We love the church. We love how beautiful, fun, messy and weird she is. She is the body of Christ, the city on a hill, the messenger of salvation.
However, this very love also compels us to point out when some of her bodyparts do things that are very, very wrong.
As the coronavirus pandemic marches on, we’re sad to report that the response of some Christians has been outrageously damaging. Either by using the crisis to earn money, spreading wild conspiracy theories or encouraging their church members to infect each other.
We must not forget that many other Christians do an amazing job of combatting the virus, helping the vulnerable and preaching the Gospel.
That being said, let’s have a look at the five worst Christian responses to the pandemic.
1. Prosperity preacher exhorting his viewers to ignore their symptoms
Last week, the prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland, who is so rich that he owns his own airport, lifted his glossy, anointed hand towards the camera at his show Victory News and proclaimed healing for coronavirus victims:
“Now say it: I take it. I have it. It’s mine. I thank you and praise you for it.”
“According to the word of God, I’m healed. And I consider not my own body. I consider not symptoms in my body. But only that which God has promised.”
Just to be clear, we don’t think it’s wrong to pray for healing. That’s what we Pentecostals and Charismatics do. But Copeland’s assertion that people definitively are healed even when they have symptoms – something they’re asked to ignore – is extremely damaging.
And then he went on to say that people who lose their jobs due to the recession that the pandemic is causing should continue to tithe to the church… I feel like I want to puke, and it’s not due to corona.
2. Televangelist telling viewers that their children will be immune to the virus if they donate 200 dollars
Many outside of Scandinavia haven’t heard about this.
In late February, American pastor Dionny Baez was speaking at the Norwegian Christian TV channel Visjon Norge (Vision Norway) on the coronavirus. He said that if they send in 2020 kroner (appr. 200 US dollars) their children would be protected against the coronavirus.
“As a prophet of God, I challenge you to call the number on the screen… Say: ‘as a seed for 2020, I’m going to give 2020, and I’m gonna believe God. Like Jacob, I’m going to cover my children with a sacrifice, and no evil shall touch them.'”
He then went out stressing the viewers to call immediately, before it was too late.
This behavior was later defended by the channel’s owner Jan Hanvold as he described it as “pure biblical teaching“. (I must admit I missed the verse where it talks about sending in 200 dollars to a TV network). This has led Livets Ord, the biggest Word of Faith church in the Nordic countries, to cut their ties with Visjon Norge.
I know that some people are quite desperate to get an income (along with toilet paper) as the stock markets are plunging, but this is way over the line.
3. Christian University President claiming that the Coronavirus is a North Korean bioweapon with the purpose of toppling Donald Trump
OK, now we’re getting into foil-hat territory.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University (one of the biggest Christian colleges in the world), chose to spend his airtime on Fox News the other day by raising the idea that the coronavirus is, like most things these days apparently, all about Donald Trump:
“Impeachment didn’t work, the Mueller report didn’t work and Article 25 didn’t work. So maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump.”
“The owner of a restaurant asked me last night, he said, ‘Do you remember the North Korean leader promised a Christmas present for America back in December?’ Could it be they got together with China and this is that present? I don’t know. But there really is something strange going on.”
Yeah, the strange thing going on is probably Falwell’s extreme conspiracy theories.
4. Members of a South Korean church literally spraying the Coronavirus into each other’s mouths
Yes, you read that correctly.
South Korea has managed to deal with the virus fairly well, testing hundreds of thousands of people in order to map the spread of COVID-19 and containing the infected.
However, the positive trend encountered a setback recently as 50 new cases were discovered connected to a church near Seoul.
The members of the River of Grace Community Church were all sprayed with salt water in their mouths during their service as an official believed that this would kill the virus.
It turns out that one of the members was infected, and as they didn’t disinfect the nozzle of the spray bottle, they spent the service infecting almost everyone else present.
Following this, the church has been closed by authorities.
Honestly, I don’t know what to say.
5. Megachurch pastor telling his church to pack the pews and die for Christ
When Ezekiel talks about irresponsible shepherds who slaughter their own sheep (Ezek 34), I normally take that figuratively. But it turns out that there are indeed pastors who wants their own church members dead.
South Florida megachurch pastor, and self-proclaimed apostle, Guillermo Maldonado was disappointed with the poor turnout of last week’s service, saying:
“Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not… This service is usually packed. So now they’re home in a cave afraid of the virus, that you want to transmit the virus. If we die, we die for Christ. If we live, we live for Christ, so what do you lose?”
In a now-deleted Facebook-post, he warned: “Come in and receive your healing, or stay home and miss out.”
The mixed messages here are confusing. If no churchgoer per definition is contagious, why would they need healing? And if healing is guaranteed, why promise them death with Christ?
We also believe in healing and the value of fellowship. But if the Jesus movement could go on fine during its first 300 years without cathedrals or megachurches, we can handle a few weeks or months. And while healing is awesome, it is never guaranteed; which is why pastors can’t promise it happening.
Again, let’s not forget that there are millions of other Christians who do the right thing in response to the pandemic. Most followers of Jesus aren’t irresponsible, money-hungry conspiracy theorists.
Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author, and editor for PCPJ.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!