Paul’s Letter to the Galatians about living in a community

Throughout the pandemic, and now with the easy availability of life-saving vaccines to slow the spread of Covid-19, I have genuinely struggled with how people of faith, who are often in church or other places of worship  multiple times a week, claiming that not wearing a mask, gathering shoulder to shoulder, and now not being fully vaccinated, is a personal choice.

In some regards it echos the philosophy of Ayn Rand. We have seen the tragic results in both Christian and Hasidic Jewish communities when members acted on the premise of personal choice. I know people who have gone this route and infected family and friends, some too young to be vaccinated.

Recently someone told me about a newsletter from St. Albans, a church just north of Charlotte, that addressed the challenges, and obligations, of being fully engaged in a faith community, where the health of the community, literally, is the responsibility of every member of that group.

The message from the Associate Rector is drawn from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

“The on-going and polarizing debate about getting vaccinated during this time of pandemic calls to my mind Paul’s words about “freedom”, especially in his letter to the Galatians. I say this because many who are refusing to get vaccinated are appealing to the notion of individual freedom: “Nobody else should have any say in my personal decisions about my own health.” On the face of it, this seems perfectly reasonable and in keeping with the principles upon which our nation was founded.

Many Christians will point directly to Paul’s words in his letter to the Galatians to support their understanding of individual freedom: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). A mere twelve verses later, however, Paul contextualizes his understanding of Christ-enabled freedom with these words:

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal. 5:13).

This is a critically important caveat that we do well to remember. Paul is clear on this point: the freedom that we have in Christ is not meant to encourage a life of libertine self-interest. Quite the opposite! The freedom that we have in Christ calls us away from being enslaved to pure self-interest towards a life that is committed to mutual love and care for others. Paul hammers home this point with the rather shocking words to our 21st century ears, “…through love become slaves to one another.” Professor of Religion Bruce Longenecker says it this way: “Christians have been set free from the enslavement of chaos-inducing self-interestedness in order to allow the self-giving Christ to become incarnate within their own self-giving way of life.”

The decision about whether to get vaccinated, like many decisions in life, is undoubtedly a personal one, with various factors at play. That said, it is important that we, as Christ-followers, try to make such decisions from a place of neighborly love, and not from a place of unfettered self-interest. Instead of thinking only about how a decision is going to affect me personally, we are called to also give serious consideration to how a decision is going to impact the lives of others. Instead of, as Paul says, using our freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, we are called to use our freedom in the service of others and for the common good; that is, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Yours in Christ,
Kevin+

I hope, as the Rector writes, others will feel called to be of service to others and act for the common good of those they know and love.

When schools think it is ok for a drunk to drive the school bus

Watching the schools prepare to reopen in rural Washington County Georgia is like watching someone pour gasoline on top of an already burning fire. As Covid-19 rates soar in a county that stubbornly refused to access tested and proven vaccines when a state-run vaccination site was set up in the county, the Board of Education is choosing the path of least resistance on healthy safety requirements.

The highly contagious Delta variant will find multiple classrooms ripe for explosive spread. The risk of exposure could be easily reduced if school leaders were willing to take one necessary step to protect those who cannot be vaccinated and those who refuse to be vaccinated-require masks in all indoor situations.

How bad is it in Sandersville and other communities in the county? Bad. Very bad.

Covid-19 risk of exposure, CDC tracking map

The CDC rates the risk of transmission as high. According to the CDC, the percentage of people in the county fully vaccinated is a dismal 7.7 percent despite the easy access to the vaccine provided by the state in the spring when eligibility was expanded. School age students between 12-18 years old are fully vaccinated at a rate of 9 percent. If teachers and staff are in the age group of 18-65, only 9.4 percent of that age cohort have chosen to be fully vaccinated before  returning to the classroom, cafeterias, hallways, and buses.

Yesterday the school system superintendent responded to an email I sent stating that they are following Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) recommendations. Choosing the Education link on the state’s site takes users directly to the CDC’s site, which recommends masking for all people in schools regardless of vaccination status or age.

Still,  Superintendent Rickey Edmond and the Board of Education are confident that letting 1405 students in the primary and elementary schools, 760 in the middle school, and 880 in the high school, sit in classrooms and move through hallways without a mask on is OK (because let’s be honest, it will not be possible to keep every child in a hallway distanced or properly masked).  There is a Virtual School option only offered to grades 5-12, with limited capacity and criteria for acceptance, that will have 20 students.

The reported cases of Covid-19 in the seven days preceding August 2 are up 161.54 percent. The percent of tests that are positive has climbed by  15.63 percent. Local hospital admissions are up a full 200 percent. Schools haven’t had the first student in a classroom and the caseload is soaring in a county with great doctors but limited hospital services.

Washington County GA school bus

Late yesterday, a news report posted on Georgia Public Radio’s site summed it for me. Amber Schmidtke, PhD., a microbiologist tracking and explaining Covid data for mere mortals like me, said, and I am adding emphasis to her statement”So when this starts to happen [children becoming sick and requiring hospitalization] in a bigger way in Georgia and kids who were previously healthy are on ventilators, I don’t want school superintendents to claim that there was no way this could have been predicted,” Schmidtke said. “We have plenty of warning that the situation in 2021 is more dangerous than a year ago for children. Willingly choosing to endanger children by not doing the bare minimum of disease control and prevention should be treated the same way as knowingly allowing someone drunk to drive a school bus and organizations that do so should be held to account.”

Teachers and staff are preparing now for open houses in Washington County schools, with classes starting Friday. In a community with a rising case load, doubled Covid hospitalizations, low vaccination rates, and school leaders willing to, as Dr. Schmidtke suggests, let a drunk drive the school bus, they are providing the ideal breeding ground for very sick children,  families, teachers, and staff.

It doesn’t have to be this way.