading the two men’s own account of what happened (which doesn’t align with what’s on the video) should lead anyone, especially law enforcement and prosecutors, to have serious doubts that no crime was committed against Mr. Arbery. What’s clear and indisputable is that Mr. Arbery didn’t deserve this fate. Two white men, acting as vigilantes, killed a black man they thought might be someone who looked like someone they’d seen on a surveillance video. And the authorities file no criminal charges? And some white people still wonder why black people don’t trust the justice system. This is why.
To believe in this livin’ is just hard way to go – the late, great John Prine
On this Mayday, a traditional day throughout the world for workers to celebrate their lives, their livelihoods, and their right to earn a safe, decent wage, it’s appropriate for us to reflect on the nature of work during this pandemic. Those who can telecommute (like me) and still maintain their livelihoods have had it relatively easy. It’s been frustrating and, at times, boring (“There’s no way I’m watching Tiger King, dear”), but whatever frustration and boredom we’ve experienced is hardly noble or sacrificial. Medical professionals, police officers, EMTs, grocery workers, delivery drivers, and other essential workers have been putting themselves on the line for weeks on end. And my complaints are as small-minded and petty as they seem.
In Georgia, businesses are now allowed to reopen, even those that can hardly be labeled essential to our health and safety (tattoos anyone?). We should realize the outcome of the decision to lift many pandemic restrictions won’t be evenly felt among our people. Those who have the luxury of working remotely won’t return to in-person work. As David Frum wrote in The Atlantic: “Those who can telecommute, who can shop online, or who work for health-conscious employers like public universities will be better positioned to minimize their exposure than those called back to work in factories, plants, and delivery services. The economy will be further divided along its widening class fault: those who can control their contacts with others, and those who cannot.”
As infection rates and deaths rise in the coming weeks, the Governor is gambling people either won’t notice or they’ll conclude it doesn’t personally affect them. The U.S. data shows that 27% of those killed by this virus are African American, and yet they comprise only 12% of U.S. population. The CDC reports 50% of all virus deaths in Georgia are African American even though they make up only 30% of the state’s population. Also, statistics clearly show that people who work outside their homes are getting infected at a much higher rate than those who have the luxury of sheltering-in-place. They’re also disproportionally lower income, like grocery workers. And since Georgia hasn’t expanded Medicaid coverage, many don’t have health insurance. As Georgia opens back up, CEOs will telecommute, but their secretaries and those who clean their offices won’t. Reopening before the infection rate peaks, according to the CDC, will certainly cause higher mortality in Georgia. We don’t know yet just how much higher. The Governor’s gamble isn’t with my life or the lives of people who have my privileges, but with people’s lives whose type of work gives them a higher likelihood of infection.
We’re about to see an example of what ethicists call lifeboat ethics, where some people get a place in the lifeboat and others have to swim on their own. The Governor’s decision de facto classifies some people as less worthy to be in the lifeboat than others (i.e., privileged folk like me). Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that God will judge the nations by how they treat what he calls “the least of these,” that is, the poor and the less powerful. God will judge us if this gamble with other people’s lives causes more poor and marginalized people to get sick and die.
In 1954, research psychologists heard about a cult leader who was prophesying the end of the world on December 21st of that year. Apparently, the cult leader had received messages from another planet that gave her a heads up for that date. So, pretending to be true believers, the researchers infiltrated the group to study how the group would respond, when, let’s say, the world didn’t end when the cult leader said it would. Their hypothesis was that the followers wouldn’t abandon their leader when she proved to be a charlatan. Rather, they’d find rationales and justifications for her mistake and afterwards they would even deepen their trust in her as their leader. And that’s what happened. They had invested their lives in her being right. They couldn’t begin to think otherwise. Later, when another cult leader, Jim Jones, went even more wrong in Guyana, the term was coined: “They drank the Kool-Aid.”
In 1960, English psychologist Peter Wason was the first to use the term “confirmation bias.” It’s a psychological condition that leads us to hold fast to false beliefs even when the overwhelming evidence indicates we shouldn’t. In the midst of “confirmation bias” we’ll not only discount evidence that contradicts our beliefs, we’ll also search out any information that confirms what we already believe. So, when we’re trapped in such bias, we’ll first discount what contradicts our beliefs and then we’ll go to great lengths to find information that undergirds what we want to believe. We drink the Kool-Aid.
And that brings us to the poor souls who recently gathered at state capitals to protest state government’s restrictions on physical distancing and businesses. Those gathered flaunted the norms put in place to protect them and their fellow citizens from viral spread. Many gathered believe the virus isn’t as deadly as scientists are saying. It’s just an excuse for the government to take away their rights. People, of course, are welcome to put their own lives in danger, but what about the people they might infect? Their right to have what they want ends when exercising that right could put other people in harm’s way. But they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. Then came the tweet responding to these protests: “save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” How does protecting public health during a pandemic threaten anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights? The answer doesn’t matter to the Kool-Aid drinkers. It’s feeding their bias and the tweeter certainly knows that.
Expertise in infectious disease and epidemiology isn’t a matter of biased opinion. It’s science. Scientific research doesn’t always have answers, but scientists pursuing answers do so on the basis of verifiable studies, historical patterns, and tested outcomes. A man at a protest in Kansas said he wants to get business open again. He says he follows “all sides of the issue,” but he worries “in general, we are hearing the science-only side.” What other side should there be in a viral pandemic? For those who have drunk the Kool-Aid, facts don’t matter. They may “feel” a certain way about the scientific facts of this virus, but how they “feel” about those facts is immaterial. The virus just is and our opinion about it doesn’t change its ongoing infection rate and death toll. I don’t like the current situation any more than the next person, but for heaven’s sake, let’s heed the public health experts. And let’s not drink the Kool-Aid.
Resurrection isn’t resuscitation. It isn’t returning to life from death. It’s coming into a whole new life. That’s the promise of Easter. Jesus promises us new life through resurrection, but not through a reworking of the old life we now have. It’s not just our old lives made better. What an amazing promise that is, because I don’t need my old life reworked or made a little bit better with a nip here and a tuck there. There isn’t enough “spiritual plastic surgery” Jesus could possibly do on my old embodied life to fix it up perfect. And I’m not only referring to my old football knees when writing that. I’m talking about the whole enchilada of who I am. It would take Jesus an eternity to fix all that and he still might run out of time.
So, I don’t need improvement or enlightenment. I need resurrection. And so do you. What Jesus promises us is just that: Resurrection to a whole new life. That’s a promise worth contemplating right now as we shelter-in-place. While we don’t know exactly when, the time will come for us to resume our everyday lives once again. What part of our old life do we want resuscitated? There are probably some aspects of our lives B.C. (Before COVID-19) that we’re eager to resuscitate (and should) when the time comes. We all long to hug our friends and family, to gather for worship with our sisters & brothers in Christ, and to have the opportunity once again to serve, hands on, our neighbors in need.
There are, however, other aspects of our lives that probably aren’t worthy of resuscitation. Those things need to stay dead in our tombs. As we burst forth from our physical distancing graves, what will our resurrections look like? When we rise from the grave of COVID-19, will we simply be resuscitated back to those old patterns of anger and bitterness that trapped us? Or, might we envision ourselves resurrected to a new way of being in relationship with one another that leaves buried our old resentments and fears? In this very special, unusual Eastertide, what if we trusted Jesus to pull us out of our graves to new life and not merely to a resuscitation of the same old, same old?
God makes that same offer to us as the human family. B.C. we were, as a society, buried in the grave of extremes. We’d anxiously fly back and forth between panic and neglect. We’d panic about what was happening around us, and then racing to the other extreme, we’d neglect to do anything about what was happening. For example, when there was yet another mass shooting, remember how we’d bewail the tragedy, offer our thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families, and then promise to have a conversation about gun violence? We’d go into panic mode, but then when our attention spans were diverted by one thing or another, we’d neglect to change anything about that evil. As Pete Seeger sang: “When we will ever learn?”
Maybe A.C. (After COVID-19) we’ll embrace resurrection to the new life Jesus promises? Maybe we won’t settle for the mere resuscitation of our old selves? As my Mama used to say: “Wouldn’t that be somethin’?”
One is the loneliest number – Three Dog Night
The Cross was the loneliest place in the world on Good Friday. A few people were present near the Cross, but only One was on the Cross. Jesus hung there alone. Mother Mary and a few brave souls were there keeping vigil. Everyone else fled the night before. It’s the loneliness of the Cross we should see today. It had to be that way. Humanity could not save itself. Only Jesus alone, who was fully God and fully human, could save us. Jesus took on the loneliness of the Cross so we might not have to. Because we couldn’t. We couldn’t bear it. He bore that loneliness so that we would never be alone again, left to our own devices.
And yet, people are lonely, or at least many people report they are. And apparently, it’s as deadly as COVID-19. Ezra Klein, writing in Vox, recently reported on the health outcomes of people who describe themselves as lonely. He wrote: “Social isolation has been associated with a 50% increased risk of developing dementia, a 29% increased risk of coronary heart disease, a 25% increased risk for cancer mortality, a 59% increased risk of functional decline, and a 32% increased risk of stroke.” And that doesn’t even include the mental health risks. Scientists in dozens of studies have found a “consistent relationship between social isolation and depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.” While we’re in this time of “physical distancing,” we need to look out for our neighbors, making sure they aren’t “social isolating.” Their physical and mental health depends upon it, now more than ever.
Kathy Mathea sings of going “through life parched and empty,” all the while “standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst.” The vivid irony of being thirsty while standing in water should wake us up. Even during this time of physical distancing, you and I are standing knee deep in people who would care for us, if we’d let them. Are we too afraid to ask for help? Are we so fearful that others might see us as weak, if we admitted out-loud we can’t go it alone? Is having our vulnerability exposed too high a price to pay? The legendary John Prine, who died this week of COVID-19, wrote of such lonely, fearful people in his song Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrows):
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own chain of sorrows
Jesus became lonely so we’d never have to be alone. The “traps” we’ve created for ourselves don’t need to keep us “prisoner.” We don’t need to stay stuck in our “very own chain of sorrows.” Jesus hung on the Cross to liberate us from such deadly shackles. That’s what you and I need to share with others, rather than, as some of our fellow disciples do, lecturing them about their faults, threatening them (“You better get right with God!”), or perniciously judging them. None of that’s helpful. Never was. Never will be. No one I know is desperate for more judgment (we get plenty every day). We want to know we’re loved, that we matter. Lonely Jesus dying on the Cross was God’s eternal declaration that we’re loved, that we matter. Please share that Good News.
In the days ahead we’re all going to get a crash course in Philosophical Ethics 101. Universities and governmental organizations for years have engaged in simulation “games” where people are brought together and asked as a team to make decisions to address a hypothetical crisis. Years ago, I was a participant in such an exercise. The “game” laid out a grave scenario where my team had to decide about who would get aid and resources and who wouldn’t. It is what leaders do in a crisis. It doesn’t do any good to find who’s to blame for the crisis (they’ll be time for that later). As a participant in the “game,” I found my moral convictions based on my faith in God’s Good News in Jesus served me well in how I participated, but that faith also caused me a great deal more anguish than I perceived my teammates were having. Each time we were asked to ration aid we had to show preference to one group over another. We were doing what medical professionals call “triage,” which, if we’re brutally honest, asks humans to behave inhumanely to one another. That’s why it’s important to know where one stands before being thrown into such decision-making. Otherwise one is left to radically utilitarian decision methods or to simply follow whoever has the loudest voice in the room. What I learned from that exercise is that everyone has a moral code by which they make decisions (even if they don’t name it as such), but I should never be under any illusion that their code is the same as mine or that it even remotely reflects the Gospel.
In the COVID-19 crisis, we’re not just at risk for virus exposure. We’re also at risk of moral exposure, or immoral exposure, as the case may be. We’ve already seen great acts of courage and sacrifice by countless health care workers, some of whom have died, sacrificing their lives to save for others. And there are others making lesser sacrifices, but still exhibiting great courage simply by doing their jobs. We’re also being “exposed” to selfishness and greed by those who seem to care more about their personal fortunes than they do about people’s health and safety. For example, employees at a McDonald’s restaurant near San Francisco left their jobs claiming their employer wasn’t protecting their safety. Workers at a Perdue chicken factory did the same here in Georgia. And even though Instacart and Amazon said they were ensuring their employee’s safety, some of them said it wasn’t nearly enough. Some people have even been fired for raising safety concerns. And then there are dangerous crackpots like Alex Jones and Pat Robertson who seek their own personal profit by hawking “snake oil” cures for COVID-19. I don’t know how they look at themselves in the mirror.
Unlike COVID-19, which is too small to see with the naked eye, our immoral exposure will be available for all with eyes to see. Going forward, it’ll be important that we name it when we see it, not for the purposes of shaming, but so that we don’t lose our own moral bearings in this crisis. It has been said that the first casualty of war is truth. Now more than ever, we must insist on the truth. There may be seemingly impossible choices ahead. Let’s hope they’re not like “Sofie’s Choice,” but they will still be stark and painful. Indeed, doctors and nurses in New York are already there. Pray for the moral wisdom of our leaders and our faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Medical anthropologist Monica Schoch-Spana has studied how the 1918 flu epidemic affected Baltimore. It overwhelmed the city’s medical system. There were reports of people desperately begging for help, even trying to bribe doctors for treatment. In one month alone, 2000 people died of the flu. Funeral homes didn’t have enough caskets and when bodies did reach cemeteries, there weren’t workers available to bury them. This all happened, with the ability of 20-20 hindsight, because there was so much pressure on business owners to remain open. People didn’t heed public health experts, which would’ve slowed the flu’s transmission. This epidemic also evidenced people at their best. People sewed medical masks and extra hospital sheets. People shared food. The epidemic also showed the worst in people. Rumors spread that German-American nurses were deliberately infecting people (some things never change) and African-Americans, this being the Jim Crow era, were denied medical treatment.
A classic episode (“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”) of The Twilight Zone popped into my head after reading about 1918 Baltimore. It plays out entirely on one block of Maple Street, a peaceful suburban enclave. When all the electricity goes out at dusk, neighbors spill into the street. Soon, a rumor spreads that aliens have invaded and taken over the power grid. Then one family’s house has their power return and they’re accused of being aliens. This being America, people go get their guns. They begin threatening one another. They all stop when someone shouts: “Who’s that?” Down the block, a lone figure walks toward them. Someone yells: “It’s an alien!” Someone then shoots the “alien.” They run to where the “alien” has fallen and discover it was just one of their neighbors coming home. A riot ensues of neighbor vs. neighbor. The camera then pans to a hill overlooking the street. Two real aliens have witnessed the mob. They have a device that’s able to manipulate the power grid. One alien says: “All we have to do mess with their lives and they’ll take care of the rest with their paranoia and panic. We can conquer Earth one neighborhood at a time that way.”
People are beginning to declare “we need to get the economy going again,” something we’d all like to see happen. But those people are using a rather unchristian philosophical ethic to justify doing so. It’s called utilitarianism, which in its most heinous application, is a form of Social Darwinism. It posits that the probable deaths of many elderly and health-compromised people are worth it in the long run; that it’s a sacrifice society needs to make for the sake of us all. Such thinking masquerades as “doing the most good for the most people,” but in reality, it’s just a distant cousin of Hitler’s Final Solution where some are deemed more socially valuable than others.
There are no aliens (Deep State or otherwise) manipulating us. God has given us all we need, and that’s one another, to love and cherish. But we can be our own worst enemies when we give into paranoia and panic. I trust we all will resist with every bone in our bodies this profoundly unchristian ethic. The economy isn’t an idol to be worshiped. Yes, waiting longer to go back to work may deepen the economic hill we must climb later, but we’ll be able to look at ourselves in the mirror without shame or guilt.
You may not like who you’re about to become. – David Brooks
David Brooks wrote an insightful piece in the New York Times recently entitled, “Pandemics Kill Compassion, Too.” He recalls the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and how it created in many people a desire to look only after themselves and what was theirs and ignored their neighbors’ plight. He pointed out that when the pandemic was over, “people didn’t talk about it. There were very few books or plays written about it. Roughly 675,000 Americans lost their lives to the flu, compared with 53,000 in battle in World War I, and yet it left almost no conscious cultural mark. Perhaps it’s because people didn’t like who they had become. It was a shameful memory and therefore suppressed.”
Brooks continues: “Frank Snowden, the Yale historian who wrote Epidemics and Society, argues that pandemics hold up a mirror to society and force us to ask basic questions: What is possible imminent death trying to tell us? Where is God in all this? What’s our responsibility to one another?” In this current crisis those indeed are the questions people are asking. We’re all fearful. I have no doubt it’ll bring out the best and worst in us as human beings. Crises tend to do that, whether we want them to or not.
Right now, I’m no braver than the next person. Recently, all I’ve wanted to do is put on a HAZMAT suit and wait for this to be over. Yet, I’m very aware of my scared, inner child and know how selfish I’m capable of being, especially when it comes to protecting myself and those I love. We’re all tempted, if only in our thoughts, to be Social Darwinists during this time, trying to be “fitter” than the next person so we might survive (even if they don’t). While I’m washing my hands and practicing “social distancing” during this time, might I also be mindful of my fears, set them at least temporarily aside, and practice compassion for my neighbor who is just as afraid?
There’s no way to ensure that we won’t become what we don’t like, especially if we don’t keep ourselves mindful of such a danger. That’s why we must pay attention to our fears and the reactivity inside ourselves. In the fear that pervaded after September 11, 2001, we became overly vengeful. Many Arab-Americans were treated shamefully and discriminated against without warrant. At the time, I was Rector of St. Philip’s in Durham, North Carolina and heard the ugliest words come out of some of my parishioners’ mouths. One wanted to “bomb the hell out of the Arab world and let God sort them out.”
We don’t want to contract a “moral disease” that might eventually be worse than this virus, where we lose our capacity for neighbor-love as we give into our fears. I get it. We’re all scared. It’s probably good to acknowledge that. But we shouldn’t become victims of our own worse impulses. Because on the cross Jesus became the victim on our behalf, we’re liberated from being victims of our sin. He took all our shame on his shoulders. We’re free to love our neighbor even in these trying times. Let’s do that and we’ll like what we’ll become.