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In a recent Axios poll, it was found that 62 percent of Americans believe the pandemic is over, even after the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 is no longer a “public health emergency of international concern.” This marks a significant milestone in our collective fight against the virus, which has taken a devastating toll on humanity, claiming the lives of millions around the world. While the pandemic may never truly be eradicated, we can find solace in the fact that the state of emergency has come to an end.
A Call for Pandemic Amnesty
However, despite this momentous occasion, there is an undercurrent of anger and bitterness that lingers in conversations surrounding the pandemic. Many individuals seem eager to relitigate past debates about masking, social distancing, infection rates, and church closures. It is time for us to declare a “pandemic amnesty,” as suggested by Emily Oster in The Atlantic. We must assume each other’s good faith and forgive the difficult decisions that were made with imperfect knowledge during this unprecedented time. As Christians, we have a unique opportunity to lead the world in extending grace for the actions and words spoken during the confusion of the pandemic.
Navigating Complexity and Imperfect Knowledge
The pandemic presented us with a multitude of complex challenges in the realms of medicine, politics, law, economics, theology, and humanitarian concerns. Each of these areas required expertise and understanding, and it was impossible for any individual to possess complete knowledge in all of them. Epidemiologists could predict the course of infections but may not have been well-versed in legal issues surrounding lockdowns. Lawyers could understand public health law but may not have considered economic tradeoffs. Economists could analyze GDP growth but may not have fully grasped the human cost in terms of lives lost or prolonged isolation. Theologians could offer guidance on submission to government and protection of religious freedom, but each congregation had to find their own balance.
Acknowledging Mistakes and Acting with Caution
Throughout the pandemic, there were undoubtedly mistakes made and missteps taken. We now know that masks were not as effective as initially believed, especially without the use of N95 masks worn correctly. Some public schools remained closed longer than necessary, and social distancing was deemed unnecessary outdoors. The excessive disinfection of public places was simply a form of hygiene theater. However, it is important to recognize that treating COVID-19 as a serious emergency and acting with an abundance of caution was the right course of action. Dismissing the virus as unimportant or unthreatening would have been grossly insensitive to the older and immunocompromised individuals who were at extreme risk.
Learning from Mistakes and Improving Future Responses
While it is easy to criticize the decisions made by governments during the early days of the pandemic, it is crucial to acknowledge that acting faster, earlier, and more decisively could have significantly reduced the severity and duration of the pandemic. Mistakes were made, but these should not deter future decision-makers from doing everything in their power to protect public health during the next emergency. The same principle applies to our local churches. Each church faced difficult decisions regarding closures and the balance between government obedience and protecting congregants. Different churches made different choices, and it is not clear that there was a universally correct answer for every church in every circumstance.
Grace for Different Approaches
It is important to recognize that churches in different jurisdictions faced unique challenges and had valid reasons to approach COVID-19 differently. A spirit of grace would have made the past three years more bearable, as the pandemic caused divisions and strained relationships within churches. Pastors and congregants alike experienced loneliness, isolation, political divisiveness, and stress, leading to a significant percentage of pastors considering leaving ministry. Church members who turned their church’s stance on COVID-19 into a litmus test of spiritual faithfulness burdened their spiritual leaders. It is crucial that we extend grace to one another, acknowledging that none of us had lived through such a global pandemic before, and hopefully, none of us will again.
Embracing Humility, Patience, and Love
Extending grace requires humility and patience. In the face of uncertainty, it is okay to admit that we don’t have all the answers. When faced with difficult choices, such as whether to open or close the church, it is natural for different opinions to arise. Even when decision-makers make choices that we believe are wrong, our desire to hold them accountable should be tempered with the understanding of the challenges they faced in an unprecedented and confusing situation. Above all, we should remember that love “keeps no record of wrongs.” We can disagree on matters related to the pandemic and still come together in communion as the body of Christ. The unity of the church should always take precedence over our differences.
As we reflect on the end of the pandemic, it is essential to embrace a spirit of forgiveness and grace. The complexity of the challenges we faced during this time necessitated difficult decisions that were made with imperfect knowledge. Mistakes were made, but it is crucial to learn from them and improve our responses in the future. Different churches faced unique circumstances and made different choices, and we must extend grace to one another for the decisions made. As Christians, we have an opportunity to lead the world in forgiveness and love, recognizing that unity in the body of Christ is far more important than our disagreements. Let us move forward with humility, patience, and a commitment to extend grace to one another as we navigate the challenges that lie ahead.