Reflections on Easter Sunday in the Midst of a Pandemic
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on April 12, 2020
My understanding of the Bible came from my beloved parents, Levi and Lillian Watkins, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., my childhood pastor, Sunday School teacher, and Baptist Training Union instructor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
My parents didn't just talk the Christian talk; they also walked the Christian walk. In other words, they practiced what they preached and led by example. My mother's father was a well-known Baptist preacher in black American. All that my parents and Dr. King did not instill in my siblings and me was instilled by Rev. Willie Varnado, my maternal grandfather.
In his famous April 16, 1963 "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Dr. King addressed his fellow white clergy who were critical of his non-violent civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama and who chastised him as an "outsider" who was fermenting racial conflict between white and black citizens in the city. Dr. King acknowledged that his critics were "men of genuine goodwill" and that their criticisms [were] sincerely set forth." Dr. King reminded his fellow clergy that "[w]e are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
King's quotes in 1963 apply today with equal force to the church and organized religion as the novel coronavirus spreads rapidly across the globe. The death toll from the virus is staggering. It is killing Americans and others around the world on a massive and indiscriminate basis.
Prayers on Easter Sunday
The COVID-19 infectious disease is visiting death, affliction, and economic destruction on nearly every nation on the globe. In the United States, there have been 533,088 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 20,580 deaths from the disease, with no end in sight to the disease. There is no cure for COVID-19, and scientists have not developed a vaccine to counteract its effects.
President Donald J. Trump labeled the virus a "plague." The World Health Organization called the infectious virus a pandemic. In March, Trump declared a national emergency in the United States because the virus is killing Americans and spreading with impunity.
This plague has also caused America to shut down its robust national economy. For the first time since the "Spanish flu" pandemic in 1918, American citizens and our nation are struggling for survival as we recognize Easter Sunday.
The Bible chronicles at least 10 plagues. They are referenced in Exodus 12:29-30, 2 Chronicles 6:28, Luke 21:11, Revelations 21:9 and 22:18. According to the Bible, a plague is a disastrous evil, affliction, or epidemic of infectious disease issued by God in Judgment.
As scientists and healthcare professionals around the world battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the modern-day church has been reluctant to link this deadly infection to the wrath of God or his Judgment on mankind. This reluctance mirrors the same kind of cowardice Dr. King found in the white clergy of Alabama in 1963. They went along with strictly enforced racial segregation laws in order to get along with the members of their church congregations. Since then, churches of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds have moved from condemning man's inhumanity to man, in accordance with God's teachings, to justifying this inhumanity in politically palatable terms that satisfy the partisan leanings of their congregations.
Will God Hear Our Prayers?
In America and around the world, respected and well-known members of the clergy are praying for an end to the plague. Will God hear their prayers? According to Proverbs 1:23-33, he will not.
Unfortunately, partisan politics has invaded the church and has now firmly nested in the pulpit. Too many religious leaders of all faiths will be harmonizing and packaging their Easter Sunday messages in a way that legitimizes society's mistreatment of the "least of these." In many respects, the church is openly complicit in this mistreatment.
This is why the Catholic Church will not condemn in a loud and unified voice its clergy's sex abuse of innocent young children. This is why the Amish Church and community tolerates the sexual abuse of its young girls, which is often perpetrated on the victims by family members and other close relatives. This is why churches in America practiced deafening silence when migrant parents from Central and South American were separated from their young children at America's southern border. This is why there was no outcry from the church when America's president claimed his book on making business deals was second only to the Bible. This is why the church does not speak out when governments around the world brutally persecute the poor and defenseless in the name of national greatness.
The prayers of the church this Easter seek only relief from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The church has never addressed the underlying reasons why God is inflicting his wrath on the world and why America is bearing the brunt of God's wrath. Additionally, the church has never prayed for the strength and courage to change society's ways toward the "least of these."
Sadly, the church's order of the day is out of order, and God is demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence exactly who is in charge of the world today. It's not Joel Osteen. It's not Pope Francis. It's not popular mega-church ministers like Rev. Dr. J.D. Jakes, or Rev. Creflo Dollar. It's not the Supreme Ayatollah in Iran. It's not the Dalai Lama in Tibet. It's not Billy Graham's son, Franklin Graham.
The Church of Scientology, the Mormon Church, Southern Baptist Churches, and Methodist Churches are also powerless to stop the COVID-19 virus. Jewish rabbis and their temples are impotent, as well, in the face of this deadly pandemic. All of the world's religions and churches are powerless to stop the wrath of God, and their spiritual leaders are too embarrassed to admit their failings as members of the international brotherhood/sisterhood of clergy.
Until we fundamentally change our ways and get right with God, the death and affliction from COVID-19 will continue. The citizens of the earth will suffer wave after wave of the deadly mutating virus.
This is God's wake up call to mankind. We can treat it like a scientific and medical problem, or we can recognize it as the wrath of God for straying from his teachings.
God gave us a perfect world and we ruined it. God sacrificed his only son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins. We showed our appreciation by engaging in greater and more lavish sins.
God is angry, and we are paying the price for our sins. He is not listening to our prayers right now. Proverbs 1:28.
Dr. King's Word are Prophetic for Today's COVID-19 Calamity
Dr. King ended his Letter from the Birmingham Jail with these prophetic words:
"In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church .... There was a time when the church was very powerful -- in the time when early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."
Then, Dr. King added these words, as though he was addressing us today:
"[T]he judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the [twenty-first] century."
Finally, Dr. King posed this question in 1963 that is reverberating in the midst of today's COVID-19 crisis:
"Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?"
I think so.