A Conversation with Greg Thornbury: Wokeness, COVID Truthiness, the Consequences of Trumpism and Much More

My series of blogcasts this summer was fun and well received so I thought I would follow up with some additional conversations. The first one drops today and features Greg Thornbury, Vice President for Development at New York Academy of Art in NYC. Greg was once president of The King’s College in NYC and has a long history in evangelical institutions. I continue to get positive feedback about our first interview.

Greg and I discuss Eric Metaxas’ punch and run episode, COVID truthers, Al Mohler’s shift to Trumpism, the meaning of the recent conservative attacks on wokeness, and the potential bitter consequences of Trumpism.

Hope you find something of interest and enjoy the conversation. Please feel free to comment below.

Gregory Alan Thornbury, Ph.D., has been a college philosophy and theology professor, dean, and president of The King’s College in New York City. In addition to several books on theology and culture, he is the author of Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock (Random House, 2018) – a critically acclaimed biography that has been reviewed by The New York Times, The New Yorker, National Public Radio, and was awarded as the most influential book in arts and culture by Christianity Today for 2019. A popular writer and speaker on philosophy, religion, and the arts, he currently serves as Senior Vice President at the New York Academy of Art in Tribeca, founded by Andy Warhol. He is also a consultant for Good Country Pictures, who is currently working on film adaptations of the short stories and novels of Willa Cather, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor for film and television.

You can see all posts about these interviews by clicking this link.

Also subscribe to my Psychvideos Youtube channel where I host them.

John MacArthur, Tony Perkins, Wayne Grudem, Others Call Evangelicals to COVID Denial

Last night Tony Perkins and Family Research Council hosted a COVID-19 denial, Trump campaign, and Amy Coney Barrett support rally at Jack Hibbs church in Chino Hills, CA. Called Freedom Sunday, Perkins also brought together pastors and others who supported opening churches without restriction, including masks and social distancing. No one was wearing masks or social distancing in the crowd.

John MacArthur spoke by video and again cited the same false information about the prevalence of COVID-19 in CA. He admitted in this address that some were ill in the beginning although he didn’t say they were hospitalized. There are others who have been ill but people are not talking at the church. He also says in the Freedom Sunday video that they made no announcement about reopening. However, that description doesn’t fit the statement leading up to their first real Sunday back in session July 26, 2020.

The false information given in the Freedom Sunday talk is what he is also using to try to get other churches to open without mitigation measures.

In this video, MacArthur again says that 1/100th of 1% of people have COVID in CA. However, the graphic on the screen says “.001” which would be .1% or one- tenth of a percent. In fact, 1/100th of 1% is .0001. MacArthur is asserting that only 4,000 Californians have COVID-19. The 16,584 COVID deaths in CA is a greater percentage of the population than MacArthur claims has the virus.

I still don’t know where MacArthur is getting his numbers. His PR firm won’t comment. As in the Freedom Sunday video., he clearly here refers to people who have COVID-19. As of today, 846,579 have had COVID-19 in CA which is 2.1% of the population. According to Worldometer, 399,491 Californians have active COVID cases. This is right at 1% of the population.

In his Freedom Sunday appearance, he spread the same false information without being corrected. It is obvious that there was no concern for objectivity or facts at this event. If conspiracy theories and false information will do the trick, then full speed ahead.

Eric “Punch and Run” Metaxas, Wayne Grudem, and Che Ahn also lent their Trump support and COVID-19 skepticism to the event.

Why should I or anyone trust anything being shared? No one with expertise in epidemiology was curating the information. Skepticism about the virus and support for Trump were the necessary criteria for speakers at this event. The speakers said they wanted freedom to worship Jesus, but what really came through was their desire to hold indoor political rallies in the name of religion.

 

Pastor Greg Laurie Has COVID-19

According to New Yorker’s Olivia Nuzzi, Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California has COVID-19.

I don’t think we know the fall out from that prayer march or the Amy Coney Barrett coming out party. Unmasked evangelicals may or may not decide there is a pandemic after these next few days go by.

I believe Greg Laurie is standing unmasked behind Michael W. Smith who is at the piano.

There are many people there who need to get a test.

Greg Laurie made an announcement for social media. His Facebook announcement is here and the twitter video is below.


On Facebook, Laurie said:

I tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday. I have been in quarantine since then. I am happy to report that all members of my family have tested negative for COVID. My symptoms have been mild so far, and I expect to make a full recovery. I have always taken the Coronavirus seriously, and it has tragically taken many lives.

Laurie has taken the virus more seriously than say, John MacArthur. However, why is he in the middle of 50,000 mostly unmasked people singing without a mask? If he was taking it as seriously as he should have been, he would not have been there.

Despite Indoor Services, Grace Community Church Doesn’t Want to Get Sued if You Get COVID-19 at the Church

Even though L.A. County said they placed them in the wrong spots, Grace Community Church posts signs disclaiming responsibility for any sickness if a person gets COVID-19 at the church. Given this disclaimer, it is not surprising that persons who say they attend Grace say they have to sign a COVID-19 waiver if they want to volunteer at the church.

John “There is no pandemic” MacArthur’s church requires a waiver from people who serve according to three sources who sent me copies of what they say members and staff are required to sign in order to work or volunteer at the church. Last week, I sent the waiver to the public relations firm representing the church with a request for confirmation and/or comment but did not get any response.

The full waiver is linked above and provided below but at least one point is worth mentioning. Remember when John MacArthur said:

the good news is that you’re here, you’re not distancing, and you’re not wearing masks.

Here is what the waiver sent to me requires a person to affirm:

While wearing a mask covering the mouth and nose while in the Church is not required, I assume additional risks of possible injury and death by not wearing a mask. I understand that I may request a mask from the Church and the Church will provide one for my use. I have been encouraged to use a mask at all times when engaging in Activities at the Church.

I am not a lawyer but if I wanted to challenge this waiver, John MacArthur’s words in church would be exhibit A. Furthermore, during the weeks that Grace has been meeting, no one on camera has worn a mask and no one has been encouraged to wear a mask. No social distancing has been observed.

Here is the waiver of liability:

WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND COVENANT NOT TO SUE NOTICE: THIS IS A LEGALLY BINDING AGREEMENT. PLEASE READ CAREFULLY.

I desire to participate in one or more activities or programs (each individually an “Activity”; collectively, “Activities”) offered, operated, sponsored or directed by, or otherwise involving, Grace Community Church of the Valley (“Grace Community Church”). The Activities may occur in whole or in part at or in the church (the “Church”) located at 13248 Roscoe
Boulevard, Sun Valley, California 91352 owned and operated by Grace Community Church. The Activities may involve, without limitation, attending or assisting with programs, events, instruction, and classes both inside and outside the Church and with or without supervision of Grace Community Church or any of its employees, contractors or personnel (collectively, “Personnel”). I understand that each Activity poses inherent risks of exposure to and/or contracting the COVID-19 virus. With full knowledge and understanding of these risks, and in consideration of my use of the Church and participation in Activities, I acknowledge and agree as follows:

1. Acknowledgement and Assumption of the Risk

I acknowledge that participation in Activities, use of the Church and any services provided by the Church subjects me to the following risks, among others: accidents which cannot be foreseen and personal injury, including but not limited to death or sickness from contracting the Coronavirus disease 2019 (“COVID‑19”), the infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

I understand and acknowledge that:

A. The above list of risks is not inclusive of all the possible risks to which I will be subject in participating in Activities and using the Church and that the list in no way limits the extent or reach of this Waiver of Liability and Covenant Not to Sue (this “Agreement”) or any provision of this Agreement.

B. There is an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 in any place where people are present.

C. While wearing a mask covering the mouth and nose while in the Church is not required, I assume additional risks of possible injury and death by not wearing a mask. I understand that I may request a mask from the Church and the Church will provide one for my use. I have been encouraged to use a mask at all times when engaging in Activities at the Church.

I understand that masks may reduce or mitigate the above risks, but are in no way a guarantee of safety. I further recognize that masks have limited capability as far as prevention of infection from contracting COVID-19.

I VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ALL OF THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH PARTICIPATION IN ANY ACTIVITY OR USE OF THE CHURCH, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO RISK OF INJURY, SICKNESS AND DEATH FROM CONTRACTING COVID-19 OR EXPOSURE TO COVID-19. I VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ALL SUCH RISKS WITH FULL KNOWLEDGE, UNDERSTANDING AND APPRECIATION OF THE RISKS INVOLVED.

2. Waiver of Liability and Covenant Not to Sue

I, on behalf of myself, my heirs, representatives, executors, administrators and assigns, hereby knowingly and intentionally (A) waive any and all liability of Grace Community Church and their respective successors, assigns, owners, shareholders, officers, directors, members and
Personnel (each individually, a “Released Party”; collectively, “Released Parties”) for, (B) release Released Parties from, and (C) covenant not to sue Released Parties for any and all causes of action, claims, injuries, liabilities, damages or demands of any nature whatsoever, whether known or unknown, anticipated or unanticipated, which I, my heirs, representatives, executors, administrators and assigns may now have, or may have in the future against any Released Party on account of any and all known and unknown, foreseen and unforeseen personal injuries, property damage, death, sickness or accident of any kind and whenever occurring, arising out of or in any way related to any Activity, any occurrence or event involving the Church, any Released Party or any service or program related to any thereof, whether such Activity, occurrence or event is supervised or unsupervised and however and whenever any injury, property damage, death, sickness or accident is caused. THIS WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND COVENANT NOT TO SUE SHALL BE EFFECTIVE EVEN THOUGH SAID LOSS, DAMAGE OR INJURY RESULTS OR HAS RESULTED FROM THE NEGLIGENCE, WRONGFUL ACTS, OMISSIONS, BREACH OF WARRANTY, OR STRICT TORT LIABILITY OF ANY RELEASED PARTY. NOTWITHSTANDING THE IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING SENTENCE, THIS WAIVER OF LIABILITY AND COVENANT NOT TO SUE SHALL NOT BE EFFECTIVE IN REGARD TO LOSS, DAMAGE OR INJURY RESULTING FROM THE GROSS NEGLIGENCE OR WILLFUL OR WANTON MISCONDUCT OF ANY OF THE RELEASED PARTIES.

3. Indemnification Agreement

I hereby agree to INDEMNIFY, HOLD HARMLESS AND DEFEND the Released Parties from and against any and all causes of action, claims, demands, losses, damages, liabilities and costs (including but not limited to attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by Released Parties or any thereof) of any nature whatsoever, including but not limited to those caused by the negligence of any Released Party (except for those resulting from the gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct of any Released Party), arising out of or in any way relating to my use of the Church or the services provided thereby or my participation in any Activity.

4. Miscellaneous

I certify that I am in proper physical and mental condition to participate in Activities and that I have no physical limitations that would preclude my safely using the Church or participating in Activities, subject to the risks assumed. I agree to read and abide by all rules from time to time posted in the Church or otherwise communicated to me. I agree to comply with requests and instructions of all Personnel. In the event of an accident, if I should be unconscious or otherwise unable to make medical decisions for myself, I hereby grant the Released Parties permission to administer necessary first aid, and/or to solicit emergency medical services as deemed necessary. This authorization includes permission for emergency medical transportation to the nearest medical facility for additional medical treatment.

I hereby voluntarily waive any right I may have to a trial by jury in any action, proceeding or litigation involving any Released Party. The laws of the State of California shall govern the rights and obligations of the parties to this Agreement and the interpretation, construction and enforceability thereof. I agree that any lawsuit brought against any Released Party shall be brought solely in The Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, North Central District. If any portion of this Agreement is held invalid, the remainder shall remain in full force and effect.

I hereby grant to Grace Community Church, and Grace Community Church reserves the right to use for promotional purposes any photographs taken by Grace Community Church at the Church or during any Activity. Such images may be used in Grace Community Church’s brochures, posters, website or other promotional materials without liability or payment.

I ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT BY SIGNING THIS AGREEMENT I AM RELIEVING THE CHURCH AND ALL RELEASED PARTIES OF ANY AND ALL LIABILITY FOR ANY LOSS, DAMAGE, INJURY, SICKNESS OR DEATH RESULTING FROM ANY ACTIVITY AND WAIVING MY RIGHT TO MAINTAIN A LAWSUIT AGAINST ANY OF THE RELEASED PARTIES, EXCEPT FOR ANY LIABILITY BASED UPON THEIR GROSS NEGLIGENCE OR WANTON AND WILFULL MISCONDUCT. I CERTIFY THAT MY AGE IS ACCURATELY SET FORTH BELOW; THAT, IF I AM AT LEAST 18 YEARS OF AGE, I AM LEGALLY COMPETENT TO SIGN THIS AGREEMENT; I HAVE CAREFULLY READ THIS AGREEMENT AND UNDERSTAND THAT THE TERMS OF THIS AGREEMENT ARE LEGALLY BINDING UPON ME AND UPON MY ASSIGNS, HEIRS, REPRESENTATIVES, EXECUTORS AND ADMINISTRATORS; AND THAT I AM SIGNING THIS AGREEMENT, AFTER HAVING CAREFULLY READ IT, OF MY OWN FREE WILL.

A photocopy hereof, or a record of this Agreement sent and received by facsimile, email or other electronic transmission, shall be enforceable and shall have full legal effect as an original.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, this Agreement is duly executed this _____ day of_____________________, 2020.

______________________________
PRINTED NAME
______________________________
SIGNATURE

 

 

 

 

New COVID Cases in States Where Masks Are Required Versus States Where Masks Aren’t Required

My Grove City College colleague Gary Welton wanted to know more about the association of mask requirements with number of new cases of COVID-19. One way to examine this is to look at states where masks are required compared to states where they aren’t. In this scenario, the actual mask wearing can’t be controlled. However, this analysis examines the policy and the association with number of cases per 100,000 in population. Here are Gary’s findings when he examined new cases in the 35 states where mask mandates are in place compared to states where maskes are not required for the week from 9/2 to 9/8/20.

About the findings, Gary said, “In fact, for the recent week, states that have mandated masks show about half the number of infections per 100,000 people. Given the current data, it is prudent to wear a mask.”

I realize that even in states where masks are required, not everybody wears them. However, if I am a policy maker, I would have to look at this at least twice and wonder what is going on. Ideally, Gary will continue this analysis as the pandemic continues to see if the relationship continues. For now, this adds one more point of support for wearing masks as a means of reducing, though not eliminating, the spread.

 

John MacArthur Doubles Down on No Pandemic Claim

In his sermon today at Grace Community Church, pastor John MacArthur told his congregation that his claim last week that there is no COVID-19 pandemic was not made off the cuff. He said again that by the CDC definition of a pandemic there is no pandemic. Watch:

MacArthur is making yet another common mistake by referring to the number of COVID-19 cases as compared to the population of California. This is not how epidemiologists think about the lethality of a disease. You compare the number of deaths to the number of cases to get the mortality rate.

MacArthur said that the definition of a pandemic is that “1 to 3% of the people die.” By his definition of a pandemic (1 to 3% of the population), the Spanish Flu epidemic would not have counted as such because less than one percent of the American population died. According to the CDC website, 675,000 Americans died during the 1918-1919 season. With a population of 104.5-million in 1919, well under 1% died (.65%).

MacArthur also said the number of people who have COVID in California is “one hundredth of one percent out of 40 million. That’s not a death statistic, that’s a COVID statistic.” Currently, the number of cases in CA stands at 735,742. Given the population of just less than 40-million people in CA, the percentage of the population with a positive COVID diagnosis is a little over 1.8%. Even if the calculation used active cases (373,175), the percentage is .94% or almost 1%.

I need to research this a bit more but so far the only definition on the CDC website of a pandemic I found is this one:

Pandemic refers to an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people. Epidemics occur when an agent and susceptible hosts are present in adequate numbers, and the agent can be effectively conveyed from a source to the susceptible hosts.

MacArthur also said that Grace is the only church in CA allowed to meet indoors. I question that interpretation. The court has declined to issue a court order to require Grace to comply with L.A. County’s Health Order but has told L.A. County that the County may enforce the Health Order forbidding indoor meeting. L.A. County has chosen not to enforce the order.

In any case, the court is set to rule this week on the injunction with L.A. County as the plaintiff  in the case.

L.A. County and Grace Community Church Continue Dispute in Court Today

Today, L.A. County and Grace Community Church met in court today in the courtroom of Judge Mitchell Beckloff in their dispute over indoor worship services. The L.A. Country Health Order forbids indoor worship but is finding it difficult to enforce since Grace will not abide by it.

According to an article in today’s LA Daily News, a decision may not come for several days. According to the report, the arguments pertained to a compelling state interest to regulate religion versus the freedom of religious bodies to control their practices.

 

L.A. County Terminates Parking Lease Agreement with Grace Community Church

In a letter dated August 28 2020, the L.A. County Flood Control District informed John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church that it is terminating a lease agreement on three lots Grace uses for church parking. According to the church, they have used the lots continuously since 1975. The letter begins:

In accordance with General Provision C of Rental Agreement No. 01-18 (“Agreement,” copy enclosed) between the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and Grace Community Church (Grace), the District is exercising its right to terminate the Agreement by giving a minimum of 30-day written notice of intention to terminate. Please be advised that by this notice, the District will hereby terminate the Agreement effective October 1, 2020. Accordingly, pursuant to the Agreement, Grace shall vacate and remove all of its improvements and personal property placed on the premises (as defined in  the Agreement) on or before October 1, 2020. If Grace fails to vacate the premise as required, the District may enter the premises and remove Grace’s personal property in accordance with the Agreement and applicable law, and Grace will be responsible for any resultant expenses incurred by the District. Any improvements, including fencing, that are not removed will become the property of the District at its option. Effective October 2, 2020, or thereafter, the District will secure the premises.

Read the letter from the L.A. County Flood Control District

The church has until October 1. The next hearing on L.A. County v. Grace Community Church is September 4. The county’s actions appear to be a response  to Grace’s violation of their Health Order banning indoor worship. However, there may be time for movement on both sides before the lease agreement runs out. The outcome of the September 4 hearing may have some influence on this matter as well.

For all of the posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church, click here.

For my ongoing tally of churches who are associated with COVID-19 outbreaks, click here.

 

Focus on the Family on List of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Colorado

With three lab confirmed cases and one probable case of COVID-19, Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO has been declared a COVID-19 Outbreak site.

The CO Dept of Public Health defines an outbreak as two or more cases confirmed by a lab test found in a location . Focus on the Family has declared itself to be a church so it will make my list of church outbreaks. The El Paso County site indicates the outbreak is in the bookstore.

CO is one of the states which tracks outbreaks by location and does a great job of making data available to the public on a weekly basis.

John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church has placed focus on church and COVID-19 by refusing to comply with Los Angles County’s Health Order banning indoor church services. The County and church head to court on September 4 in another round to argue the case.

California Judge Denies LA County Request for Restraining Order Against Grace Community Church But Affirms County’s Right to Forbid Indoor Worship

UPDATE (8/25/20) – Judge Beckloff issued his ruling today and declined to issue a restraining order on statutory grounds but told the county that nothing stopped them from enforcing their own Health Order. According to the judge the Court had no jurisdiction to enforce it. A hearing on the merits will be held September 4.

So far LA County has elected not to levy fines or send the authorities out to shut the church down. The court essentially said today that it is up to the county to enforce it or not. MacArthur and his supporters will see this as a victory, but the order remains in effect and the Court of Appeal has said it presumes that it is constitutional. The county could enforce it but may not have the courage to do so.

Read Judge Beckloff’s 8/25/20 decision.

In response to a request for a comment on Beckloff’s ruling, LA County issued this statement.

During this unprecedented health crisis, the Department of Public Health, along with thousands of businesses and millions of residents, has worked tirelessly to curb the transmission of COVID-19 in order to prevent serious illness and death among our residents.   It is deeply disappointing that the Court decided not to grant the County’s request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services, as it has done several times in recent weeks. We look forward to a favorable ruling when a full hearing is heard on the matter on September 4. It is also important to note that the County’s Health Officer Order prohibiting indoor gatherings, such as protests and religious services, remains valid and in effect. The Department of Public Health continues to ask residents to do their part and, when attending religious services please stay outdoors, wear a mask and practice social distancing.  Together we can beat the spread of this deadly virus.

Although not directly stated here, it does not appear that the County plans to enforce the Health Order before the September 4 hearing.

………………………………………………………………………..

Today before the Honorable Mitchell L. Beckloff, LA County applied again for a restraining order which would prevent Grace Community Church from holding indoor services. At the 8:30am hearing, both sides presented their arguments and the Judge Beckloff took the request for a temporary restraining order under submission. 

A decision is expected either later tonight or tomorrow.

Any restraining order would be in effect only until the September 4 hearing when the Superior Court is expected to rule whether or not the county can enforce the Health Order.

When a decision on the restraining order is announced, I will post it here.

Read: All posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church