I was talking with a senior Mercer University colleague yesterday about the divisions engulfing our nation over COVID vaccines and masks. Carl has served as a pastor, professor and politician. He’s a very wise man.
I said: “Carl, two years ago, could you ever have imagined that we would be facing a situation like we are today?”
Carl surprised me with this response: “Sure! Anyone who has ever tried to lead a church or do anything in politics knows how balky and stubborn people can be.”
But then I replied: “But Carl, in some states we can’t get even half the people to take a vaccine in their own best interests, to save their own lives!”
And Carl closed us out by saying: “That’s true. We can’t get people to do what is in their own interest to do. But this is not the first time that has happened.”
I look around every day in this country and see the evidence of 400 years of civilizational development. I look at our educational and intellectual institutions, small and large businesses, physical infrastructure, science and tech sector, health care providers, government structures, sports and entertainment industries, legal/judicial system, voluntary associations, clubs and neighborhoods. It has taken a very long time to build this country and all that has made it successful.
Yes, there has been so very much injustice involved in building what has been built here. But much that is impressive has been built here. For at least the last 75 years, this country was seen by many as (one of) the greatest, most powerful, most dynamic and most well-run countries the world had yet seen. We reluctantly intervened and helped win World War I. We finally intervened and helped win World War II. We organized the successful Normandy landing. We faced off with the USSR and that country finally collapsed as we won the Cold War. We built spaceships and landed people on the moon. We gave the world Lil Nas X. I mean, really.
And now we can’t get even half the people in seven states to take one shot of a vaccine that has been available since January.
“That’s because we can’t agree on whether COVID is a real disease.”
That’s because we can’t agree on whether COVID is a real disease. We can’t agree on whether the vaccine is a real cure. We can’t agree on Dr. Fauci. We can’t agree on the CDC. We can’t agree on whether we should mandate vaccines. We can’t agree on whether we should mandate masks, whether for the vaccinated or unvaccinated. We can’t agree on whether or where it is safe to travel. We can’t agree on what the rules should be for kids and teachers in school, or if they should even be in school. After Joe Biden’s speech on Sept. 9, now we can’t agree on whether federal government vaccine mandates are good policy or new grounds for massive civil disobedience.
It’s worse than all this. We can’t agree on whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump is the legitimate/actual president. We can’t agree on whether there was a violent insurrection on Jan. 6 or whether the people imprisoned for that event are villains or heroes. We can’t agree on what basic voting rules in our states should be. We can’t agree on what constitutes a fair and free election. We can’t agree on whether there is such a thing as climate change even as people and land in our states burn and drown.
“This is a lament. I am not offering answers because I don’t know what the answer is.”
Everyone is suing everyone. A sampling from today’s news: Sean Spicer is suing Joe Biden for removing him from the U.S. Naval Academy Board. The Justice Department is suing Texas over its new abortion law. GOP governors are immediately threatening to sue the White House over its new vaccine mandates. Trump is suing social media companies. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and all kinds of people over false claims of rigged voting machines. Several U.S. Capitol Police officers and some Democratic Congress members are suing Trump over Jan. 6.
Sometimes it seems the only institutions that work in this country are related to sports. We may have 150,000 new COVID cases, and 1,500 deaths, a day; we may not be allowed to travel to Europe because we are a “very unsafe” country; we don’t quite agree who our president is … but we can still pack 90,000 people into football stadiums to watch very large, hugely talented men knock each other around.
This is a lament. I am not offering answers because I don’t know what those answers are.
These are three things I do know:
- Our civilization feels shaky.
- Anything that has been built up can be brought down.
- We are tearing ourselves apart.
David P. Gushee is a leading Christian ethicist. He serves as Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and is the past president of both The American Academy of Religion and The Society of Christian Ethics. He’s the author of Kingdom Ethics, After Evangelicalism, and Changing Our Mind: The Landmark Call for Inclusion of LGBTQ Christians. He and his wife, Jeanie, live in Atlanta. Learn more: davidpgushee.com or Facebook.
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