Eric Metaxas Uncritically Features Anti-Vaccine Proponent

Eric Metaxas has been in the hot seat lately due to his race baiting tweet in response to Joe Biden (see this post for that story). However, there is something else that in times past would relegate Metaxas to the fringe.

On his radio show last week, he gave 36 minutes to Kent Heckenlively, the co-author with Judy Mikovits, of the conspiratorial book Plague of Corruption. Mikovits is the star of the documentary “Plandemic” that made the rounds in early May. Metaxas treated Heckenlively as a serious guest with truth to reveal. In the process, he gave the anti-vax movement a huge public relations win. Watch:

In this video, Heckenlively claims and Metaxas accepts that aborted fetal tissue is in vaccines, and harmful viruses are in vaccines. The fictitious vaccine-autism link is implied along with other wild ideas. Heckenlively is allowed to provide a full recitation of the anti-vax catalog. Metaxas is completely unprepared for these claims and can’t or doesn’t want to offer any skeptical response. For all practical purposes, Eric Metaxas produced a 36 minute commercial for the anti-vax movement.

Recently, the Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today have offered warnings about conspiracy theories in the church. With Eric Metaxas favorably featuring the anti-vax movement, there is evidence they may be too late.

 

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

Churches and the Spread of COVID-19

Donald Trump has threatened to “override” governors who have limited church gatherings. He can’t do that legally and he shouldn’t try. Furthermore, governors should resist the calls of some church leaders to remove restrictions. Going to church is not like shopping or even eating out. With this post, I plan to keep a running list of situations where churches have met together and spread the virus.

Some are widely known. In South Korea, much of the spread was due to a new religious movement where a single infected person spread the virus to many people in church. Several days ago, I wrote about the differences between church going and shopping and concluded that many things we do in church make it easy for the virus to spread.

Arkansas

The CDC reported this past week that an Arkansas church was involved in the spread of COVID-19 in March. Here is the CDC description:

Among 92 attendees at a rural Arkansas church during March 6–11, 35 (38%) developed laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, and three persons died. Highest attack rates were in persons aged 19–64 years (59%) and ≥65 years (50%). An additional 26 cases linked to the church occurred in the community, including one death.

The Christian Post also reported on this church.

California

Cases of COVID-19 have been related to Mother’s Day services in two CA churches. In one church, at least nine cases are tied to the church service and in the other, two cases are known to relate to attendance at the church.

In April, a Russian language evangelical church near Sacramento was the center of an outbreak. Seventy cases of COVID-19 were traced back to the church. Small group gatherings may have contributed to the spread of the virus.

Georgia

Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle opened their church to in person services in April only to close again in early May after just two weeks of services due to reported infections among congregants. The infections occurred despite significant social distancing precautions and low attendance at the services.

In Cartersville, GA as many as 15 cases of COVID-19 were connected to an infected person who attended the Church at Liberty Square in early March. The church then moved to online services. Dr. Melissa Dillman told The Cancer Letter that most deaths from COVID-19 in Floyd County, GA came from that church service.

Illinois

A church near Chicago is associated with 10 confirmed cases and another 33 congregants with COVID-like symptoms after a church service in March. The stay at home orders had not been imposed at the time.

Kentucky

In March, a Hopkins County revival meeting led to infections that spread throughout the state. At least 30 cases and three deaths have been linked to the meeting.

Minnesota

Two small Catholic churches, one in Maple Lake and the other in Annandale, share clergy who have tested positive for COVID-19. Despite following guidelines, volunteers and others have tested positive and are displaying symptoms of the virus. All three of the clergy who serve both churches are positive or symptomatic.

Navajo Nation

The Navajo reservation takes in parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. After a March service at Chilchinbeto Church of the Nazarene, 29 people came down with COVID-19.

North Carolina

Today, according to WLOS, Macon County Public Health reported seven members of Evangelical Ebenezer Church in Franklin, NC have tested positive for COVID-19. Health officials have identified this as a “cluster” of cases and identified the source as the church.

Texas

A Catholic church closed services after several members came down with COVID-19. The transmission is unclear but 5 members of an order associated with the church tested positive.

Virginia

A minister who defied mitigation efforts died from the virus. Gerald Glenn of Chesterfield VA vowed to continue preaching but succumbed to the virus back in April. Several of his family members also contracted the virus.

West Virginia

The first COVID-19 death in WV was a member of a Baptist church in Everettville. Due to lack of resources and tracing, it is unclear how many people became infected, but at least five did after attending a service of between 90 and 120 people back in March.

France

This was one of the earliest outbreaks related to a church service. About 2500 people took part in a Lenten service which led to 10 cases very quickly after the March service. From there, cases multiplied throughout France.

Germany

More than forty people tested positive (this report says 100 cases) after attending a Baptist church service in Frankfurt, Germany. According to news reports, the church adhered to social distancing guidelines.

There are many reasons why a church service is a good environment for spreading the virus (see this post for a discussion). Despite social distancing, some church gatherings have been responsible for the spread of the virus. During the Spanish Flu pandemic churches closed down until it was safe to meet again. We should be patient and follow their example.

I urge readers to leave other cases of church spread in the comments and I will add more as I find them.

Eric Metaxas Goes Twitter Blackface (UPDATED)

Let me just get to the point. Here Eric Metaxas’ most recent contribution to his Christian witness.

Metaxas was reacting to Joe Biden’s comments about conservative African-Americans not being black. Biden’s point was not well stated and he apologized for it today.

The fact that Biden was out of line with his comment is no reason for Metaxas to engage in what has been called by Christian professor Karen Prior the “Twitter equivalent of Blackface.”

Anyone following Metaxas over the past three years shouldn’t be too surprised by this. Some prior guests on his show includes Katie Hopkins, (see also this link), Milo Yiannopoulos, and his good friend and opponent of the “hoards” from the third world, Ann Coulter.  And of course, there is Metaxas’ undying support for Donald Trump.

Those folks want to keep America (and Britain in the case of Hopkins) white and European.  I don’t know what’s in Metaxas’ heart, but I could never give those three a platform, let alone call them friends and heroes.

Metaxas is currently getting dragged on social media for this tweet, and rightly so. However, if tomorrow everything goes back to normal, what will it matter?

Ed Stetzer has weighed in:

Now Joe Carter:

After being ratioed all night long, Metaxas doubled down:

In the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, Joe Biden was favored by 81% of black voters over Donald Trump, who was favored by only 3%. Although it was a dumb and insensitive way of saying it, Biden was not untethered to the facts.

If anyone is failing to deal with reality, it is Metaxas and his supporters. They fail to deal with the fact that there are good reasons for the disparity in the black vote. Principally, what Republicans do is criticize black voters for being captivated by “shiny objects” as if black voters don’t have reasons to favor the Democratic party.

Conservatives will make the most of Biden’s gaffe but exploitation can’t cover the fact that members of GOP fight against expanding voting access. Members of which party support Confederate heroes and symbols and find “very good people” among those who want to see a statue of Robert E. Lee remain in a honored place? Not the Democratic party.

According to a recent poll, black Americans feel that racial division has grown and that Trump is responsible for that that. They strongly disapprove of his performance and hold him responsible for an increase in racism on his watch. There are reasons for these results which Republican leaders simply don’t want to confront.

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

Ravi Zacharias, 1946-2020

This morning Ravi Zacharias International Ministries released a statement announcing the death of their founder. Ravi Zacharias had been ill with an aggressive form of cancer. He was 74.

Until late in his ministry, Zacharias was universally beloved among evangelicals as a minister and defender of Christianity. He was affiliated with the Christian Missionary Alliance church. Recently, scandals marred his work, but for the most part his fans continued to stand with him. His organization will continue his apologetics work with his daughter Sarah Davis as CEO.

Davis had this to say about funeral arrangements:

Soon our family will gather for a graveside service. In the days ahead we will provide details for a public memorial service to be held in Atlanta and streamed around the world.

Ravi Zacharias, R.I.P.

 

The Washington Post obituary by Sarah Bailey for Ravi Zacharias contains a link to this blog’s exclusive 2018 apology concerning Zacharias’ claim that he studied at Cambridge and was a professor at Oxford.

 

Rusty Reno Apologizes for His Tweets About Masks

Today, on First Things, Rusty Reno apologized for his “foolish and ill-considered remarks about masks and mask wearing.” It is short, so I reproduce it here.

I regret my foolish and ill-considered remarks about masks and mask wearing on Twitter on Tuesday, May 12. Masks are clearly indicated in many situations. I used over-heated rhetoric and false analogies. It was wrong for me to impugn the intentions and motives of others, for which I apologize.

I wrote about his tweets (now deleted along with his entire account) last week. Given the position First Things has in the world of religion, it would be good to hear what tipped the scale in the other direction.

This seems like a good start. Reno also distorted history in his crusade against social distancing measures and it would be a good thing to see corrections made there as well.

Upheaval at First Things

I’ve been talking about it for awhile. I’m just one of many. First Things, the magazine that calls itself “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” is struggling. For me, it started with a broadside against the very reasonable David French by Sohrab Ahmari about a year ago. And then of late, the editor of First Things, R.R. Reno, has used the magazine to carry on a war against social distancing and most recently face masks. Yesterday, the crescendo was this series of tweets, now deleted from Twitter.

Reno today deleted his account from Twitter and did not file a daily Coronavirus diary on First Things as he has done most days during the pandemic.

By the way, in fact soldiers did wear masks.  Or at least these recruits did during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

Others have noticed. Evangelical historian Thomas Kidd tweeted earlier today.

As I read editor Reno, he seems preoccupied with fear. He almost seems afraid to be afraid. In his tweets and articles, fear is the worst thing. Wearing a mask is a sign of cowardice to him. While I understand that fear is a negative emotion, some things should be feared. Fear is a natural part of our ability to adapt and respond to the demands of life. Fear can focus us on what is important.

In his war on fear, Reno has taken liberties with both history and science. In prior articles, Reno said in past pandemics, American citizens didn’t stop their gatherings, football games, and church services. Not true. In the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, many of the very same measures being taken now were taken then.

In his Coronavirus journal entry on May 12, Reno wrote:

Experts estimate that one-third of the residents of New York City have had the disease—a collective condition that makes it nearly impossible for an outbreak of significant magnitude to sweep through the city again. Yet we’re locked down, with no end in sight.

Actually, experts estimate that it would take 60% of the population to be infected for herd immunity to prevent an outbreak. In fact, we don’t know for certain that immunity occurs in all cases of COVID-19, and we don’t know for sure that the antibody tests are reliable. Even if they are and 30% is a valid number, that still isn’t adequate.

First Things once cared about accuracy. There are still good people writing there (e.g., Carl Trueman), but I do agree with Thomas Kidd’s assessment about the publication as a whole and hope for a reset.

Church is Different Than Shopping

Around the country, pastors and people want to go back to church. Some are suing to overcome prohibitions and some are trying to convince elected leaders to loosen restrictions. Just today, Ed Stetzer posted an article on RNS titled: If Costco can reopen safely, why not Illinois churches, Gov. Pritzker?

In his article, Stetzer proclaims: “If Costco can make it work, so can the churches.”

Maybe they can. However, I want to point out that church is different than shopping at Costco.

Stetzer calls on us to use science in our decision making which is what I want to do. My thoughts are based partly on an excellent blog post by UMass Dartmouth Biology professor Erin Bromage. Bromage teaches courses on immunology and infectious diseases and has a research program in the evolution of the immune system.

My ideas here are also based on my experience as a church attender and a shopper. Having done both for much of my life, I can safely say that full participation in church and going shopping are different activities.

Church activities spread the virus

First, let me pick some relevant material from Bromage’s article. An important principle developed by Bromage is this:

Remember the formula: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time

To get to this principle, Bromage discusses the ways humans spread a virus. We spread it most efficiently by sneezing and coughing, but we also spread it by speaking and breathing. Sneezing and coughing expels hundreds of millions of viral particles, so it is easy enough to understand why sick people should stay home. They shouldn’t go to church or shop.

But let’s take speaking since that is done in church a lot but not as much in the grocery store, especially these days. Bromage estimates it takes about 5 minutes of face-to-face speaking to transmit enough virus to make an infection possible. Church meeting supporters might complain that we all will be wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. Well, if you really will, then that will help. However, there is the variable of time in Bromage’s formula.

When people are shopping in Costco and many grocery stores, they are moving around in large open spaces. They go in, do their shopping, and leave. That is not how people do church. They go in, sing (more about that in a minute), talk, and sit and listen to a 30-50 minute sermon, stand around and talk some more and then leave, often in a smaller room. Sitting around for a couple of hours with a super spreader in the room isn’t like shopping in Costco.

Bromage describes several instances of how infections spread in restaurants, work places, sports venues, parties, and choir practice.

For instance, Bromage summarizes a case where a single carrier infected most of a choir in a Washington city even though the community choir members took certain precautions during their practice. The thing many Christians love to do in church that they don’t do in Costco is sing. Bromage describes how singing spreads the virus:

Singing, to a greater degree than talking, aerosolizes respiratory droplets extraordinarily well. Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs. Two and half hours of exposure ensured that people were exposed to enough virus over a long enough period of time for infection to take place. Over a period of 4 days, 45 of the 60 choir members developed symptoms, 2 died. The youngest infected was 31, but they averaged 67 years old.

Recall Bromage’s formula: infection equals exposure x time.

Bromage describes a restaurant scenario where an infected person at one table led to infections in people sitting at adjacent tables. The airflow in the room apparently carried low levels of virus to the people sitting at the adjacent table. Churches could work around this as we move into summer, but not if they don’t know how church is different than shopping.

Public Health v. Civil Rights

In a crisis, it is easy to get polarized and I have been pleasantly surprised at how well evangelicals have followed good practices in moving to online services. Of late, however, more voices have arisen suggesting that churches have a right to meet and that if people can gather in shops, they should be able to gather in church. As I point out, these are not similar activities.

If one looks at church activities and commercial activities through a civil rights lens only, then one could make a case that there shouldn’t be any discrimination. However, looking at these activities through a public health lens, there are important differences which place a burden on churches (or any group) to demonstrate how they will address the problems inherent in their activities.

If churches are going to meet, then they need to take this information into account. They need to spread people out, consider not singing for long sets (if at all), and having shorter sermons (finally!). Outdoor services might be an option in some locations. Online messages throughout the week should be available. Who said everything must be done on Sunday?

In any case, I hope it is clear that a public health lens isn’t designed to discriminate against religion. Church is different than shopping. Isn’t that a good thing?

 

Darrin Patrick, R.I.P. (Updated with Seacoast Church Statement)

I have sad news to report: Pastor Darrin Patrick died yesterday. Multiple sources have provided conflicting reports about the cause of death.

Patrick currently was a teaching pastor at Seacoast Church in Charleston, SC. He founded megachurch The Journey in St. Louis, MO and was former Vice President of the Acts 29 Network. He leaves a wife and four children.

In 2016, Patrick was removed as pastor from The Journey for pastoral misconduct and recently was the subject of an article by Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today regarding his restoration to pastoral ministry.

His last Facebook entries dealt with the emotions and difficulties of being a pastor.

Seacoast Church just released this statement on their website:

SEACOAST CHURCH STATEMENT ON THE PASSING OF PASTOR DARRIN PATRICK

Charleston, S.C. and St. Louis, M.O. – May 8, 2020 – Seacoast Church today issued the following statement: “We are saddened to announce the sudden passing of Pastor Darrin Patrick. Darrin was a loved member of the Seacoast family, the teaching team, and pastoral staff and we are mourning his loss. Darrin had a gift for teaching the Word and a heart for encouraging other pastors. God allowed Seacoast to be a part of Darrin’s story in a time when he needed a family. He was a gift to us and we are thankful for the time the Lord gave him to us. His influence and impact cannot be measured. We are surrounding the Patrick family with our prayers and support during this time.”

Darrin Patrick served as a teaching pastor at Seacoast Church, and was also the founding pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis, MO. He is a founding member of the Pastor’s Collective and the author of multiple books including the Dude’s Guide to Marriage.

Additional information on memorial services will be shared on seacoast.org as plans are formalized.

Updated at 5:58pm

Darrin was target shooting with a friend at the time of his death. An official cause of death has not been released but it appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. No foul play is suspected. On behalf of the family we would ask that their privacy be respected during this time, and that all media requests be directed to Margaret Little.

This statement appears to leave some question about whether Rev. Patrick took his own life or suffered an accident. All sources I have spoken to about the situation believe he took his own life.

Image: Creative Commons via Wikipedia, Author: Justin Brackett

 

On Support for Donald Trump: An Open Letter to Albert Mohler

Earlier today, Louisville Baptist pastor Joel Bowman posted this open Facebook letter to likely incoming Southern Baptist Convention president Al Mohler regarding his support for Donald Trump in 2020.

Open Letter to R. Albert Mohler, President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Dear Dr. Mohler,

I am writing to you in this medium, because the likelihood of you meeting with me face-to-face is quite low. Moreover, your public remarks require my public response.

Sir, you said during the 2016 election cycle, to support then candidate, Donald J. Trump, would cause evangelicals to lose moral credibility. You also said if you were to support him, you would owe President Bill Clinton an apology, given your judgement of his character. Now, you are endeavoring to be president of the SBC, and suddenly, you announced not only your support for Trump, in 2020, but that you would vote Republican for the foreseeable future. Given your position, as well as the position you endeavor to hold, you did not have to voice support for any candidate or party, in 2020. Further, I think it would have been wise for you not to do this.

1. You owe Clinton an apology. Not to give him one speaks of lack of integrity on your part.

2. Given your influence among Southern Baptists and white evangelicals, as a whole, you have inextricably tied the evangelical movement to the Republican Party, for better or for worse, and,

3. Your book, “Conviction to Lead” no longer has a place in my library. It wreaks of hypocrisy and ecclesiastical opportunism.

It grieves me to say you have, in my estimation, lost all moral credibility. You no longer have a prophetic voice. Now, you simply blend in with popular, politicized evangelical thought. Rather than being an apologist for the Gospel, you have become an apologist for political conservatism. Your assertion that a vote for Trump or a Republican candidate is THE expression of a Biblical world view is myopic and tribalistic.

You once had my high respect, though we disagreed on some secondary and tertiary issues. As a Louisville pastor for 21 years with affiliation within the Louisville Regional Baptist Association, Kentucky Baptist Convention, and some involvement in the SBC, I am deeply disappointed. I feel like ripping your chapter out of the book, “Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention”. It is all meaningless chatter, empty rhetoric to me, now.

There was a time I was working toward stronger involvement within the SBC, through the Cooperative Program. Due, in part, to your recent remarks, I am placing this on hold. As an African-American of evangelical theology, I lack confidence in your leadership in the area of Biblical justice.

I pray the Holy Spirit convict you in this area. I say all of this with every ounce of love and respect I can muster, as your brother in Christ.

Sincerely,

Rev. Joel A. Bowman, Sr.
Founder & Senior Pastor
Temple of Faith Baptist Church
Louisville, Kentucky

I feel pretty sure that white evangelicals on average do not comprehend how differently their black brothers and sisters on average see the endorsement of Donald Trump. This is a key sentence:

I feel like ripping your chapter out of the book, “Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention”. It is all meaningless chatter, empty rhetoric to me, now.

Here is the most recent illustration of the vast gulf between Donald Trump,  his supporters and the minority perspective.  Donald Trump tweeted this about the angry, armed, white men who stormed the Michigan Capitol Building in a re-open Michigan protest.

I cannot believe the results and reaction would have been the same if those protesters would have been angry black men carrying weapons into the Capitol. What a perfect example of white privilege that they were not arrested and got a commendation from the president.

Some of the rallies feature Confederate flags and Nazi slogans and Trump does and says nothing to discourage it. The protesters like him and that’s what matters. You simply have no credibility with most African-Americans if you tolerate white supremacy. There is nothing pro-life about that.

Liberty Counsel Fights for Right to Panic

Today, Christian legal defense group Liberty Counsel added to the hysteria surrounding stay at home orders by telling supporters that Kansas City, MO authorities have demanded church membership lists. According LC, it is just like the Nazis!

The Kansas City government is now DEMANDING that churches turn over membership lists, along with the names, telephone numbers and physical addresses of anyone who enters a church! This order also applies to all businesses.

The new order states that by recording names and contact information, the health department will be able “to more quickly trace, test, and isolate individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.” Anyone who does not provide this information should be refused entrance!

The Germans did this very thing to Jews – collecting the names and locations of all known synagogue attendees – in the early days of the Nazi regime.

Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined Nazi-like measures designed to surveil, track and spy upon what was once a FREE American people. Yet that is exactly what Kansas City’s misguided government officials are now demanding.

Here is what the mayor of Kansas City posted on the city website:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas today—in consultation with Kansas City Health Department Director Rex Archer, M.D.—announced Kansas City’s phased reopening plan.

Beginning May 15, all Kansas City businesses will be able to open, subject to a “10/10/10 Rule.”

The 10/10/10 Rule specifies that all non-essential Kansas City businesses must limit the number of customers allowed in their establishment at one time to no more than 10 percent of building occupancy or 10 people (whichever is larger), and record the names, contact information, and approximate entry/exit time of all customers who are on premises and seated for more than 10 minutes. Establishments such as grocery stores, medical and dental offices, pharmacies, and other essential businesses are not subject to the 10/10/10 Rule.

Gyms, museums, bars and in-person restaurant dining will open with additional Health Department guidance on May 15 to best protect workers and patrons.

“More important than moving quickly is moving carefully and responsibly, and the steps we’re taking today allow our businesses to return to productivity while keeping their workers and customers safe,” said Mayor Lucas.

Based on public health guidance, non-essential businesses that are not open to the public will be permitted to open one week from today, subject to social distancing guidance. Religious gatherings – including weddings and funerals – of 10 people inside and 50 people outside can resume on the same date, provided social distancing is maintained and event organizers record the names and contact information of all attendees. In the interest of public health and subject to City Order, any Kansas Citian who does not yet feel safe returning to a non-essential workplace cannot be compelled by their employer to return prior to May 15.

Membership lists are not required. Those in attendance should be recorded in the event there is a sickness and those present need to be contacted. Note that the names and contact information doesn’t have to be turned in to anyone if there is no sickness. The information is for contract tracing if there is an illness.

LC is spreading paranoia and is a part of the problem right now. All public health experts recommend testing and contact tracing as a way to open business and slow the spread of the virus. If church groups can meet with the constraints of social distancing, then if the curve has flattened, there is case that they should be allowed to. However, responsible church leaders should keep track of attenders for the purpose of tracing those people to tell them they may have been exposed if that becomes necessary.

There is precedent for the stay at home orders and limits on public gatherings, including churches (see the image above). In 1918, during the Spanish Flu pandemic, large public gatherings of all kinds were closed. Now, as LC’s article admits, churches are not being singled out and so any comparison of Christians now to Jews in Nazi Germany is wrong and incredibly insensitive to the reality of the Holocaust.

 

1918 – Bakersfield, CA.