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Covid-19, Conspiracy theories and Jesus

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A response to theories about China’s role in the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting financial and social instability of the world

By James Loftin [4/16/2020 - updated 4/20/2020]

 

 

Everyone is wondering, “What in the world is going on? Who is to blame for the pain we are experiencing?” COVID-19 makes me so angry. Like you, I am weary of waiting for answers, cures and vaccinations. In the meantime, many are posting conspiracy theories about the pandemic. Several of these have been forwarded to me by friends wanting the perspective of an American with some involvement in China. I have been happy to respond to each of those. But now I feel it might be helpful for me to share with a broader audience.

 

The main intent of this article is to invite American Christians to think carefully about how we respond to people who clearly have nothing to do with the origins of the pandemic. This is a call to pray and to demonstrate grace in addition to practicing social distancing and making our best efforts in medicine.

 

First, I am not an expert on China or pandemics or economics or theology. Even my own mind and emotions often befuddle me. I do, however, have a firm belief in and love for the almighty and gracious God who gave his Son that ALL people might come to life through him. He is my only Hope. He has never failed me. I am also clear about how Jesus calls us to treat others, even those who attack us, with respect, forgiveness and compassion. This is the heart of Jesus.

 

Secondly, I am not naïve about the sad actualities in China or in the USA. Both cultures have beauty and truth, as well as evil and falsehood - now and throughout history. For the USA, think of the near eradication of the Native American population, the treatment of Asian Americans after Pearl Harbor, racism and other hate systems. China has its own list. Leaders in both countries (all countries) often lie to the public for reasons like – fear about enemies learning of a weakness (national security), concerns about public safety (panic, hoarding, violence), and concerns about their own political safety (self-preservation). We all understand the concern of Pablo Casado, the leader of the opposition Popular Party, “Spaniards deserve a government that doesn’t lie to them”1.  Sin abounds in nations known as Christian and those known as Communist. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

 

China Today

 

Life in China is nearly back to normal, but some people have suspicions about how China is recovering so quickly. I think it’s helpful to remember three things. The outbreak started 4-8 weeks earlier in China than it did here. COVID-19 in China started hitting the news in January, but the first infections may have been in November. The entire cycle was about 120 days, from first infections to the lifting of social distancing. If that’s the cycle the USA will follow, we have a long way to go. 

 

Another major difference is the type of governance. When Beijing says “shelter in place” very few college students or others resist and act recklessly. When they began to social distance, it was almost 100% compliance, either voluntarily or with the “assistance” of officials. China is not a democratic republic. Their executive branch does not have to be approved by a judicial or legislative branch.

 

One other difference is the type of healthcare. China is a socialist state. Although there are private healthcare options, only wealthy Chinese and foreigners can afford this. The public medical system covers the majority. In February, some Westerners were shocked at photos of masses waiting to be treated in Chinese hospitals. With over a billion citizens and a centralized healthcare system, Chinese hospitals are always busy. Remember that all doctors and medical services are only provided in hospitals. There are no separate doctor’s offices, diagnostic centers or outpatient surgery centers. The photos of Chinese hospitals that looked so shocking in February are not so different from March and April photos taken in New York, New Orleans, Spain or Italy.

 

Conspiracies and Science

 

I have read several of the current conspiracy theories. Some seem to be the writings of well-meaning persons trying to make sense out of a confusing and frightening situation. Many of these authors, however, appear to be taking advantage of those who are afraid and desperate. Their motivations could be pride, popularity or outright evil.

 

Most of these theories are related to the origin of the coronavirus. Refusing to believe the scientific reports of the virus passing from animals to humans, the conspiracies report that this novel coronavirus was created by Canada, North Korea, Japan, China, American pharmaceutical companies, Bill Gates or the USA government. Part of human nature is our tendency to look for someone to blame when bad things happen in our lives. Remember Adam and Eve. Politicians are not the only ones who look for scapegoats.

 

A team of scientists from Tulane University, the Scripps Research Institute, Columbia University, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Sydney analyzed the genome sequence of the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that emerged in the city of Wuhan, China, last year and found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered. 2 Scientists from Harvard and many other respected platforms echo this finding. For those willing to believe the scientists, the spurious conspiracy theories must be judged as unfounded, inaccurate, hurtful opinions, not facts. As U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” 

 

I suspect that the authors of these conspiracies have never met a Chinese person or been to China. It seems that they get their information from the USA media, and they believe everything our government says about China. I’m guessing the writers refer to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” although scientists and most Christian leaders consistently denounce the accuracy and helpfulness of the term. They say that China is a communist nation when in fact less than 5% of the population are Party members, and most of those are in the Party only because they pay the small dues required by their leadership positions. Conspiracy proponents that base theories on “common sense” but deny science and the highest values of the Christian faith must be held suspect. History may prove one of these conspiracy theories to be more fact than fiction. But I doubt it.

 

Jesus and His Followers

 

I have no doubts, however, about God’s character and desires - grace, mercy, compassion, healing and a call for his children to love our neighbors as ourselves. Creator God loves all people. God does not love all behavior. In fact, the Bible says God “hates” behaviors that abuse and disrespect God’s children or God himself. And yet the Cross screams God’s unconditional love across the ages and around the globe. As Jesus surrendered to his executioners, he graciously prayed for them. The followers of Jesus continue to find it difficult to love those we perceive as enemies, a value central to our Faith.

 

One of the reasons the Gospel has not effectively reached hundreds of millions in places like China, North Korea and the Muslim world is that not enough Christians love or care about these people. We are too busy stereotyping and judging. If we pray, it’s often for God’s judgment and wrath on those nations. God forgive us.

 

People who are consumed with fears of death and economic disaster often become xenophobic and nationalistic in a way that is painful to anyone seen as foreign. Even people who are normally sane and kind do not always think clearly before posting on Facebook or Twitter. Rumors on social media often lead to racist shouts or physical violence on the streets. Chinese Americans are afraid in places like Atlanta and Los Angeles. Americans are feeling similar pressures in Beijing and Guangzhou. But the novel coronavirus pandemic is not the first time that rumors have led to hateful actions. From 1347 to 1350, Europe experienced perhaps the greatest calamity in human history, the Black Death. Perhaps one third of the population died. The responses of many were as hideous as the Black Death itself. People deserted their loved ones if they were thought to have the disease. Some Christians turned their anxiety upon the Jews. Rumors spread that Jews were poisoning city wells, intending to take over the world. Soon zealots began to lynch Jews and burn them alive. Trying to quell the hysteria, Pope Clement VI said that these Christians had been “seduced by that liar, the Devil.” He urged priests to take Jews under their protection, but his voice was hardly heard in the rush to find a scapegoat.3 During crises over the centuries, millions of Christians chose to be life-giving servants, often sacrificing their own lives for others. The same is true during the current pandemic.

 

Times of hardship reveal the true character of people. I am so thankful for the courageous and sacrificial work of healthcare providers, delivery workers, food service employees and others on the front lines of the battle against a disease. I am also thankful that the authors of inaccurate and damaging theories have the freedom to post their messages in the USA. I do, however, hope you will NOT forward or post these type messages. Baseless theories, lies and rumors only make things worse, enhancing fears, creating scapegoats, and distracting us from the Source of hope. Our enemy is a virus not the people of any one nation. In this troubling season, be faithful to the One who created and redeemed you. Stand up for truth. Love and pray for all peoples. See all people as God’s children, sinful yet made in God’s image. People of worth and beauty. It is hard for hate to fester in a heart that is praying for others with this attitude.

 

Moving Forward

 

These are weird days, with more to come. We are not in control. We have no good answers to questions like, “Why is this happening?” But God is faithful. He has brought us this far, and he will take us home. In our suffering and fear, we have choices to make. Life or death. Believing in God or looking for scapegoats. As we wait on ultimate healing, let us shine brightly with grace and love, for the good of the world and the glory of God. May the peace of God touch the depths of your soul even now.

 

 

About the Author: I am an American citizen that has traveled to and lived in China since 1996. I am privileged to have served and learned in over forty countries. One of my amazing discoveries is that people are very similar in every culture. Desires, weaknesses, beauty, good and evil. Before I was blessed to have friends in many cultures, it was easy to think my own culture and values were “normal” and all others were odd or “wrong”. I am so thankful for friends like Mia, Jose, Yaping, Olga, Mohan, Fawzi, Francisco, Hatoko, Yvan and Cheol Ho. They have taught me much. Through cross-cultural friendships and education, our perspectives change regarding what is weird and normal, suspicious and beautiful. We more clearly see what values are cultural as opposed to Christian and transcultural.

 

I love the Chinese people and I love the people of America. We can learn much from Chinese culture, and they can certainly learn from some aspects of American culture. I continue to believe that these are the two most strategic nations in the world. What happens in these two nations AND what happens in our relationship will be the greatest mortal influence on the future of planet earth.

 

[1] Congress backs PM’s request to extend state of alarm in Spain until April 26, with a further 15 days likely. El Pais, April 4, 2020.

[2] Keith Brannon, Study: Coronavirus pandemic sparked by nature, not bioengineering. Tulane News, Tulane University, March 18, 2020.

[3] Mark Galli, When a Third of the World Died. Christianity Today/Christian History magazine, 1996.

 

 

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