Back when the coronavirus first came to our shores in a big way, I noticed an immediate defiance in some Christian quarters regarding the magistrate’s authority to issue quarantines, in that it included churches. Part of this resistance was quite scriptural, in that the elders of churches do not lose their authority in a time of crisis. But part of it wasn’t, and since the authority of the civic magistrate to quarantine is manifestly biblical, I wrote about it. Among other things, I wrote this about it:
So to be clear, if the governor of Idaho shuts down all public meetings because of COVID-19, churches included, then Christ Church would comply. Even if it happened to be the wrong decision, or a decision with which I differed, we would still happily comply. This is one of things that is well within their realm of jurisdiction. It is their call to make. This is their job.Me, on March 16
In ancient Israel, the authorities had the right to tear down someone’s house if it was afflicted with the creeping crud (Lev. 14:33-53). They had the right to make someone with a contagious disease into a permanent exile, having to live outside the camp (Lev. 13:45-46). This kind of thing, however unfortunate, is not a violation of anybody’s rights.Me, in the next paragraph
Since that time, I have preached to our people online, our elder meetings have been conducted via Zoom, I have taught New St. Andrews classes online, and so on. Our initial reaction was not a scofflaw reaction. And because our elders retain their authority over church affairs, for example, they canceled routine pastoral visits (e.g. church membership), while granting our ministers and elders the authority to use their own discretion as whether to meet in person with someone with an emergency pastoral need, say. This, despite the fact that our governor’s and mayor’s orders did not grant that exemption. That’s all right — we granted the exemption.
But also since that time, I have heard that selections from that post of mine have been circulating online in defense of the massive lock downs that have been occurring, and so I thought I needed to say something more. Notice that above I referred to “wrong decisions or decisions with which I differed,” and I did comply with them, happily. But there really is a distinction between an erroneous decision, or a decision with the usual governmental muddle mixed in with it, and a decision that amounts to an abuse of the quarantining authority.
We are now dealing with the latter, and the reasons are not hard to find.
So, a Few Quarantine Principles
There are three things to note.
First, a biblical quarantine is of the diseased individual, or reasoning by analogy, a quarantine of a diseased “hot spot.” When the president shut down travel from China early on, he was right to do so. There was a scriptural logic in it. It was not tyranny when Moses made the person who had contracted leprosy to go and live outside the camp. It was hard, and a personal tragedy, but abuse of governmental authority was not part of that tragedy.
Issuing a “shelter-in-place” order for a healthy population is not it. It is not scriptural, it is counter-productive, and “flatten the curve” graphs shown to a people who don’t understand graphs doesn’t fix anything. Quarantining New York City would cause more acute pain in that particular area, but it would be far more biblical than having somebody who lives in Elk River, Idaho have to stay at home. But we live in egalitarian times, and so that kind of thing strikes the levelers as “unfair.”
Second, a biblical quarantine is a hard quarantine. Nobody goes in and nobody comes out. Yellow tape is strung all around the house. There is no such thing as a highly porous quarantine. You don’t let the lepers come into the camp for weekend visits.
Issuing that “shelter-in-place” order, while at the same time not restricting travel to and from contagious areas, is an inverse quarantine. Right now, without breaking the law, a citizen of Moscow could catch a flight over to Seattle, walk through various hot spots breathing in deeply, and then come back to Moscow in order to stand in a tight huddle of people outside one of our local restaurants in order to pick up his takeout. All perfectly legal. But it would not be legal for him, symptom-free, to go across the street to visit his symptom-free neighbor. This is nonsensical.
And third, our leaders have not only shown thoughtless panic in one direction, but a real callousness in another. A large number of people in our country live paycheck-to-paycheck, and they do not have the reserves to handle what has been thrown at them. For many thousands of people, the cure is already worse for them than the disease would have been. And it is not a comparison of lives v. dining out in a fine restaurant. As I have been saying repeatedly, it is lives v. lives.
When someone was in debt, scriptural law required that you could not take their livelihood away from them as a means of securing the debt. To take their means of earning a living from them was tantamount to taking their life.
““No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge.”
Deuteronomy 24:6 (ESV)
The cameras are all focused on one kind of damage, and the church needs to point out that there is another kind of damage going on, and countless distrupted lives.
Allow me to use a ludicrous example in order to illustrate the principle. And I am stating the example the way I am so that everyone can see the principle involved. Suppose we are hot into the presidential campaign this coming fall, and Trump is twenty points behind in all the polls. It looks like him losing the election is a certainty. Two weeks before the election, he postpones the election until the following March. He does this, not because he is trailing in the polls, but rather because of the deadly malaria outbreak.
We all look at each other and say, “Wut?”
Now does he have emergency authority and all that? Yes, he does, but at what point do the people in Minnesota, hiding in their basements from Congolese mosquitoes, have the right to come out into their front yards, scratching their heads and saying, “Wait a minute . . .”
We are free citizens, and the things that are being done to us do not add up, and the things we are being told do not add up. Get out your calculator. Try to add them up. They don’t add up.
And naturally, there will be more on all of this later.