Covid-19: Civil Public Square

America’s public square is in dire straits. The public square is the public discussion of all things cultural, political, religious, and societal. The people who participate in this discussion in America are citizens from every walk of life, background, gender, race, economic status, and from a vast variety of theological and political thought. This square becomes broken when conversation deteriorates into group think, quarrelling, and emotional attacks against thinkers with which we disagree.

Christian thinker, Os Guinness, describes three different kinds of public squares.

  1. The Naked Public Square – this is where there is no freedom of speech, and, thus, no exchange of ideas. The marketplace of ideas is a misnomer in this environment. The Naked Public Square would be where the State controls the flow of content and only the State’s view can be expressed. While some people argue vehemently that this is the case in America now, I am still hearing their freely expressed arguments which disproves that we are in such a state.
  • The Sacred Public Square – this is where there is, again, no freedom of public thought. The idea is that only a dominant religious worldview should be expressed and that all other ideas that do not conform to this worldview should be silenced. For the Christian, this looks like only ideas that promote truth as we believe it should be taught in school, should be spoken from government officials, should be the worldview of media we respect and all others should not have a place in our society. Sometimes, even while we know better, we as Christians trample on freedom of speech as we attack those who speak from different worldviews. We get angry to hear their thinking. We do not want them to have the microphone so to speak. This is a symptom of the Sacred Public Square.
  • The Civil Public Square – this is where everyone gets a voice. Freedom of thought, of religion, of non-religion is protected through respect, honor, and love for our fellow human beings. We all are permitted and encouraged to speak. The marketplace of ideas works to bring the best ideas to the surface and the others may pale in comparison, but they still have a right to be expressed publicly and be respectfully heard. Ideas in this sphere can and should be challenged, but with respect and honor to the one with the idea despite how wrong or incomplete it may be. This is Christian behavior. This is what a culture looks like when the idea that we each deserve honor to think and speak freely without being shamed, dishonored, ridiculed, or otherwise banned is upheld. This civil public square, the marketplace of ideas, freedom of religion came from Christian theology enumerated into our American Bill of Rights. When we as Christians dishonor, disrespect, and fail to love our neighbor we are not honoring God, the Bible, or the Constitution. If we want Christian ideas to be predominate, we must disciple our culture, not shame it into compliance. Attacking it does not make it think better, it just makes it react to us or ignore us. Os Guinness would remind us that our public square is not only national, but also global. In an instant what we say can be heard around the world.

Current State of Discourse

I am writing on this subject because of the out of control discourse about the current Covid-19 crisis. Christians are disrespecting Christians. We are dishonoring people in authority. We are dishonoring anyone and everyone who says anything different than what we believe. We are doing so over things like masks or no masks, church open or church closed, social distancing or no social distancing, etc. We are disgruntled, disunified, and unloving. We dishonor, disrespect, and mistreat through our words. We are attacking the world, governors, doctors, businesses, churches, pastors, and the average person on social media.

In my home state of Virginia, it has just been mandated that we wear masks inside all buildings. I personally cannot wear a mask as it feels like I am not getting enough air and it fogs my eyeglasses to where I cannot see. Thus, I will respectfully disagree and decline despite the obstacles this may cause me. However, I will not allow this mandate which I have good reason to disagree with for a variety of reason aside from my personal discomfort to dictate how I will speak of my governor or the businesses and churches that choose to adhere to this new restriction.

Unity of the Saints

Unity is not found in agreement. Honor does not require agreement. We can disagree. I value disagreement. I do not want to see a nation of people thinking the same thoughts on every subject. I already am greatly concerned how we think in memes. I wonder what thoughts we would have if we stopped repeating the memes we see on social media? People think for us when we sound like the memes we read.

Freedom without Alienation

We are free to think differently. Truth by its very nature is exclusive of what is not true. Making a truth claim means that that which contradicts the claim is not true. This is good responsible thinking. But lambasting those who think differently is not. Truth operates in a way that draws a line between what is true and what is not, but love does not extend that line to alienate people of opposing ideas.

Differentiating Truth from Opinion

Moreover, there is a huge difference between truth and opinion. There are good arguments on why to wear masks, and there are good arguments about why they are unnecessary. There are good arguments on why to close all gatherings including churches, and there are good arguments as to why this is not only ill advised but dangerous to freedom and economic strength of our nation and its people. Leadership must make decisions about such matters. Most of us are under authority of those who are making these decisions – federal and state government, business owners, employers, pastors, principals, etc. We can respectfully disagree. We can write or speak on the topics of which we disagree, but we should not dishonor or verbally attack those in authority.

What does honor look like?

Maybe we are not sure what respect and honor look like. When we are being respectful and honoring, we keep inside of us what we ought to keep inside of us: peace, love, patience, self-control, kindness. When we are not being respectful, we lack self-control and begin to spill out vitriol, hate, and impatience. We contort our face and are quick to anger. We take offense (remember love is not easily angered or offended). We justify our reaction based on how bad we believe the other party to be. We try and convince people how bad their thinking and actions are so that we are justified in how we treat them.

Demonizing People

We demonize people. We use political labels to distance them from us – we say that is a Dem, or a liberal, or a progressive, or a conservative, or a right winger, or a leftist, or a socialist. We do not hear the individual ideas and perspectives of the heart and mind of the person – we group them into a lump and dismiss them.

I used to do this with atheist. I thought since I was well read on the topic of atheists, I knew atheists and was ready to outwit them with good apologetics. I found I did not know atheists because I did not have friends that were atheists and in so doing, I also did not know what I was talking about. I could not communicate truth intellectually without knowing the people I professed to love.

Apologetics of Ravi Zacharias

During this time, I began to devour the apologetics of Ravi Zacharias. He knew how to love people from every worldview and walk of life. He befriended people who are still steeped in worldviews that are not good for them and yet they consider Ravi a dear friend and they have sent love and condolences to his family at his death. Ravi was a friend of sinners. He was a friend of Islamic royals and Hindu priests. He did not alienate people with truth, he drew them closer with love. Ravi Zacharias wrote, “We are commanded by God to love our fellow human being no matter how much we disagree with them.”

How to know you are not honoring?

If we read or watch something and it riles us up inside. If our heart hardens against the person we disagree with, if our fingers are quick to type a rebuttal to deal with their errors, if we feel the urge to release a flurry of words against people who dare to think a certain way we have not love. Our cymbals are clanging. Our influence with people wanes as a result. We may have a great many likes and claps for our retort, but we will have lost the one that matters most – the human before us we just alienated.

What I am not saying. . .

Am I saying do not disagree in the public square? Am I saying be nice little Christians who never speak forth truth in case we may offend someone who disagrees? No, may it never be! I hope everyone sharpens their thinking to know truth and share it with great clarity of mind and kindness of heart. I also want people to know when not to share it.

Follow the Holy Spirit

Just because we see something wrong, does not mean it is the right time or place to say something about it. We are not the Holy Spirit and if we are not listening to the Holy Spirit our true words can be ill timed and do more harm than good. The Holy Spirit sees all the wrong thinking in our minds and the sin in our hearts and yet He does not bring it all to our mind to deal with at once or every time something crops up. When the Spirit does quicken our attention to something in our heart, He does so without shame or condemnation. He shows us the way out of our transgression and restores our soul as we follow Him into the Kingdom way of thinking.

That feeling that wells up inside of you when you just have to say something. The urge that raises your blood pressure. That is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not make your heart race and words trip up over each other to say your piece. That is our own hearts and minds lacking the peace and patience of the Spirit. I have known this feeling many times. I often mistook it for the unction of the Spirit. It is not. The Spirit is like the dove resting on your shoulder giving you life giving words that release the Kingdom instead of angst.

What about our religious rights?

In the big debate of churches closing for Covid-19 or following State guidelines when we are Constitutionally exempt from governmental interference with our religious practices. It is important to remember that everyone is suffering from the closures. Can we not suffer with our fellow citizens of the world? I read that Macy’s projects a loss in their first quarter of one billion dollars! Some businesses will not recover from this closure. The financial loss for musicians who earn from concerts not sales of their albums is astronomical. Then you have the sports industry, the movie industry, the TV and streaming industry, filmmakers, actors, all of Hollywood. People are losing money in retirement plans and stock market investments. Court trials that will give justice to people or release people from undue confinement are indefinitely postponed. People have lost jobs. Some are working extra hours covering the loss of others who are at risk. To clamor for our own rights is to not have love.

We can justify it through good arguments of the Constitutionality of all this, and I am very glad there are citizens who are being a good safeguard to the liberty we hold dear in America. We must have these thinkers and critics. But we are also in a worldwide crisis that requires response. We may disagree with that response. It may be too much government overreach. I can articulate such arguments myself. But let us argue for our fellow citizens liberty before our own. Let us be concerned for our neighbor before our own rights to assemble physically in a church building. No one is denying us the right to be public with our worship, only not refrain from gathering right now – though even now this restraint is lessening and will soon be only an unpleasant memory. Some churches have reached more people through Zoom and Facebook Live than they did in person. Let us rejoice when we gather again rather than be grumblers and complainers.

How about championing the businesses around us? Share their sales and openings. Frequent their services. Pray for their success. Use our resources to bless our neighbor and not curse our neighbor. Our neighbor includes all those people who we disagree with. It includes those who do not care about the U.S. Constitution or the Bible. It is those who do not know Jesus. It is even those who spend their billions to make vaccines. Love your neighbor as yourself, said Jesus. Jesus loved us while we were yet sinners. Jesus died for those who nailed him to the cross and those include you and me.

Covid-19 and the End Times

I am covering a lot of ground with this article. I do not want to release my thoughts in mere memes and short burst on Facebook. I want to take the time to develop out my prose on these topics. The Covid-19 crisis is bringing a lot to the surface in our communities and I wish to offer clear worldview guidance in these times.

It is important not to start linking Covid-19 to end time theology. This crisis is going to pass, and we will still be here when it does. Jesus gave us The Great Commission, and that work, the work of discipling nations, not just saving souls, is not nearly done. If nations were discipled, and if the Church were at maximum maturity having made herself ready for the Groom, we would not need this long article I am writing. We are still tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, every Facebook meme, and every conspiracy theory You Tube video.

We are losing our bearings and our solid ground on the solid Rock we stand. If we are shaking, if we are in turbulence (not the world shaking – but if our own peace is disrupted) we have built on something other than the Kingdom. We may have built our lives on politics, or on end time theories, but not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not shaken. If we are full of angst, fear, lack of peace, and outrage… if we have lost our patience and need the Lord to rescue us expediently . . . it is time to check our footing and step back into the Kingdom where there is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Be a blessing to others

2020 has been nothing of what I expected or hoped. There are many delays of my plans. Through it all, I have been experiencing major gratitude to the Lord. He is just so good! I am enjoying the little things of life. I enjoy the sweet taste of a Strawberry or a slice of Watermelon. I enjoy the breeze on the porch, the sound of the ocean, and the fresh air on a long walk. I enjoy the extra time to read and think. I find myself marveling at simply every every-day activity and ever so thankful to God for all that I am experiencing. I aim to come out of this season better than I went into it. I aim to learn all God wants to me learn in this time and prepare for the days ahead. I look forward to dinner with friends, and church potlucks and parties. I look forward to Bible Studies and full shopping malls. Until then, I will rejoice in the Lord for He has made me glad.

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