Thursday, April 1, 2021

Saturday, April 10, 2021 at 11am: A Lutheran Consideration of the Life of the Church During Times of Crisis

The Saint Timothy Society and its Ladies Auxilliary will host a presentation, discussion, and light snacks at 11am on Saturday, April 10, 2021, at University Lutheran Chapel, 316 10th Ave SE, Minneapolis MN 55414. Our Chaplain will begin our gathering with our first study session on the response of the church to public, national and societal crises from antiquity to the present time, with particular treatment of the current COVID 19 pandemic. Please note our guidelines for those attending our meetings and events.

Background material for our meeting will include:

"The Blessings of COVID" an interview with John Kleinig by Bryan Wolfmueller.

Facts and Faith: A Faculty Opinion on Worship In and After a Pandemic from Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines.

A Letter Regarding Mask Mandates by the pastors of Saint Johns Lutheran Church, Corcoran, Minnesota

Session 1: Overview of possible questions and topics, and deciding the priority of each; what do we want to address? An ongoing conversation on:

  1. The Question of Fear
  2. The Question of Authority
  3. The Question of the Neighbor
  4. The Question of Public Policy

The Question of Fear:

  1. The Catechisms tell us "We are to fear and love God..." But the prophets say "Fear Not!"
  2. What does this mean?
  3. Matthew 10:28: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (NKJV)
    1. As Aristotle puts it, we must know more than just that we fear, or love, or hate
    2. We must ask: In what way we do we fear? To what end? To what extent? To and from which good, and which evil?
    3. Fear- both earthly and heavenly - is part of God's creation of humankind for a good reason.
    4. Earthly fear can be good and necessary, for example, when we are about to be hit by a car, or bus or train.
    5. Fear engages that visceral part of us to act, and get out of the way.
    6. Heavenly fear likewise makes us aware that God alone is just, we are sinful, and God must punish sin.
    7. We express this in the Great Doctrine of Law and Gospel: the Law always accuses, the Gospel of Jesus Christ redeems and saves.
    8. We are indeed to fear and love God, as the catechisms tell us, exactly so that we fear Him Who can destroy both body and soul.
    9. God has given the human condition not just fear, or fear alone, but also courage, reason, logic, ethics, morality, and a host of other abilities to guide us in this life.
    10. When fear is allowed to silence courage, reason, logic, love, loyalty, and all of the other virtues and elements of our human consideration, that "light within us" becomes darkness, and how dark indeed it is.
    11. So how do we know when fear is no longer one servant of many that serves our good and God given ordered thinking, but has become a tyrant of a diseased and deranged delusion?
    12. At what point is fear no longer one voice of many necessary voices, but rather has silenced courage, reason, logic, hope, and all the necessary virtues of our human condition?
  4. At what point does fear, real or imagined, or potential, possible, or theoretical justify:
    1. Damaging, harming or destroying our neighbor's job, his property, his business, his livelihood?
    2. Giving anyone or any authority the right to silence our neighbor, or punish them, for acting, speaking or thinking in a way that questions a public policy or narrative or action based on fear?
    3. Causing even more fear by creating hysteria, panic, delusion, cowering, and irrational hatred?
  5. At what point is fear reasonable and informative, existing alongside other reasonable and informative considerations, and at what point is it poiticized and punitive?
  6. If the internment of Japanese citizens and residents in the US was an unjust and uncessary result of fear during world war II:
    1. are the current restrictions on US citizens based on emergency powers assumed during COVID also unjust and unnecessary evils caused by irrational and delusional fear?
    2. Is coercing, compelling or forcing our neighbors to be vaccinated also based on irrational fear?

The Question of Authority

  1. It is sometimes said that the church should tread carefully or avoid political issues and positions on public policy that some find controversial.
  2. Yet the church must speak out and push back when public policy and authorities (of varying degress of legitimacy) hinder, coerce, or attack the doctrine, practice, life and teaching of the church.
  3. The territory between these two observations can be complicated and vast.
    1. While "tread carefully" can be a sincere and prudent wish, it can metastacize into a strange form of Quietism, or Quakerism, or a version of "private inner light" Christianity ("Just Jesus and me; no one else")
    2. These beliefs are alien to what we as Lutherans have historically confessed as the doctrines of the Two Kingdoms and Vocation
    3. It is also incorrect to say that the church insists on one form of acceptable government or authority, such as Ceasaropapism, or a Caliphate, or a Holy Roman Empire.
    4. The Lutheran (and more broadly Christian) doctrine of the Two Kingdoms is uniquely criticized in this regard by a notable source: Sayyid Qutb, perhaps the most influential of modern Islamicist writers, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Eqypt, who posited that only in One Kingdom (the Caliphate that unifies sacred and secular in one authority) can the will of God be obeyed. ("Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonization and World Order")
    5. Qutb's hatred of America and Western Society in general appears to have been an early recognition of the degeneracy and immorality that has become more apparent in recent years.
    6. It is also incorrect to say that the church insists on what is called "modern secular liberal democractic" forms of government
      1. "liberal": classical liberalism, with emphatic recognition of the freedom and rights of the individual, and not modern "leftist".
      2. "secular": the ruling authority "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".
      3. secular in this sense probably does not mean "separation of church and state" (but many think it does); it is also probably not "secular" in the sense that the French Republic is aggressively secularist, or the modern Turkish version of secularism after the Ottoman Empire.
      4. secular in its earlier (and more accurate) sense implies a society that accomodates more than one view of the "sacred", or the transcendant. Leftist ideologies (the various marxisms, socialisms, materialisms, and their cultural, economic and political variants) are not secular in this sense, as they deny anything outside of the earthly "saeculum", that period of time measured by the potential lifetime of a person. Their claim to be the fullfillment of history is an exclusive one.
      5. Classical liberalism is secular in the sense that it can accommodate many conflicting and competing ideas of eschatology, heaven, hell, and the end and purpose of life on this earth.
    7. It would be naive to deny the enormous accomplishments of modern secular liberal democracy, and many Christians in western democracies assume that the freedom of conscience and religion they enjoy now is the norm, and therefore favored by the church.
    8. But this is an historical anomaly; the vast sweep of human history shows us that the norm has been tyranny, dictatorship, tribalism, unchecked monarchy, oligarchy, and governments and societies that are profoundly undemocratic and unfree, and in which the individual is considered irrelevant or expendable.
    9. The church has flourished as well in societies like these; "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" (Tertullian).
  4. "Separation of Church and State", at least in the United States, has also evolved into two very different concepts, in much the same way that the concept of liberalism has evolved into two very different ideologies (classical liberalism and leftist liberalism).
    1. When authorities (in whatever form, legitimate, elected or otherwise) make up "public policy" that legalizes, allows or promotes abortion, homosexuality, same sex marriage, pornography, the phrase is invoked to silence those who object to these societal evils for moral or ethical reasons, or those who do not wish to raise their children, families, relatives, grandchildren in a society where these things are normalized.
    2. The classical liberal use of the phrase is closer to the Establishment clause in the US Constitution, and implies a "marketplace of ideas" where competing interests, ideas and ideologies make their case to their fellow citizens.
  5. The Church of Christ has survived the various forms of "state worship" before the rise of Materialism, Marxism, and Socialism. These Pre Materialist/Marxist/Progressive forms of state worship could range from the divinity (or divine descent) of the King (Eqypt) to a unified Caliphate with the ruler combining God's earthly and heavenly realms under one crown.

The Question of the Neighbor

  1. What duty, what responsibility, do we as the Church, and as Christians, owe to our neighbor?
  2. In the most recent pandemic, we have seen our neighbors, their jobs, livelihoods, and businesses, placed into the categories of "essential" and "non-essential".
  3. Those who claim that churches which continue to worship and meet as they always have are hypocritical and unloving seem unconcerned or less concerned about the harm, damage and destruction to the lives, property and livelihoods of their neighbors when these things are shut down as "non-essential".
  4. Does the Church have a responsbility to ask if it is loving toward our neighbors to:
    1. harm their jobs and employment by shutting down or crippling their place of work?
    2. cripple their livelihoods, businesses and property by preventing or hindering them from functioning?
    3. hinder their "useful arts" and vocations of serving society and each other by delaying for months:
      1. normal and routine medical treatment of cancers, diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions?
      2. "non-emergency" "non-covid" visits and procedures?
      3. routine maintenance of property, facilities, homes, and other aspects of "non-essential" activities?
    4. Should we as the Church, and as Christians, also ask:
      1. Who, why and on what valid authority and criteria are some things termed "essential" and others "non-essential"?
      2. If some livelihoods and occupations are essential and others non-essential, could those who make that distinction say that some lives, some individuals, are non-essential?
      3. Who decides? And for how long? Who decides the consequences for this?
      4. How does "non-essential" differ from "Lebensunwertes Leben" ("Living beings unworthy of life") of the Eugenicists and the National Socialists of the 19th and 20th centuries?
      5. How would it differ from the elimination of all classes other than the proletariat by Soviet Socialism?
      6. Are some ideas, some beliefs, some convictions of conscience "non-essential"?
    5. When clergy are included in the category of essential (as Minnesota has done), can the church ask:
      1. Is it right that we as the church, or as individual christians, should be treated differently than the rest of civil society?
      2. Is it fair/right/just/ethical that we should be considered "essential" when other institutions, organizations, businesses, groups and individuals are considered "non-essential"? ("If one of us is caged, none of us is free.")
  5. So how do we as a Church and as Christians love our neighbors?
    1. The greatest and highest love, of course, is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ given in His Word and Sacraments to a world which desparately needs to find the Kingdom of Heaven.
    2. But love in this world, where we serve out our vocations, has a shape, a form, a direction. It is tethered and grounded in what God has given us to do, as citizen, husband, wife, neighbour.
    3. It is explained in the catechisms of Martin Luther where we learn that we are to protect and preserve the reputation, livelihood, and lives of our neighbors by following the Ten Commandments.
    4. It is wrong for the Church to ask for different or separate treatment which benefits us but does not also benefit our neighbour
    5. In this society in which God has placed us that is "special pleading".
    6. We cannot ask for the freedoms - of conscience, of thought, of speech, of free association, of exercise of religion - that Western Civilization has made possible for everyone without insisting on it for all of neighbours, and our society.

The Question of Public Policy

  1. Is there something about the current emergency powers and authorizations that warrants our concern?
  2. Is this the first time in modern history when large segments of a society were placed under emergency authorizations for an event short of a war, or natural disaster?
  3. The longest modern use of emergency power and authorities was the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act of 1933.
  4. This event was triggered by the supposed arson of the German parliament building, followed by a decree giving expansive police state powers to the German government. A few of them were National Socialists, including that fellow with the funny moustache.
  5. In the month following the Decree, the National Socialists were able to pass the Enabling Act which allowed Hitler to effectively rule Germany as a dictator.
  6. This state of emergency continued until the fall of Nazi Germany at the end of the Second World War (technically Hitler never abolished the Weimar Republic which followed World War I).
  7. A party which never gained more than 40 and some odd percent of the electorate held emergency power for 10 years.
  8. So a crisis was used as an excuse to change and suspend election laws so that one party could take and retain power.
  9. This history is why some refer to the COVID 19 pandemic as our modern "Reichstag Fire Decree".
  10. The accuracy of this assessment is beyond our discussion here and has yet to be determined, but given the history, the Church, and individual Christians, must be very watchful at what is done under the blanket of emergency powers which some claim is necessary due to a pandemic.
  11. We are hopefully not yet at the stage that Martin Niemoller described ("First they came for the Jews, but because I was not a Jew, I said nothing...")
  12. But we need to keep asking pertinent questions. These might include:
    1. Is it ethical, advisable, rational or reasonable for there to be such widespread hysteria about and rejection of:
      1. preventatives and therapeutics such as fluvoxamine and Ivermectin (and others such as Hydroxycholorquine) because they are not approved by the FDA,
      2. while also insisting on widespread vaccines which are also not approved by the FDA, but instead are allowed by Emergency Use Authorizations?
    2. If the need for Emergency Use vaccines was so urgent and so dire, why was the category not used for preventatives and therapeutics, as Brazil did with Ivermectin?
    3. This is not to suggest that either category (vaccines or therapeutics) should be embraced or avoided, but rather both should be available for those at greatest risk.
    4. the vaccines appear to be technological and medical marvels which have demonstrated potential to prevent the 3 worst outcomes of COVID:
      1. Fatality
      2. Intensive Care
      3. Hospitalization
    5. It would be obviously beneficial to make all categories of treatment available to those most at risk, and then available to those who decide the potential benefits (avoiding the 3 outcomes above) outweigh the risks.
    6. But can any authority ethically or morally justify coercing or forcing the vaccine or vaccine testing on individuals with the least risk from COVID? i.e.,
      1. Children who do not have unusual or extraordinary conditions which make the vaccine advisable?
      2. Healthy adults who have very little chance of any of these 3 negative outcomes?
      3. Individuals of any condition undergoing treatment where the effects of the vaccines are not yet established (present or future chemotherapy), or who have a greater risk of negative side effects for the vaccine?
    7. If the justification for mandatory vaccination is to reduce the number of infections or exposure in the general population:
      1. Is it ethical or moral to force someone whose odds of permanent damage from COVID is extremely low to take a vaccine for the benefit of others who can take a vaccine themselves?
      2. Could the authorities then claim medical procedures were universally mandated for any illness with a mortality rate around 00.08% in the general population (i.e., 99.92% survival rate)?
        1. There are vaccines for diseases with similar or higher case fatality rates than COVID, but are no longer mandatory or enouraged because the mortality rate (and incidence) in the general population is very low.
        2. Should we mandate them now for the hypothetical possiblity that they may return (diptheria, yellow fever, polio, tuberculosis, whooping cough)?.
        3. Some countries in Asia, and Brazil, are considering mandatory vaccination for Yellow Fever (not parasitic malaria, but the virus). In very rare cases (1 in 200K to 300K) the vaccine causes a reaction which is fatal in 60% of those affected. Should that be mandatory?
        4. The United Kingdom is now seriously considering a "COVID passport" for both domestic and international travel for its citizens.
        5. Should this be done for other diseases and conditions, such as AIDS?
    8. These types of questions repeat in various iterations of the pandemic:
      1. Why are more severe forms of "lockdowns" favored by some authorities when:
        1. The fatality rates per capita in their jurisdictions are higher than jurisdictions which implemented less severe, little, or no economic disruption or "lockdowns"?
        2. Increases in detected cases have little effect on the 3 "numerators" (fatalities, intensive care, hospitalizations) per capita?
        3. Of the 3,142 counties in the United States, data from on 2021 APR 10 show:
          1. 95 (3.2%) have 1,000 or more COVID fatalities (over 45% of all US COVID fatalities)
          2. 20 of these have more than 2000 fatalities
          3. 7 of these have 3000 or more
          4. 6 have 4000 or more, and
          5. 8 over 5,900.
          6. 2,217 counties (70.5%) have 100 COVID fatalities or less
        4. Why have many counties with less than 10% of the COVID fatalities of the top 95 been been subject to the same statewide COVID restrictions?
        5. But the statistics here must be viewed with caution. Population density varies greatly between counties.
          1. Simple "per capita" figures would suggest that the most densely and highest population counties would have higher fatality numbers but not higher fatality rates.
          2. This could fluctuate if they are able to acquire some level of natural immunity through exposure more rapidly.
          3. Likewise, counties with the lowest population and lowest density would be expected to have lower fatality numbers, but not necessarily higher fatality rates per population.
          4. A county of 100,000 residents with 132 fatalities (the nationwide population adjusted COVID fatality rate of 2021 FEB 02) would have the same per capita rate as one with 1,000,000 residents and 1320 fatalities.
          5. But the data so far shows an uneven distribution, and there appears to be a lack of "differential" between the highest fatality states and the lowest, ( with no obvious reduction in fatalities for jurisdictions with more aggressive "lockdowns".
          6. The 30 counties with the highest fatality rates account for 21% of the total US population with 28% of the total US fatalities.
          7. That uneven distribution between population and fatalities (21% of the US population having 28% of the COVID fatalities) changes slightly with the 100 highest fatality counties, but not by much.
          8. Those counties contain 40% of the US population but have 48% of US COVID fatalities.
          9. So would it be more effective to quarantine those 100 counties with a full "cordon sanitaire" and treat the remaining counties (60% of the US population) differently?
          10. "Reverse Cordon Sanitaire", or Protective Sequestration, has been attempted historically, with notable examples from Gunnison, Colorado and American Samoa, which used the technique during the Spanish Influenza epidemic.
          11. American Samoa, cut off from the rest of the world, had 0 deaths from the Spanish Flu. New Zealand Samoa, which remained open, had an infection rate of 90% and a fatality rate of 20% of the adult population.
          12. We're seeing that both methods (and combinations thereof) pose major challenges, and that both historically have had successes and failures. What is unprecedented now is the enormous scale and lack of distinction between healthy and less healthy populations, i.e., entire states, countries and jurisdictions.
          13. So did "lockdown" public policy do too little to slow the disease in the most infected populations, and far too much to inhibit (and economically damage) the less infected populations?
      2. Is predicating public policy on an increase in the number of detected cases with little or no reference to or context from largely static (or decreasing) fatality and hospitalization rates an example of fear and panic public policy aided by fear and panic news and reporting?
      3. Or were such policy decisions prudent and precautionary in the first month of the pandemic? Or did they start as prudent, but then became panic based? If so, when and why did they change?
      4. In parts of the US, Canada, and other regions of the world, we are now in the 2nd year of the "Two Weeks to Flatten the Curve" plan.
      5. The Soviet Union was a laughing stock for their 5 year plans from 1929 to 1991 with variations on the common punchline (The glorious successes of scientific socialism now continue as we enter the 11th year of our 5 year plan). The failures of the 5 year plans, and the obviously hilarious propaganda efforts by the soviets to hide them, were widely reported in the free press at the time.
      6. The stated aim of Two Weeks to Flatten the Curve was to preserve hospital, ICU and Clinic capacity to treat an expected surge of COVID 19 patients.
      7. The Carlson School of Management has tracked the hospital and ICU patient and bed numbers:
      8. This is based on HHS (Health and Human Services in the US) data, reporting from US states, and other health care agencies.
      9. Like the data from COVID fatalities by county, the aggregate data to date show a very few hospitals (less than 2 dozen out of 909 hospitals in 37 states) reached capacity in hospital beds, ICU, or ventilators in any period of time tracked.
      10. The highest percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID 19 patients in any hospital is 45.44% as of May 3, 2021. 30 hospitals exceed 20% of beds for COVID out of approximately 1000 hospitals.
      11. So was "Two Weeks (or 3, or 4) to Flatten the Curve" effective? For the two weeks to a month in April and May of 2020 the answer appears to be yes. That was the stated goal at the time, and the goal was achieved in May of 2020.
      12. After May of 2020, the effectiveness is debateable. The hospitals which did reach capacity were able to divert admissions to the 900 (or so) other hospitals. The total here is a limited data set; there are about 7,427 hospitals total in the US (, with 6,146 meeting the broader definition (, and many of these are specialist facilities (children's hospitals, psychiatric, rehab, acute care, et. al.). So the 900 to a 1000 in the statistics are a limited number able to treat acute COVID and other cases in reporting localities.
      13. To achieve possible capacity for COVID patients, the Two Week plan directed hospitals to cancel Non-Emergency procedures, which meant that an industry which needs around 85% capacity to remain solvent ( itself with rates too low for cost effectiveness (and far too high in a few dozen instances).
      14. By the 8th week of the 2 week plan to flatten the curve, the hospital industry which employs around 1,000,000 people directly, and many more indirectly, began to furlough and release employees, which caused economic hardship for them, and affected the capacities of hospitals to do other, equally important procedures.
      15. The Soviet 5 year plans were notable for lasting 11 years or longer, but only achieved their stated goals in propaganda, but not reality. As we approach the 60th week of the 2 week plan we could reach a similar conclusion.
  13. There can be, of course, good reasons for any particular public policy related to COVID. But without a signifigant "differential", or better results, from many of these policies, they have to be questioned.

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