Where Are the Christian Faith Leaders?

V&A – Raphael, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1515)

In taped interviews with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, President Donald Trump repeatedly said the coronavirus “ ‘is deadly stuff,’” but “knowingly played down” the pandemic “because, ‘I don’t want to create a panic.’” So he kept reassuring Americans with statements like, “We have it very much under control in this country.” All the while people were dying, never mind panicking. Aware that the coronavirus “was life-threatening and vastly more serious than the seasonal flu ” he “dismiss[ed] concerns about the lethality of the virus,” publicly saying, “ ‘It’s a little like the regular flu that we have shots for . . . and we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.’”

At a South Carolina rally, he even “denounced Democrats for their concerns about the virus as ‘their new hoax.’” And Woodward reported also: “He made a conscious choice not only to mislead the public but also to actively pressure governors to reopen before his own government guidelines said they were ready.” (“Trump Admits Downplaying the Virus Knowing It Was ‘Deadly Stuff,’” By Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, Sept. 10, 2020)

President Trump’s taped interviews reveal not only his indifference to the danger of the pandemic to Americans, but his willingness to inflict it on them for his own narcissistic ends. He makes a big deal about literally hugging the American flag, but Americans themselves who get in the way of his re-election campaign are shrugged off.

An example of deliberately misleading the American people is President Trump telling Bob Woodward, “Part of it is the viciousness. You know when it attacks the lungs. . . . And now it’s turning out it’s not just older people, Bob. . . . It’s not just old, older. Young people too – plenty of young people.” Possessing this critical information, Trump made a contrary assertion in an “interview broadcast by “Fox and Friends” on August 5: “If you look at children,” he said, “children are almost, and I would say almost definitely, but almost immune from this disease. . . . They’ve got stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this.” (Ibid) Apparently he already knew and kept secret: that “there has been a 90% increase in Covid-19 cases in US children in the last four weeks.” The report says, “While some US leaders – including President Trump – have said the virus doesn’t pose a large risk to children, one recent study suggests older children can transmit the virus just as much as adults. Another study said children younger than 5 carry a higher viral load than adults, raising even more questions about their role in transmission.” And William Haseltine, a former professor at Harvard Medical School, said, “Children ages zero to five can be ‘highly infectious to other people. It turns out they have a thousand times more virus in their nose than you need to infect, so they’re very, very contagious.’ “ (By Jen Christensen, Lauren Mascarenhas, Christina Maxouris and Sandee LaMotte, Aug. 11, 2020)

The reported “most comprehensive U.S. accounting to date of pediatric infections and fatalities reveal that there have been 391,814 known cases and 121 deaths among people under the age of 21 from  February to July.” And “of those killed by the covid-19 . . . more than 75 percent have been Hispanic, Black and American Indian children, even though they represent 41 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” These findings “echo pandemic disparities well-documented among adults. Previous studies have found the virus’s death toll is twice as high among people of color under age 65 as for White Americans.” (“Coronavirus kills far more Hispanic and Black children than White youths, CDC study finds,” by William Wan, The Washington Post, Sept.5, 2020).

Trump knew that children were not immune to the virus. Yet as summer began, he “tweets that ‘little leaguers ‘will be playing baseball soon’: in the meantime ‘take care of mom and dad.’” He also pushed for the re-opening of schools, and a number of children attending classes have become infected with the virus. He could care less about little leaguers – and their moms and dads.

Jesus is recorded as saying, “Whoever causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9: 42) Where are the Christian faith leaders?

Bob Woodward taped President Trump as saying, “This is dangerous stuff. . . . You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.” Health officials also knew how the virus spread, and stressed the important of people wearing masks. But even with his knowledge that the virus spread by “just breath[ing] the air,” Trump undermined the wearing of masks. Instead of setting an example for all American as president, he said in early April, “I just don’t want to wear one myself. . . . I don’t know. Somehow sitting in the Oval Office . . . I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know. Somehow I don’t see it for myself. I just – I just don’t.” (“Trump’s reason for not wearing a mask? Sticking it to the media,” by Philip Bump, The Washington Post, May 21, 2020)

Not only did President Trump see refusing to wear a mask as a personal choice “for myself.” He belittled Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for wearing one, saying he was seeking to be “politically correct.” He also tried to seduce a reporter to take off his mask so that, supposedly, he could hear him better. The reporter refused, saying he would speak louder.

President Trump’s glaring violation of Covid-19 protective measures is seen in his holding indoor rallies across the country, with large crowds of people, many not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. In an interview with Debra J. Sanders of the Los Vegas-Review Journal, he justified the rallies, saying, “I’m on a stage and it’s far away. When Sanders asked, “ ‘What about people here?,’ Trump avoided the question,” and “countered . . . ‘I’m more concerned about how close you are, to be honest. Because you know why? I’m on a stage and it’s very far away.’ He added, ‘And so I’m not at all concerned.’ “ (“Trump on Why He’d Not Concerned About COVID at Rallies: ‘I’m on s stage,’” by Meaghan Ellis, ijr.org, Sept. 14,2020)

Why should President Trump be concerned? As reported, “At the White House, anyone who comes near the president, including the senior staff, is tested for the virus. Mr. Trump himself is tested daily, if not more often.” (“Trump Defends Holding Indoor Ralliy, but Aides Express Concern,” by Anne Karni, The New York Times, Sept. 15, 2020)

All that matters to President Trump is that he is at a safe distance. Never mind the health of those attending his rallies.

Olivia Troye, Vice President Pence’s “lead staffer on the White House coronavirus task force,” quit in disgust, and is now voting for Joe Biden. She reported that Trump said at a coronavirus task force meeting, “Maybe the coronavirus is a good thing. . . . I don’t have to shake hands with these disgusting people.” (“Olivia Troye: Pence’s former lead coronavirus task force aide slams Trump and endorses Biden in new video,” by Jake Tapper and Jeremy Herb, CNN, Sept. 17, 2020) A disgruntled “staffer” with an axe to grind. Or a self-absorbed president with a compulsive need to disparage others.

Nor does the president show concern that a Washington University Institute of Metrics and Evaluation study found: “Another 134,000 people could die in the US of Covid-19 by December if no further safety measures are mandated.” The “silver lining: . . . if many more people wore masks . . . about 70,000 of those lives would be saved . . . the Institute’s leader said.” (“Nearly 70,000 lives could be saved in the next three months if more Americans wore masks, researchers say,” by Christina Maxouris and Alaa Elassar, CNN, Aug. 22, 2020)

Jesus is recorded as saying, ”The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6: 22, 23) Where are the Christian faith leaders?

President Trump’s narcissism is also seen in him blaming everyone else for the “darkness” he has created. The latest, of all persons, is Bob Woodard. He said that Woodward’s 18 taped interviews with him was a “political hit job” tweeting, “Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? . . . Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm. No panic!” (“Trump slams Woodward: If remarks were bad, why didn’t he ‘immediately report them,’“ by Morgan Chalfant, The Hill, Sept. 10, 2020)

Donald Trump, not Bob Woodward, is president, with a bully pulpit. As president, he has tremendous power and vast resources and agencies at the ready to respond nationally to the coronavirus. Early on, Trump, not Woodward, knowingly and repeatedly, played down the pandemic as it was spreading across the country, saying it was “well under control” and will “disappear,” as it continued to sicken growing numbers of Americans, with many dying. Trump did not set an example as president by wearing a mask. Instead he depreciated and politicized mask-wearing, even after telling Woodward, “This is deadly stuff. . . . You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.”

President Trump has pushed to have a vaccine ready by November 1, just before the presidential election. Evidently, in his mind, the timing would lead people to take their minds off the nearly 200,000 killed by the virus (tens of thousands due to his negligence), and his destructive effort to prematurely re-open the economy in the interest of his re-election campaign. A vaccine before the election might also lead people to overlook the more than seven million Americans sickened by the virus and the tremendous loss of jobs and financial suffering. Like a little boy who has never grown up, he places the blame on others for the consequences of his destructive behavior.

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is another who was criticized by President Trump for making statements about the pandemic pre-election timeline for a vaccine. At a reported Senate committee hearing, Redfield testified that ”a vaccine would not likely be widely available until the middle of next year and that masks were so vital in fighting the disease.” Holding up a mask, Redfield said, “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine.” Trump, who has depreciated masks, immediately reacted to Redfield’s statement, saying, “I think he made a mistake when he said that. . . . It’s just incorrect information.” Never mind that public health officials are reported to be “in strong agreement about the benefit of masks,” and “have said that it will be many months before a virus can be distributed to the population at large allowing life to begin returning to a semblance of normal even as Mr. Trump has promised to approve one in time for the general election on Nov. 3.” (‘TRUMP SCORNS OWN SCIENTISTS OVER VIRUS DATA,’ by Peter Baker, The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2020)

President Trump even blamed the “blue states” for the high coronavirus death toll. At a White House briefing regarding America’s death rate, he said, “ . . . the blue states have had tremendous death rates. If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at. We’re really at a very low level.” And to emphasize his point: “But some of the states, they were blue states and blue state-managed.” (“Trump called ‘demented’ after blaming ‘blue states’ for the coronavirus death toll,” by Elizabeth Thomas and Allison Pecorin, ABC News, Sept. 17, 2020)

In the critical weeks of the virus’s outbreak, President Trump refused to take responsibility for the lag in testing of Americans. As reported, he “insist[ed] instead – without offering evidence – that the fault lies with his predecessor, Barack Obama. ‘I don’t take responsibility at all,’ Trump said defiantly, pointing to an unspecified ‘set of circumstances’ and ‘rules, regulations and specifications from a different time.’ “ (“ ‘I don’t take responsibility at all’: Trump deflects blame for coronavirus testing fumble,” by Caitlin Oprysko, POLIITICS, March 13, 2020)

Jesus is described as teaching:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evil doers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18: 9-14)

It is not just about criticizing certain of President Trump’s destructive policies, important as that is. Christian faith leaders especially should also be calling for President Trump’s removal and criminal prosecution. His treasonous behavior has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Americans becoming afflicted with the coronavirus, tens of thousands dying, and a shattered economy – all this devastation as a result of his willful negligence, due to his narcissistically-driven, power-hungry pursuit of reelection.

The First Amendment of the Constitution calls for the separation of the church and state, not the subordination of the church to the state. And the Christian Bible calls faith leaders to be prophets of the people, and not just chaplains of the status quo. Where are the Christian faith leaders?

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.