Some personal reflections on the politics surrounding COVID-19, the sanctity of life and the economy
I wrote the following in response to discussions elsewhere and share here for the interest and benefit of others.
The subject of how we should respond to the shutdown of a fair portion of the economy has been discussed here as well as elsewhere and is certainly a very hot topic in our increasingly politically polarised and unfortunately too often economically and politically manipulated, although somewhat diverse, Western society.
While appreciating the informed insights of others and their right to such positions, I have largely not as yet bought into this discussion, yet I have not been afraid to utter what our Lutheran Church of Australia’s ‘Doctrinal Statements and Theological Opinions’ calls ‘a prophetic word’ that we dare not neglect to speak when needed to subjects of a social nature elsewhere. Specifically, regarding this subject I have limited what I have said to comments along the lines that the consumption in the lead up to this crisis was reckless and unsustainable and shame on those who simply want to return to such recklessness and unstainable ‘party times’ which have had such a devastating effect on faith, the family, social cohesion, the environment and just about everything decent.
Firstly, let me say that any suggestion that a reluctance for me or anyone to come too quickly to a position is an affront to the worlds poor or negligence towards them is unhelpful at best and possibly slanderous. As I have said I respect the right of others who either believe they are better informed or who feel a moral obligation to advocate. However there may be various ways to serve the worlds poor, and I must say that letting economies get to the state of Italy and other countries or location experiencing similar disastrous circumstances through neglecting early intervention may not be the best way to serve the worlds poor. That perhaps is yet to be fully analysed and evaluated. There are also issues here relating to balancing the effect on the health and safety of our own people and our international responsibilities. This raises real philosophical and ethical dilemmas which are explored in this worthwhile article on the tensions between utilitarian ethics and the sanctity of life which suggests that there is hypocrisy evident in the stance of some who advocate against abortion but not in other areas, which sadly has been evident too often when it comes to military interventionism and the environment. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/23/us/reopening-country-coronavirus-utilitarianism/index.html I have and do advocate for a consistent life ethic (with a few qualifications) which is evidenced in so many of my postings in numerous places over a very long period of time now. This position has at times been rigorously opposed and attacked by people with varying interests and social views. It is however a position that is consistent with the Scriptures and one that opponents generally have more respect for than the inconsistencies and hypocrisy they quickly point out in the very selective and reductionist positions advocated by some.
Some say there is political pressue on our leaders that they give into when it comes to threats to one of our most valued atributes, health and indeed to life itself. However the same argument can be made regarding immense pressure to prematurely reopen the economy. For example the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk seemed to soften her stance against a State of Origin rugby league game this year following statements by NSW coach Brad Fittler asserting she would be committing ‘political suicide’ and reminding her of the economic implications https://au.sports.yahoo.com/nrl-2020-brad-fittler-continues-attack-annastacia-palaszczuk-212010153.html These competing vested interests, namely peoples lives, health and wellbeing verses economic interests and implications is one reason for my personal caution at this stage despite some personal disquiet and concerns I have in various directions.
As mentioned above I am well known for not stepping back from our responsibility to speak a ‘prophetic word’ to Christians, to all in authority and to society in general. However, as time has progressed I have become increasingly aware of just how important it is to be informed regarding both theological and empirical research. Fake news, propagandists, false prophets and ultimately the father of all lies, the devil, exploit both the bible and the newspaper for their own purpose. Bitter experience from earlier in my life and ministry has prompted caution. As Pope John Paul the Second said ‘Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes’. Doing the hard yards of research, testing the ubiquitous propaganda and sifting and so being relatively sure of ones position gives one boldness and peace in the face of the inevitable backlash that comes from confronting self-interest and evil.
As mentioned above COVID-19 raises the competing interests of personal health and safety versus economic security and advancement. Health and wealth are two of the most powerful motivators of individuals and of our fallen world, notably among us in recent decades, but throughout history as well. As Christians we have a security and motivation that transcends both. We also have another motivator; to love and serve Christ in the neighbour (locally and globally) as Christ loves and serves us as evidenced in his incarnation, cross, resurrection and ascension and by Him pouring His love into our hearts though the Holy Spirit. In other words our considerations are to transcend the narrow and parochial self interest we so often see around us and, sadly, even within us.
Just a few additional comments before addressing economic recklessness in the lead up to our current situation. We do need a unified nation and a functional economy if we are to respond to all of the unfolding challenges confronting us. We do need to transcend self interest. The values derving from our Christian faith once gave us such foundations. What we are left with now is too much extreme partisanship that is tearing us apart. Such partisanship fudges facts and figures in all directions. Some say this in not too much worse than one of our more recent severe flu seasons and say the mortaliy rate is much lower than being reported as we do not know what the true infection rate is. Yet the same applies to influenza in that we may also not know the true infection rate. Others may overemphasise the mortality rate also for their own agendas. Again I see a need for the caution I advise above as I see the truth, research and figures continually distored when it comes to personal health, wealth and the pursuit of ones own want’s in so many other areas. The same can be applied to our freedoms. Some sacrifices of these are needed for the common good but there is the risk that this gets manipulated and exploited by those with more authoritarian or totalitarian agendas. Once again our faith gave us some cohesiveness, absolutes and limits here in the foundational teaching that all humans are made in the image of God and so life is to be valued, the notion of sacrifice modelled in the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus and His command to love and serve others, personal responsibility and accountability before God as well as the necessity of the State but also its limits and that all human authority is ultimately answerable to God.
I now move to my main point and will say the following clearly . Many are looking to make the current crisis a convenient scapegoat for our deep seated overconsumption and bankruptcy economically, but also spiritually, morally and socially, that has been a slow train coming but increasingly gathering momentum for a long time now. Specifically I have made comments to the effect that the consumption in the lead up to this crisis was reckless and unsustainable and shame on those who simply want to return to such recklessness and unstainable ‘party times’ which have had such a devastating effect on the faith, the family, social cohesion, the environment and just about everything decent. The following for example shows how Australia had record levels of personal or household debt going into this crisis https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-18/household-debt-leaves-australians-working-longer-spending-less/11608016 The following reveals how the USA was spirally out of control economically, was basically bankrupt and its Government spending like a drunken sailor going into this crisis https://thehill.com/opinion/finance/484285-how-the-23-trillion-debt-crisis-in-america-affects-your-own-money If this crisis didn’t sink our economy something else would have. It was a ticking time bomb. Why, I ask as I did when originally making such comments, in that time of unprecedented affluence and consumption did we not build up huge reserves in order to be able to withstand unexpected shocks to our economy and so by extension also protect the poor globally? Why did we slash foreign aid so dramatically? Is it because we are spiritually and morally bankrupt and money and material pursuit has been our god, or more literally has become our idol?
We were also building recklessly and unsustainably environmentally and setting up the poor for disaster, squandering the opportunity we had in a time of economic strength to mitigate on climate change. On this there is no scientific uncertainty due to the phenomenal amount of scientific research and consensus and our theology, grounded in the Word as it is, speaks extensively and unmistakably to this. The same is also true of so many of our more recent wars, often covertly thorugh proxies or economically, lining our pockets through the military industrial complex (see here for dire warning already in the the year of my birth, 1961, by US President Eisenhower https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg-jvHynP9Y ) I have little time for those who use the poor as a pawn in their political games but advocated against them economically, ideologically and militarily when so much has been absolutely clear for a very long time now for anyone capable of research who really wanted to know.
In case anyone is tempted to think such negativity toward our fallen culture are simply those of myself and the promoting of my own personal agenda I refer you to the Hebrew prophets, the teaching of Jesus, the Apostles and the following from God through St John in the book of Revelation, chapter 18 regarding the fall of Babylon the great, a symbol for all human building apart from God or the unclean pursuits of the fallen world we see all around us.
“Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
“‘Come out of her, my people,’
so that you will not share in her sins,
so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes.
Give back to her as she has given;
pay her back double for what she has done.
Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
Give her as much torment and grief
as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
‘I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;
I will never mourn.’
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”
I encourage all to study this whole chapter carefully and all of the book of Revelation using sound study aids that help unpack its rich use of symbolism while avoiding the bizarre ways it is interpreted in certain circles, and obviously to study the Bible as a whole. A good way to do this is to is the enter the word ‘Revelation’ ( or whatever book of the bible you are interested in) followed by the chapter number into your search engine followed by the words ‘Thy strong word’. Do your search and this will take you to a podcast on KFUO, the confessional Lutheran radio station in the US. The podcasts are generally excellent. I recommend the following on this chapter with special guest LCMS Pastor Nathan Meador https://www.kfuo.org/2018/12/17/tsw-121718-revelation18/ Among many insights he mentions the depth to which we have fallen which is manifested in the ruin of US politics which is glaringly obvious in the current political environment and the degradation seen in the destructive, corrupt hate filled and toxic divisive fight to the death between the advocates of neo-socialism and crony capitalism.
We can’t physically escape the Babylon all around us that is coming under judgement, but we are called to detach ourselves and align ourselves with the city of Hebrews 11 and 12 whose foundations are permanent because it is a glorious, eternal city that is not being built by mere human hands but by God. Sadly there is too much of Lot’s wife in us who instead of looking to God and looking forward looks back at the luxuries and indulgences of the cities of this world that are coming under judgement and is not disgusted or sighs enough over its corruption, evil and uncleanness. We too often take the necessity of our settling here, praying for the world and rightfully enjoying within limits the good gifts God still provides for us in this fallen world with thanksgiving as an excuse to not realise we are truly in exile here and as an excuse for conformity and to not yearn as we should for the true Jerusalem and glorious city that is above. Daily we need to die to our old self in repentance and rise anew, forgiven and cleansed in Christ, to be informed by God’s Word and led by His Spirit to walk a different way.
Yes, the poor and vulnerable here and internationally are precious in God’s eyes. We do have obligations. I have advocated frequently on their behalf over the years. I am concerned with the impacts that our current economic crisis will have on them. There are already dire warnings that this is very immanent as the following article and many like it reveal: ‘Coronavirus: World risks biblical famine due to pandemic – UN’ https://www.bbc.com/news/world-52373888 However, I am neither entrusted with the responsibility nor do I have enough of a handle on the situation as yet to make a call as to what is the best way to go and if opening the economy too quickly may make a dire situation even worse. Our secular rulers have been entrusted with that task, although we as citizens in a democracy are not uninvolved and they may at times need reminding of their responsibilities to all and not just those with power, money, influence and agendas and that they are and will be held ultimately accountable to God in how they exercise this.
The unique task that I and we Christians have been entrusted with is sparing people from a fate worse than famine and death and bringing them into eternal relief, abundance and feasting though the message of the forgiveness of sins and resurrection of the body in and through Christ Jesus alone. In Luke 21:10-11 Jesus includes pestilence and famine as signs that the end is approaching
“Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven’.” The scriptures also prophesy runaway climate change as a precursor to the end (see for example Revelation 16, Isaiah 24).
The signs are getting plainer to see. We humans are being reminded that we are not in control and too often we have abused or neglected our responsibilities to govern with, under and on behalf of God, adding enormously to our predicaments. We are being reminded how serious sin is and how much of an affront it is to our holy God. Our greatest need is to be delivered from the curse of death which our sin brings. Yet God is patient, sending us signs and awakening us in severe ways as we were blinding ourselves in our affluence and seeking to escape confronting the reality of death and the judgement and diverse eternal destinies which lie beyond it by diverting and obsessing ourselves with the trivial, the shallow and even the immoral and unclean. God is incredibly generous and merciful, not wanting anyone to perish, but all to come to know His great love, presence and forgiveness now and fully and completely for all eternity. It is a privilege to be able to proclaim and share such good news. Such a message ought also to be accompanied with the challenge to respond quickly and earnestly in repentance and faith in Christ, for none of us know how much longer any of us have to either proclaim or to receive this amazing grace and unbelievable invitation to unfathomable joys, indeed to the healing and transformation of all things, and to avert the just sentence and commendation our sins and sinfulness deserve. Praise God for His amazing, incredibly costly, self substituting grace and mercy.
Christ has risen. He has risen Indeed.
The aim of this Page is to be a safe place to explore the ultimate questions of meaning and purpose and to enquire about and discuss the Christian faith from a Lutheran perspective.
A Little About Me
I am Pastor Michael Steicke, often referred to as Pastor Mike. I have been a Lutheran Pastor for over 30 years, having served Parishes in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, before moving to Tasmania to be the Pastor of St Peters Lutheran Parish in Hobart at the beginning of 2016.