Posted Mar 27, 2020 by Michael L. Brown

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A national tragedy occurs, and Christians get scapegoated and blamed. Remember Nero blaming the Christians for the burning of Rome? Today, it is an op-ed writer for the New York Times who blames evangelicals for the spread of the coronavirus in America – and that would mean white evangelicals, to be sure.

The Times headline is bold and provocative: “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals.” Yes, “Trump’s response to the pandemic has been haunted by the science denialism of his ultraconservative religious allies.”

According to Katherine Stewart, the author of the article, “Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.”

Is there any substance to her claims?

Stewart quotes prominent evangelical leaders (one of whom is Hispanic, for the record) who downplayed the danger of holding public gatherings to the point of ridiculing pastors who chose to follow the government’s guidelines. (My own stance has been quite the opposite, encouraging pastors to comply out of love for their neighbors as well as out of wisdom; see here and here.)

Stewart also notes that some evangelical leaders in high places in the government have scorned the danger of the virus, outside of church settings.

But where is her evidence that these pastors and leaders influenced Trump’s policy decisions? What proof does she have?

To be generous, we could call it specious. To be precise, we could say she has none. A court of law would not even find her reasoning worthy of being called circumstantial.

Specifically, Stewart argues that Trump commonly differs with the experts during his press briefings on the virus. But where is her proof that this is because of outside religious influences rather than Trump simply following his gut? (She acknowledges that he does, in fact, trust his gut.) She also fails to consider that, for the moment, these are just words, while his policy decisions have followed the experts.

She argues that Trump spoke of his hope that churches would be full again on Easter. But how does this prove that he is listening to evangelical voices in terms of science-based decisions? How is this different from his talk about getting businesses back open around that time as well? Why isn’t this simply Trump seeking to instill hope?

Stewart also fails to mention, by name, leading evangelical pastors who are close to Trump and who have fully complied with his guidelines. Is that because this doesn’t fit her narrative?

As for Trump’s actions, it is true that, in the earliest days, he seemed to downplay the danger of the virus when speaking publicly. At the same time, he was combating the hysteria of the media, which would have us believe that 15 millions Americans could die of the disease.

But what of his actions? He enacted the China travel ban in January, to the jeers of some of the left, with former Vice President Biden calling it “xenophobia.”

As Tom Pappert pointed out on the National File on March 12, “While Democrats in March attack President Donald Trump for not doing enough to end the coronavirus epidemic, the same Democrats were bashing the president’s decision to ban travel from China in January.

“In January, President Trump banned all foreign nationals who were in China during the time of the coronavirus outbreak from entering the United States. Many pundits and health experts have since credited this decision with helping to slow the coronavirus pandemic on American shores.”

To quote Biden directly, “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia, hysterical xenophobia, to uh, and fear mongering.”

Yet according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, this ban made a real difference in saving lives. Does Stewart mention that?

It is true that a recent Pew Research poll found that, “Most white evangelicals don't think COVID-19 poses a major threat to Americans' health.”

But again, what does that have to do with life and death policy decisions that the president is making? Where are the evangelical ministers standing with him at his daily press briefings? And what of the large number of leading scientists who themselves are conservative Christians, like Katherine Hayhoe?

According to the Washington Post, she is “both an evangelical Christian and a climate scientist” – in fact, a “top climate scientist.” And she is just one among countless top scientists who are committed Christians, and some of them are close to the president.

The bottom line is that there is zero factual support for the misleading and even dangerous Times headline. And Stewart has no support whatsoever that science-denying evangelicals are influencing the president’s decisions. To the contrary, wherever his gut and his optimism might lead, it appears that he is following scientific guidelines in order to save as many lives as possible.

If Stewart had focused her article on the cavalier attitudes of some Christian leaders, I would added my hearty Amen, having written and spoken similar things as well. But the current article paints a false picture, recklessly scapegoating evangelical Christians in the process.

When people are dying of the virus and tens of millions are afraid, this is a highly irresponsible thing to do. And whoever came up with the headline for the article has acted even more irresponsibly. Shame on him or her.

A public apology and retraction would be a good place to start.

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Swkh310 posted a comment · Mar 31, 2020
Since you are an Aggie, I'll cut you some slack. Perhaps you are unaware that Pat Robertson said that EXACT thing last week; perhaps you are also unaware that Ralph Drollinger, spiritual adviser to the creature in the Oval Office, said that EXACT thing last week; perhaps you are unaware that E.W. Jackson refers to the virus as the "homovirus;" Pastor Steven Andrew of the USA Christian Church said it was all the gays; and, my personal favorite, Jim Bakker, too! Where is Tammy Faye when you need her?!
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neptune posted a comment · Mar 30, 2020
Somebody made these perceptive comments on another conservative Web site: "They are going to say it is the coronavirus that killed those people, not the flu. Actually there are hundreds of coronaviruses, not just Covid-19. We all carry various coronavirus in our body. The test they give for Covid-19 is actually a test for any coronavirus. Even if you don't have Covid-19 you will test positive if you have any other coronavirus in your body. They will diagnose you with Covid-19 even if all you have is some benign coronavirus. That is why the figures are so high for infection of Covid-19. It is a false reading designed to mislead the public. It is very deceptive and a scam. This is more about controlling the people and getting them to obediently quarantine and lock themselves down than it is about Covid-19. And the perfect time to pass a financial bill that pumps $6.2 trillion of fiat money into the economy to keep the charade going and cause massive inflation (all blamed on Covid-19). And do you really think the government cares about our health? They don't give a rat's behind about your or anyone else's health. This is not about our health. It goes beyond that. It is about controlling us."
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neptune posted a comment · Mar 30, 2020
Good post, texasaggie. Concerning Isaac Newton, though, it seems that he wasn't what we'd call a Christian today. You can read more here: https://confrontingbabbleon.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/isaac-newtons-grave-in-westminster-abbey/
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texasaggie posted a comment · Mar 29, 2020
Well said, Dr. Brown. To SWKH310, I haven't seen evangelicals blaming gays for the coronavirus or Republicans blaming the Democrats, but it does look like the Democrats and their media allies are trying to put the blame on Republicans and Christians for political gain. I probably have more science training as a structural engineer than Ms. Stewart at the New York times and I am also a follower of Jesus, as were many of the greatest scientists of history, including Sir Isaac Newton who discovered the laws of gravity and more. My view of how God interacts with us is that the normal laws of nature, which God created, are in effect most of the time but that God can, and does, override them occasionally at his discretion. Hence the validity of prayer. This is verified in the many miraculous Bible accounts and within the experience of many believers, including myself. God gave control of the earth to human beings and he works through human beings most of the time. It's hard to imagine the lack of awareness of the people who imagine, to their detriment, that there is no God. I pray for them. One thing that the media doesn't generally focus on is that what generally stops epidemics with highly contagious viruses is that enough of the population is exposed to it and develops immunity to prevent further easy spread (herd immunity). The immunity can be obtained by direct exposure, or a vaccine which creates antibodies to resist the virus without the negative effects of the actual virus. Quarantines do not typically end this type of epidemic but slow the spread of the sickness to give more time to find medical solutions and not overload the hospitals. That's what they are talking about when they refer to "flattening the curve" - spreading out the infections over a longer period. Since this sickness (less than 1% death rate)is not more deadly than a bad case of the flu according to Dr. Fauci, unlike SARS (10% death rate) and MERS (35% death rate), it is not certain that extending the quarantine will give much more benefit and is causing much economic damage. Countries can't go a long time with a dead economy. At least one way of treating the virus that has been verified as effective with field use by doctors, if not long term laboratory testing, is chloroquine, as mentioned by the President. He was severely criticized for that but he was right. It was reported that one doctor in New York city treated over 500 patients with it and only one had died. Most of them did not even need to go to the hospital. Ms. Stewart should look into that. Official lab testing can take over a year and we don't have that much time with a highly contagious disease, especially if a more deadly virus appears. Field testing by doctors is valid. Vaccines have been quickly developed but not tested extensively yet (that might be speeded up by foregoing the testing beyond basic safety standards, if needed). Trump and his advisers are right, in my opinion, to want to limit the quarantine period and to work on getting the economy going again soon. That is not an anti-science view and it makes good economic sense because many are unemployed because of this currently and others are losing their businesses. So I am thankful for God's continued guidance to President Trump, along with protection and encouragement for him, his family, and his team.
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neptune posted a comment · Mar 29, 2020
We tend to project onto others when we're not happy. Scapegoating is a form of projection. It sounds as though the author, Katherine Stewart, is not happy. So, as a way of coping with her unhappiness, she's projecting her negative "stuff" onto evangelicals. Heavy, man. Scapegoating makes people feel better temporarily by helping them escape reality. But needless to say, it isn't healthy. It's best to feel sorry for people like Ms. Stewart. Most of all, ignore her nonsense. The biggest clue—it came from the "New York Times." Well, if you believe anything that "newspaper" puts out these days, then I have hundreds of gallons of dehydrated water that I'd like to sell you. Interested? ;)
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Swkh310 posted a comment · Mar 27, 2020
The blame game is in full swing. The evangelicals will blame the gays. Republicans will blame the Democrats. Here’s a newsflash. No one is to blame. It’s a virus.