By Colbert I. King, Washington Post
A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and shouted to the man on the roof: “Jump in. I can save you.”
The stranded fellow shouted back: “No, it’s okay. I’m praying to God, and he is going to save me.”
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by, and the person in the motorboat shouted: “Jump in. I can save you.”
To this, the stranded man said: “No thanks. I’m praying to God, and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by, and the pilot shouted down: “Grab this rope, and I will lift you to safety.”
To this, the stranded man again replied: “No thanks. I’m praying to God, and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the helicopter pilot reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop, and the man drowned. When he arrived in heaven and finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, he exclaimed: “I had faith in you, but you didn’t save me. You let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this, God replied: “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter. What more did you expect?”
This old joke — forgive me if you’ve heard it before, but there’s a reason it gets repeated — reminds me of some leaders in faith-based communities who believe that they and their congregations ought to ignore the guidance of federal health officials on responding tothe novel coronavirus.
They remain firm in their conviction that the shape and form of their rituals and rites of religious services must occur in the same place, at the same time and with the same faces; that without these conditions, communication with the Creator is somehow disabled.
Thus, their certainty that covid-19 is an evil from which control and protection can only come direct from the Almighty.
So, hugging and holding hands, passing the collection tray, and practicing a physical communion goes on, as if covid-19 stops at the sanctuary’s doors.
Examples abound of their intentional disregard of government recommendations to help combat the deadly disease.
Bishop Gerald Glenn, founder and pastor of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield, Va., disregarded the authorities urging the public to practice social distancing. He held an in-person service on March 22, telling the congregation, “I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus” and that he was going to keep on preaching “unless I’m in jail or in the hospital.” During an Easter Sunday address, it was announced that Glenn died of covid-19. Four family members — his wife, two daughters and one son-in-law — all contracted the virus as well.
Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge ignored his governor’s order against gatherings of more than 50 people by hosting Sunday services that have numbered in the hundreds. As for the risk of his congregation getting covid-19, Spell said: “It’s not a concern. The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”
Pastor Gene Gouge at Liberty Baptist in Hickory, N.C., is having none of the public health announcements. “The news media is pure evil, communist propaganda,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of everything that has gone on about the last month or two is a mirage. It is an illusion, a delusion. It ain’t real.”
Which, of course, are messages that they are privileged to preach.
There are, however, some people of faith, of which I am one, who believe that practitioners of modern medicine — the diagnosticians and treatment specialists, the scientists seeking cures for diseases, the public health officials providing science-based guidance on how to prevent covid-19 from entering and spreading in our communities — might also be answers to our prayers.
Some of us are stuck up on a rooftop in a flood.
The U.S. surgeon general, vice admiral and doctor Jerome Adams, arrives in a rowboat urging us to jump in. We turn our backs, eyes locked upward.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s motorboat happens along and invites us to come aboard, we say never mind, denying that the danger even exists and looking for a higher power.
Then Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, piloting a helicopter, shouts down: “Grab this rope; I can lift you to safety.” But we shake our heads, looking instead to the heavens for rescue.
Fellow believers, might we humbly consider who sent them and all those other courageous and skilled front-line workers our way?
This story was originally published on [May 8, 2020] by The Washington Post.