Searching for Beloved Community in a Global Pandemic

We Are Afraid… (March 21, 2020)

We are all afraid – afraid for ourselves, afraid for our families, afraid for our friends, afraid for those we know are most vulnerable among us. This fear is multiplied by the reality that we have to be physically separated from each other to slow the spread of the virus and that those who contract the virus often have to be physically separated from their families and loved ones.

Our fear makes us hesitant to talk with each other about this reality. In some ways it is easier not to talk about it. It can be so overwhelming that we are apt to try and ignore it as a coping mechanism. We may give each other knowing looks that show we know what each other is feeling, but we often find it very difficult to talk about it.

Maybe for some of us not talking about our fear and vulnerability is the only way we can cope with the anxiety, but I hope we will work through this and begin to share our fears and feelings more openly with our friends and family. We are all in this together, and we need to let each other know how we are feeling, how much we love each other, and how scared we are to be physically separated from one another.

We also need to let each other know that if we have to be separated from each other by physical distance that our love for each other cannot be removed even if we cannot be physically present. The healthcare professionals may have to be our physical representatives of the human presence, but our love and spiritual presence will always be there.

We need to have these conversations of love and care with each other so that our spiritual presence of love is felt even more fully in the event of our physical separation. We need to let each other know that nothing can ultimately separate us from each other. Our love will be eternally present, no matter what.

So take this post as one of my ways of breaking through my fear to let you know that I love you and that you are important to me, even if we have never met. We are in this together. Nothing will separate us from each other.

Celebrating the Empty Tomb with an Empty Church (April 4, 2020)

A pandemic has never been prayed away. It is not the result of human sin. It can only be fought by changes in our behavior and science, and we know that until our scientists develop treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19 that our behavioral changes must include washing our hands, not touching our faces, staying at home, not gathering in groups outside of our immediate family units, and venturing out only for essential errands. We must do all of these things and more to flatten the curve in relation to the spread of the virus so that our healthcare workers and systems are not stretched beyond their limits. Hundreds of thousands of lives, perhaps millions of lives over time, are in the balance.

We are social animals. We are persons-in-community. We are meant to be together and to interact with one another. What we are being asked to do to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19 does not come naturally for us. Sheltering in place is a sacrifice – a personal, social, economic, and spiritual sacrifice; but it is a sacrifice that we must make if we are save to the lives of our neighbors from this horrific virus.

In the United States, we have a disturbing situation in some states in which churches are being designated as “essential services” and allowed to be exempt from the prohibitions on holding gatherings. A small minority of churches are making the tragic decision to continue meeting together in person in spite of the warnings coming from our public health experts. Perhaps in some cases it is a combination of scientific illiteracy coupled with confusion caused by some of our leaders’ early downplaying of the crisis and their “aspirational” remarks about churches being open again by Easter. Perhaps in other cases, it is an example of the greed of ministers who believe that without persons in the pews, there will be less money in the offering plate. Whatever the reasons may be, continued gatherings in churches during a global pandemic are a danger to us all.

The reality is that we are not loving our neighbors if our churches are still meeting in person; and if we are not loving our neighbor, we are not loving God. Packing our churches, even on Easter, would be the absolute worst way to witness to the love of Jesus this year. If on Easter morning 2020 we have packed churches, I envision that on Easter afternoon 2020 Jesus will weep. For Easter and many Sundays to come, loving our neighbor means celebrating the empty tomb with an empty church. Right now the empty church is a symbol of hope and resurrection for our world.

During this extremely challenging time, love must practice the paradox that to be truly present for one another we must be physically distant from one another. If we cannot show that we are capable of surviving having empty sanctuaries for a period of time to help save each other from COVID-19, then we don’t deserve to have full sanctuaries when the dangers of the virus have passed. I pray that we will have enough love for each other to change our behavior for the sake of all of our neighbors until it is once again safe to gather together hand in hand.

Getting Back to Normal? (April 10, 2020)

As we face a global pandemic, it is more than understandable that we long for things to get back to normal. Normal is not this, and almost anything is better than this; but if all we do is get back to normal, are we really getting where we need to be?

I don’t want to get back to the normal of environmental racism, medical bankruptcies, and employer based healthcare that can be lost as fast as the spread of a pandemic.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of extreme income inequality, unequal access to healthcare and education that perpetuates generational poverty, and a criminal justice system that enslaves people of color behind walls of systemic injustice.

I don’t want to get back to the normal in which essential workers are paid unlivable wages and forced to work two or three jobs to avoid living on the streets.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of growing white nationalism, family separations, kids in cages, exploitation of migrant workers, and walls of racism.

I don’t want to get back to the normal of unsustainable overconsumption, torture chambers of concentrated animal feed operations, and climate crisis denial hurling us towards climate chaos that threatens so much life on earth.

If normal is all we can get back to as we work through this pandemic, then we simply perpetuate a world in which the most vulnerable among us continue to suffer, and we miss the opportunity to bring regeneration to our human and ecological communities.

The systems and structures that make so many people of color and other persons who don’t have adequate access to economic opportunity and quality healthcare to be much more vulnerable to this virus must be transformed if there is to be anything approaching resurrection from these days of death.

I want us all to get through this pandemic with the least amount of suffering and death, but I don’t want to get back to the normal that perpetuates the open and festering wound of systemic inequality and injustice in our communities. Wanting to get back to that kind of normal should not be accepted as being normal.

Pandemic Beatitudes (May 20, 2020)

Blessed are the mask wearers, for they help keep persons of sacred worth from dying alone and scared, separated from family and friends.

Blessed are those who care for the sick and comfort the dying, for they are the presence of Beloved Community.

Blessed are those who mourn the dead rather than minimize their death, for they will retain their humanity.

Blessed are the scientists searching for treatments and vaccines, for they are bearers of hope.

Blessed are the food providers for those who can and cannot pay, for they are sustainers of life.

Blessed are those who keep their distance, for they allow our beloved ones to remain close.

Blessed are those who refuse to profit unjustly from the pandemic, for they bear witness to justice and common decency.

Blessed are employers who keep workers safe, for they value life over profit.

Blessed are leaders who make compassionate decisions based upon knowledge and evidence, for they forge a wise path.

Blessed are the truth tellers, for they provide the best information possible to keep all of us safe.

Blessed are those who do not use the pandemic to divide us, for they work for the common good of all.

A Pandemic Parable (May 20, 2020)

A woman went down to the grocery store where she had to work as a cashier during the pandemic to support her family. She encountered persons who did not respect the risk that her job posed to her, who stripped her of her dignity, mocked her for wearing a mask, and left her each day in danger of possible death.

Now it just so happened that an evangelical Christian was going down the same checkout lane, and when he saw the woman at the register, he crossed over too close to the woman inside the distance of 6 feet while not wearing a mask and said to her “it’s too bad you have to wear that silly mask so I can’t see your pretty smile.” He paid for his groceries, spraying droplets on the credit card reader as he spoke, and went on his way.

Likewise, an evangelical minister came by that same checkout lane, saw the woman cashier, and crossing inside the distance of 6 feet and also not wearing a mask invited the woman to come to his church next Sunday because unlike so many other churches that continued to have online services, his church decided to reopen a few weeks ago. He paid for his groceries, spraying droplets on the credit card reader as he spoke, and went on his way.

A Muslim woman with a head covering and a mask, who was also shopping in the store, came to where the woman cashier was. But when she saw her and the way the people in front of her had treated the woman, she was moved with compassion. The Muslim woman stayed at least 6 feet away from the cashier, thanked her for her help, and wiped the credit card reader with disinfectant after using it. Then she noticed that the mask the woman cashier was using was rather tattered and did not fit her well, so she placed the groceries in her basket and told the cashier that she had something in her car for her. In the next few minutes, the Muslim woman returned into the store with box of new masks and gave them to the cashier, thanking her again for her help in allowing her to come and purchase food for her family.

What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the woman?

The Supreme Court and Religious Gatherings in a Deadly Pandemic (November 26, 2020)

Dear Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States,

Religious freedom does not include the freedom to harm or kill others through super-spreader events in the midst of a deadly global pandemic. By exempting religious communities from restrictions on public gatherings during a public health emergency, you are letting your religious ideologies get in the way of your constitutional duties.

Limiting gatherings of all kinds during a public health emergency does not violate the free excercise clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States as it is not singling out religious communities for disparate treatment, but rather it is a science-based policy that applies to the entire human community. The five justices who decided to exempt religious communities from restrictions on public gatherings have shown that your allegiance to your religious ideologies is stronger than your allegiance to the health and safety of all Americans

If persons want to harm themselves or be involved in behavior that risks their own health or life for religious reasons, then the free exercise clause could be interpreted in such a way as to allow them to do so. If persons want to refuse medical treatment for a noncommunicable disease or other noncommunicable ailment for religious reasons, then the free exercise clause could be interpreted as allowing them to do so. The free exercise of religion allows persons to freely practice their religion in ways that do not create harm to others.

Meeting in large groups in ways that do not follow public health protocols during what is becoming the most deadly pandemic in a century is not a right protected by our constitution. Given what we know about COVID-19, gathering in such a way is knowingly and willingly not only putting the participants in the religious gatherings at risk but also every other person with whom they come into contact. We commonly make laws that protect each other from activities that bring unnecessary harm or even death to persons within our communities, and persons in religious communities are not exempt from these laws.

By exempting religious communities from restrictions on gatherings in a deadly pandemic, five members of the Supreme Court of the United States have allowed their religious ideologies to make the Supreme Court of the United States an enabler of gatherings of persons who are knowingly and willingly acting in ways that are bringing grave harm to our communities, and thus these justices are making the Supreme Court of the United States an accomplice to the harm and death caused by these gatherings – and that is, in most rational societies, a crime.

Religious freedom ≠ (December 22, 2020)

Religious freedom ≠

• the freedom to harm others

• the freedom to discriminate against others in the public sphere

• the freedom to dictate the parameters of the healthcare of others

• the freedom to establish prayers of your religion or to restrict the teaching of science in public schools

• the freedom to force others to follow the rules of your religion

• the freedom to tell other adults whom they can marry

• the freedom to restrict the travel of others because they are adherents of a different religion

• the freedom to hold super-spreader events or to not wear a mask in public during a deadly global pandemic

• the freedom to overturn the outcome of free and fair elections because the winner does not hold your religious worldview.

If you think that any of these are examples of religious freedom, you are mistaking religious freedom for the establishment of religion, which is a form religious coercion of others, unconstitutional, and leads to the kind of religious tyranny so many immigrants came to America to escape.

Saving Our Neighbors (April 11, 2021)

Cases and deaths from COVID-19 have decreased precipitously in nursing centers after the vast majority of their residents were vaccinated. My parents and I are able to spend time together because we are all vaccinated, and my mom can visit us outside her nursing center without a window between us or masks covering our smiles. Last week my parents hugged their granddaughters for the first time in over a year. This joy is being experienced by family after family across the nation – because of the vaccines.

This is finally something to celebrate, but with cases rising again in the general population because of (a) relaxing of mask mandates and social distancing restrictions, (b) people refusing to get vaccinated, and (c) new variants gaining more traction owing to b and c; we may find ourselves allowing new, more contagious, and more deadly variants of the virus to erase the gains we are making with vaccines.

If this happens, it will be in large part the fault of the anti-vaxxer 45% of white evangelical Christians and their religious and political leaders who are rejecting what our best scientists are telling us we need to be doing at this stage of the pandemic. As of today, 561,000 people in the United States have died from this virus. So many families and loved ones are grieving. So many loved ones didn’t make it to the day when they could hug their loved ones again. Hundreds of thousands of those deaths could have been avoided.

Now we have a chance to save hundreds of thousands of lives by taking appropriate public health precautions and getting vaccinated. Nothing says we love God and that we love our neighbor more than doing what it takes to save our neighbors from preventable sickness and death. Thoughts and prayers are not enough for those we can save by taking action.

Reflections on Duty (April 22, 2021)

What is the meaning of duty and how it might be helpful in leading a good and meaningful life in this world? There are many circumstances in which the concept of duty has been misused to control and manipulate people to do things that are not only not good but arguably quite evil. How many times in history has the excuse “I was simply doing my duty” been used to justify doing the wrong thing rather than the right thing? At its worst the concept of duty can be used as an excuse for not doing the hard work of thinking through one’s own moral responsibility in complex and uncertain moral situations, and this can lead to the dangerous practice of letting other people make your moral decisions for you. In moral philosophy, this is what we call heterenomy, as opposed to the autonomy that is required for true moral responsibility.

I think we all understand the dangers of people relying so heavily on the concept of duty that they lose their moral autonomy and become overly beholden to the moral whims of authority figures within society. The Nuremberg Trials showed us in bold relief how badly the concept of doing one’s duty can be abused. The excuse of “I was just following orders” or “I was simply doing my duty” when committing atrocities is a prime example of such an abuse.

In these reflections, however, I want to take some time to focus on the upside of duty more than its downside. At its best, in its most helpful form, duty reminds us that in the midst of our expression of freedom in this world, we also have responsibilities in relation to each other – we have obligations in relation to each other – in other words, we have duties in relation to one another. 

The 18th and early 19th Century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, is perhaps the most well known Western philosopher for developing a moral philosophy centered on the concept of duty. The approach that Kant used in his moral philosophy is called the deontological approach, and the Greek word deon means “duty” or “obligation.” Kant held the view that actions are inherently right or inherently wrong, and it is our duty to do that which is right and avoid doing that which is wrong. Kant believed that human reason has the ability to ascertain what we ought to do and that reason has the ability to understand moral law. Once we have determined the nature and content of moral law, it is our moral duty to follow that law, no matter what the consequences might be. 

Let me be clear at this point – I do not personally adhere to the deontological approach to ethics as I think that the context of a moral situation and the consequences of our actions play a more significant role in determining whether an action is morally fitting than Kant was willing to grant, but I do deeply appreciate Kant’s moral claim that we have duties in relation to one another based on our experience that all persons have inherent worth and dignity that ought to be respected. It was this insight that became the core principle of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. I would also expand this sense of duty to include moral obligations in relation to non-human animals as well. 

Immanuel Kant rightly recognized that the moral use of freedom requires responsibility to others. He understood that we have a duty to treat persons as ends and never simply as means. In a world in which we often treat so many persons as objects or as things for our use, we have a great deal to learn from Kant’s view that we have a moral duty to always treat each other as persons. 

I wish that somehow we could more fully live into the notion that we all have a moral obligation or duty in relation to every other person and all life on earth. Perhaps if we were able to do this, we could get beyond the absolutely ridiculous and morally irresponsible politicizing of rather straightforward public health practices during a deadly global pandemic. Why can’t we see that we have a moral obligation, a moral duty, to each other to respect each other as ends, as persons, and that this duty requires us to wear masks in public, socially distance from each other, and not gather in groups outside of our immediate families until we have enough people vaccinated and can revisit what our obligations to each other should be? Why can’t we all see that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not just all about me, but is also about the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of all persons and all sentient beings? What is my duty? My duty is to will myself to be free while also respecting your will to be free, and that means I have a duty and responsibility to care for your life and experience as I hope you care for mine. Let us do our duty to care for one another and as Kant would say “treat all persons as ends in themselves and never as means only.”*

*See Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

Time to Mask Up… Again (July 9, 2021)

Here are the problems that I see with the CDC’s advice that vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks which is not in sync with the World Health Organization’s guidance that vaccinated people continue to wear masks:

1. The CDC guidance was touted by the Biden Administration as an incentive to get vaccinated, but in effect it just made it easier for the non-vaccinated not wear a mask. A better incentive would be to say that your town, city, county, or state can go maskless after you get to at least a 70% vaccination rate and cases are below a certain safe level.

2. It had the psychological effect of making people think that the pandemic was over before there was an optimal amount of the population vaccinated. It is far from over, and new, more contagious, and deadly variants are continuing to develop.

3. It appealed to the individual self interest of not wearing a mask as a reward for being vaccinated instead of encouraging us all to mask up for a few more months for the common good until we got a large enough percentage of the population vaccinated to crush the virus.

4. It makes things very difficult now that we are seeing community spread to tell people to get the masks back on as the World Health Organization is encouraging us to do. It would have been much easier to encourage people to go a few more months with masks than to let them take them off for a few months only to tell them they need to put them back on now.

5. The reward of not wearing a mask for being vaccinated ignored the possibility, dare I say probability, that we would hit a wall in our vaccination program that would allow variants to develop in the unvaccinated population that would more likely break through the protection of the vaccines.

6. By telling vaccinated people that it was “safe for them” not to wear a mask, the CDC sent a mixed message that conflicted with their earlier guidance on wearing masks. The main reason to wear a mask is not to make us safe but rather to keep others around us safe in case we are unaware we have the virus and might pass it on to them. We are seeing more breakthrough cases now with vaccinated people who may not even know they have COVID-19, yet may still be contagious. Masks are not primarily about me but about how I can care for and protect others. The reward of “not wearing a mask because it is safe for me not to” took the emphasis away from “us” and placed it on “me,” and that is not the mentality we need to crush this virus for the good of all.

7. It led to a mentality among some of the vaccinated to wash their hands of the pandemic and simply get back to normal. I have also heard some vaccinated people say that they don’t care if the unvaccinated get COVID-19 and get sick or die because it is their fault for not getting vaccinated, and I have heard others say that they should not have to wear a mask just because people are too stupid not to get vaccinated. Once again, this is not the mentality required to crush a virus.

Maybe we are not united enough, loving and empathetic enough, smart enough, or committed enough to beat this deadly virus before it mutates and kills thousands upon thousands more of us, but policies that focus on me rather than on us will not get us to the place we need to be. It is time for all of us to mask up again and for the love of all humanity if you have not already done so, please get vaccinated.

The Fourth Wave (July 22, 2021)

We are in the fourth wave of COVID-19 in the United States. It will lead to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of more deaths. The vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths will be among the unvaccinated. Many more young people will be hospitalized and die this time around. If we go back to school in the fall semester without students fully vaccinated and without wearing masks, even more young people will die.

Some vaccinated persons will also get sick and die, primarily owing to the fact that so many people didn’t get vaccinated and allowed the Delta variant to spread uncontrollably. Booster shots will have to come sooner rather than later to address the new variants on their way. The likelihood that other variants will develop that are even more contagious and deadly is much higher now because so many people did not get vaccinated.

To crush a virus, we all have to be on the same page. We are not on the same page. The virus feeds off of our scientific illiteracy, our mistrust of scientific authorities, and our political divisions. We might still be dealing with polio and smallpox if the anti-science and anti-vaxxer attitudes were as strong in the past as they are now.

In the desire to keep some sense of normalcy and not hurt the economy; many local, state, and the federal government entities will be too hesitant to admit that we have failed to control the virus and will likely be too slow in their response. Many will continue to call it “the pandemic of the unvaccinated” and encourage the vaccinated to carry on as normal even as breakthrough cases, hospitalizations, and deaths will increase because of the uncontrolled community spread.

The CDC will likely continue to cling to its outlier view that vaccinated persons continue to go maskless in public indoor spaces in spite of the World Health Organization’s guidance for vaccinated persons to continue wearing masks.* Many school boards, municipalities, and states will also likely ignore the American Academy of Pediatrics guidance that all students wear masks indoors because, you know, “freedom.”

Both vaccinated people and unvaccinated people will be too slow to start wearing masks again on their own. An avoidable fall and winter of suffering and death are on the way. We don’t have what it takes to defeat this together, because we are not together. We will all be caught up in the net of this virus for years to come because we simply could not swim together.

I wish I could be more positive, but this is the reality we face. The fourth wave is here. It is just the beginning. It is going to get much much worse.

*Thankfully the CDC reversed its mask guidance in light of the surge of the Delta variant to recommend that all persons wear masks in indoor public spaces where there is significant community spread of the COVID-19.

Ethical Science (August 1, 2021)

Too often we have approached science as a value free enterprise and the world which we investigate scientifically as not possessing intrinsic value. In this approach the value of the world is equated to its usefulness and instrumentality rather than seeing the world as having inherent worth. This contributes to the reduction of the natural world to an object to be used, manipulated, commodified, and controlled rather than being seen as a community of life of which we are all a part. This objectification of nature might lead to some advances in scientific understanding and the development of new technologies, but these scientific and technological advances are made at a significant moral cost which now threatens the very survival of humanity itself.

We need science for greater understanding and knowledge, but we also also need ethics and the intentional cultivation of wisdom to use science and technology in ways that will contribute to both human and ecological flourishing. Science helps us know things, but we also must learn to use that knowledge wisely for the good of all.

Working effectively together as a human community to do what is right and good in the world involves learning what we ought to do, cultivating the will and desire to do what we ought to do, and then developing the ability to actually do it. This requires ethics and science to work cooperatively. Without science we often would not know how to do what it is that we ought to be doing or even what it is that we ought to be doing; but without ethics we may never cultivate the wisdom and will to use science in a morally responsible way.

Ethics needs science to learn how we can actually address the social and ecological challenges we are facing, but science needs ethics to address those challenges with wisdom, empathy, compassion, and justice. Ethics without science can often leave us clueless about the actual challenges we are facing, but science without ethics can lead to the mistreatment of life and destruction of value for the sake of advancing science for for its own sake or for the sake of unscrupulous persons rather than for the sake of the world.

Science without ethics leads us to the development and use of chemical and biological weapons and the construction and use of gas chambers of mass death. Science without ethics leads us to the knowledge of nuclear fission and fusion without the morality needed to avoid Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Science without ethics leads to an industrial agricultural system that treats living beings simply as meat producers rather than beings of sacred worth. Science without ethics leads to billionaire space races rather than a race to end poverty, hunger, and disease. Science without ethics leads to fracking our planet to squeeze every last bit of oil and gas out of the ground while our planet burns and we destroy a livable climate. Science without ethics may lead to some knowledge, but the cost is often great suffering and death.

Yes, we need science in order to effectively address the challenges we are facing, but science without ethics will likely continue to hurl us towards climate chaos and contribute to the continuation of the sixth great extinction on our planet. We simply can no longer afford science without ethics, and we can no longer allow the oligarchs of our planet to continue to use science for their financial gain, feeding of their egos, and satisfying their fetish for power rather than using science for the good of the whole earth, including its most vulnerable members.

The global pandemic has brought us to another decisive moment in the relationship between science and ethics. Science can bring us vaccines, but it can’t bring us vaccine equity in which all persons in the world have equal access to the vaccines. Science can bring us vaccines, but it cannot cultivate the sense of community responsibility that is needed to bring about higher vaccination rates for the common good. Science can help us learn about the virus and what we need to do to mitigate against its spread, but it cannot move the hearts of persons to wear a mask indoors or socially distance for the sake of others. Science can provide knowledge to businesses and other institutions about how to protect their employees, customers, and other constituents; but it can’t provide the moral commitment needed for them to actually take the measures that will keep people safe.

Like so many of the great challenges faced by the human community today, our failure in the fight against COVID-19 is as much or more of a moral failure than it is a failure of science, and until we somehow address this, we may never be able to defeat this virus or effectively meet the many other urgent challenges we are experiencing in this world, which is our only home.

Social Holiness in a Global Pandemic (August 13, 2021)

One of the things we can learn from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, during this global pandemic is the truth that there is no holiness but social holiness, and this points to the reality that there is no personal responsibility without social responsibility. Simply focusing on personal responsibility rather than also looking at public social measures for the common good during a public health emergency ignores this reality.

For John Wesley, the goal of Christian life is Christian perfection, and this perfection was not about being a perfect individual, rather it was about growing in perfection in relation to loving God and others and expressing social holiness. Personal choice and personal freedom for Wesley were grounded in a deep sense of social responsibility. Freedom from the weight of sin meant freedom to love others more perfectly.

What lessons can be learned from this emphasis on love and social holiness during a global pandemic? What actions will truly express more perfect love of others? What actions will most appropriately reflect our social responsibility in relation to others?

In the horrific reality of a global pandemic we are reminded with great clarity that this is not just about me. It is about us – all of us; and right now, might I suggest that growing in perfection entails living according to Wesley’s simple rules of doing no harm and doing good within our beloved community.

Doing no harm and doing good in a global pandemic are tightly woven together. Doing no harm may seem more passive and doing good may seem to be more active, but the things we need to be doing to love each other in a global pandemic express both doing no harm and doing good simultaneously.

Doing no harm and doing good as an expression of social holiness during this particular time of this global pandemic at the very minimum means getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in indoor public spaces for the health and well being of all persons in our communities – especially for the most vulnerable among us. Globally, doing no harm and doing good means working for vaccine equity so that persons around the world have equal access to life-saving vaccines because, as has been often noted by the World Health Organization, no one is safe until we all are safe.

Doing no harm and doing good in a global pandemic entails realizing that the very nature of a public health emergency is that it is not only about our personal decisions when our personal decisions may have a negative impact on public health. The mantra of freedom, personal choice, and personal responsibility that is repeated so often by so many mayors, governors, and other political leaders who want to avoid mask mandates and vaccine mandates leads to a failure to recognize and appreciate the social aspects of the challenges we are facing. It fails the test of doing no harm and doing good in a global pandemic because personal choices not to get vaccinated and not to wear masks in indoor public spaces actually do harm and thus do not do good.

John Wesley reminds us that there is no holiness without social holiness. Personal freedom and personal responsibility alone will not overcome a pandemic – only social responsibility and love for others can do that. May we all work together to more perfectly express this love for one another.

A Call to Courage and Compassion (August 20, 2021)

Dear Oklahoma College and University Presidents,

The Governor of Oklahoma and the Republican Oklahoma Legislature did not have the well-being of our colleges and universities in mind when they created a law banning the ability to require masking on our campuses in the midst of a deadly global pandemic that has already claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 Oklahomans. This is even more obvious now that we are experiencing the most dangerous period of the pandemic for young people thus far with the more contagious Delta variant filling our hospitals and our ICUs with persons of all ages.

For the sake of the health and the very lives of our students, faculty, and staff; you must defy the Governor and the Republican Legislature and require masks and social distancing in all indoor public spaces on our campuses in accordance with CDC and World Health Organization guidance. Anything less is a moral failure.

As Augustine of Hippo reminds us, “an unjust law is no law at all,” and a law that puts the health and lives of thousands of persons in our colleges and universities at risk is surely an unjust law. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that a human-made law need not be obeyed if its purpose is not for the common good. In “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau argues that we must break the law when the government requires us to do injustice through an unjust law. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. states that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

For the health and lives of thousands of students, faculty, and staff and their communities and families, please come together as leaders of our institutions of higher education in courage, compassion, and civil disobedience to defy this unjust law now before it is too late. Otherwise the unnecessary illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths that will most certainly occur will rightly haunt your conscience forever.

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