Finding Some WINS in a No-Win COVID World
The Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise in the fictional Star Trek universe designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario. James T. Kirk failed his first two Kobayashi Maru tests. Before his third attempt, Kirk reprogrammed the simulator so that it was possible to win the training exercise. Despite having cheated, Kirk was awarded a commendation for “original thinking”.
I would love to reprogram our COVID world in order to win back some normalcy but that is far above my paygrade. And nothing I say in this blog post will be viewed as original thinking but I will attempt to direct our thoughts towards finding ways to win anyway.
Who Do We Believe?
At every turn, we live in a polarized world. Whether the issue is politics, morality, science, or the Bible, people have gathered into tribes with their own “facts” with each tribe filled with strong emotions. Anyone with a different viewpoint is quickly labeled as a “hater”, “science denier”, “liberal wacko”, or “right-wing conspiracy believer.” Whoa! Who do we believe?
We are told to “follow the science” but what does this mean? There are studies that say wearing masks help slow the spread of COVID while other studies say cloth masks are virtually worthless. There is rampant worry about rapidly rising COVID cases while others say don’t worry because the survivability rate is 99.6%. There is a raging debate with some Governors shutting down their states while other Governors are promising to never shut down their state. On one hand, there is a mindset that believes “staying home saves lives” while on the other hand there is a belief that shutting back down causes incalculable problems with suicides and mental health issues. Some people take to heart everything Dr. Anthony Fauci says while other people point to a number of conflicting statements he has made. Who do we believe?
Adding politics into the mix is like adding gasoline to a fire. There are those who ardently believe that we should trust the government and do what they tell us to do. On the contrary, other people strongly believe there is an attempt to increase government control and we are losing our precious liberty at a rapid rate. Who do we believe?
All of these conflicting viewpoints have led to massive division and strife in our country and, speaking as a pastor, in our churches. Longtime friendships have been severed, family members have been alienated, and long-time church members have walked away from their church. This breaks my heart.
What is the Right Decision for Churches?
I realized quickly that our church leaders at GracePoint Church were in our own 2020 Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario and no matter what decision we would make in this COVID season would be the wrong decision for some people.
When the dire predictions of over 2 million COVID deaths prompted our WA State to implement a Stay Home and Stay Healthy order in March, our church chose to abide by this order for the protection and well-being of our people and our community. Several families angrily left GracePoint because we shut down live services and didn’t stand up for our religious liberties. Months later when we chose to regathered for live services, other frustrated families left the church because we were heartlessly putting people’s lives at risk. Many others were upset and refused to come because we asked those attending to wear masks and socially distance from other families. What is the right decision?
As time went on and additional governmental COVID mandates were handed down to churches, some people cheered while others got angry when they heard our church leadership chose to not adhere to some of these new mandates. What is the right decision?
Finding the Win
Spiritual leadership is not for the faint of heart. Trying to make decisions that will win the approval of people is not wise, biblical, or possible. Thankfully, God has blessed me with a group of Elders who humbly take their roles seriously. Instead of starting the decision conversations with, “Well, I think we should…” most of our conversations are started with, “What does God’s Word instruct us to do.”
Jesus was asked a question by a Pharisee who was more interested in tripping up Jesus than hearing his answer. Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment in scripture. Jesus replied,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
I believe the win in our no-win COVID season is found in the answer Jesus gave to the Pharisee. It is the same answer for the tension we are facing today: Love God and love people. We are to love both. However, we should not invert the two. Obedience to God must prevail over our love for people. (John 14:21)
The tension, for our church, is when governmental mandates supersede God’s mandates. The latest mandate from our governor prohibits singing in our worship services. Is worship more than singing? Yes. True worship is a lifestyle. Is singing a part of worship? Of course, it is. In fact, the most given commandment in scripture is to praise the Lord. Over and over in Psalms, the command to sing to the Lord is given. To the church body of Colosse, Paul said, “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16) This is a clear example of congregational instruction rather than to individual believers.
Some have said we should look for other creative ways to worship without singing so we can be in compliance with our Governor’s mandate. Interesting thought but is this in compliance with what God’s Word instructs us to do? In talking with a veteran pastor today, he mentioned the situation in Daniel 6 and wondered out loud, given our current climate, what advice people would give to Daniel when there was a decree from the king that prohibited praying to any god or person other than the king.
Although the application is different, the principle is similar. Daniel could have prayed silently. He could have prayed inside his home without opening the window. No one would have noticed or known about it. But he didn’t. He chose to pray as he had consistently done before when the Kings’ mandate superseded God’s. Something to consider.
Two primary tools Satan uses is fear and division. What has crippled our country and invaded our churches? Fear and division. Another win we can find in this no-win COVID culture is to NOT fall for Satan’s schemes. Instead, believers should follow the biblical mandate given in Romans 14 in regards to differences various believers have. I have made it a point to remind our Elder Board that any decisions we make must be what we believe God wants GracePoint Church to make. We do this to avoid the mindset that the path other churches may take is inferior to the paths we have chosen.
All believers should apply the Romans 14 principle when there are differences of opinion. It is possible for believers to honestly disagree without being divisive. This would be a win for us and a defeat for Satan. It’s time to turn the tide away from fear and division in the church and begin showing more grace and love to those who disagree with us.
Just as the Kobayashi Maru tested the character of the Starfleet Academy cadets, this COVID season is testing the character of church leaders and believers all across our country. May we pass this character test in how we choose to stand firm in areas we should stand firm in and give grace and love to those who see things a little differently than we do.