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Church Division: A Side Effect of COVID

By now, most of us have had COVID. If we haven’t had it ourselves, we may know someone who has. We also probably know someone who passed away with COVID, so we are all familiar with the side effects of this virus that has turned our world upside down over the last few years.

Teachers have picked up on some of the social side effects of COVD. My wife Laura, for instance, tells me that the social and emotional development of children in her classroom appears to have been stunted due to the lockdown. Children who are in the second or third grade appear to have the social and emotional development of a child a couple of years younger. It’s been tough for some of these children to get back to the habits of staying seated, asking to go to the bathroom, and not being able to eat and snack freely throughout the day. Plus, the negative effects of constant unmonitored YouTube videos and other forms of internet media has matured them in other ways too quickly.

In my own observations, I’ve witnessed how COVID has set many adults back a couple of years, if not more!

Prior to the lockdown, when churches and businesses shut their doors to the public, humans lived in somewhat homogenous communities, but they still had the privilege of being forced to interact with people of differing worldviews. Churches, though built around common traditions, still had a degree of diversity:

  1. Democrats and Republicans worshipped together, so they had to learn to live together and be sensitive to each other.
  2. Religious “conservatives” and “progressives” worshipped together, so they had to learn to compromise and live in unity because of, not in spite of, their diversity (by conservative and liberal, I’m talking about the way the COC uses these words, not the way the greater Christian community uses these words, i.e. instruments are “liberal” lol)
  3. People with different interests and likes worshipped and worked together.
  4. People with different personalities worshipped together.

So what did COVID do? Specifically, what did the lockdown do? It forced us into hiding. Our interactions with others were limited, so we only interacted with people we wanted to. The people we messaged, the people we broke protocol to spend time with, and the people we kept in touch with in other ways were typically people we had the most in common with.

If someone said something we didn’t like on social media, it was easy to unfollow them and move on. If a news channel said something we didn’t like, we could watch a different channel and never hear a dissenting opinion, unless it was a distorted caricature of the other side. From the comfort of our homes we “worshipped” with other believers without having to bear with their differences and endure the diversity.

Social interactions were limited to a fist bump or elbow bump (remember that one?). We moved through stores quickly without interacting with others, and when we got home, we stayed isolated from the outside world, and, more importantly, stay isolated from contrary opinions, different cultures, and differing ideas.

Even those who did not observe the lockdown were affected by it, for the only ones that they could interact with were others who shared their dislike for it.

So, when the lockdown ended and we were forced back into our diversity, it came as a shock to us. Missionaries say that the culture shock of coming back home after time in the mission field is greater than the original shock of seeing a different culture for the first time.

Having been radicalized by our various echo chambers of social media, news, and who we decided to let into our bubbles, we returned to society far too comfortable and far too confident. Couple with this the volatile political season surrounding the 2020 elections, the racial division and protests, the various wars and rumors of wars, and everyone’s collective binge watching of Tiger King, we found ourselves in a perfect storm of division.

We were so used to having our way in lockdown that we were unequipped to handle the diversity which was previously uncomfortable, but bearable, challenging, and even quite fun. Don’t like what a preacher says or a song the worship leader picked out? Change the livestream. Don’t like what the talking head on the news is saying? Watch another network. Your friend shared an opinion you disagreed with? Call him an idiot, mute the comments, and unfollow him.

What was easy to do behind a screen is more difficult to do in person, which is a good thing. But the ease of the lockdown, and the other events listed above, caused us to develop bad habits that have divided us and continue to do so.

I wonder if these side effects have disproportionately affected those who tend to be introverts or were predisposed to shut diverse opinions, cultures, and views out of their lives as much as possible. Whereas for those who are extroverted or those who are more curious, the lockdown gave them space to independently examine other ideas, interact with equally curious people of other communities, and challenge norms they couldn’t challenge when they had to consider how it might affect the less curious or adventurous.

So, when these two groups got back together in a church, business, or even a family reunion, one group emerged having been spoiled in the isolation of uniformity while another group emerged being equally spoiled with the excitement of new ideas and methods without feeling restrained by their more…constant… brothers and sisters or coworkers.

In other words, one group went through the lockdown without being challenged to be mobile by the other group, while the other group was able to leap forward without having to be sensitive to the needs and wishes of the former group. Both groups came back to society ready to remain more planted than ever or move faster than ever! What a recipe for disaster!

Unless we force ourselves to ask what really matters, take time to get to know others of differing views, and learn what healthy diversity looks like, we will only continue to experience the harm that COVID has caused on a social level. Unless we learn to embrace the joy of curiosity while also embracing the wisdom of stability, we will either crash and burn or die where we stand.

We need to find a middle way, and this middle way will only come through honest dialogue, open hearts, and having the mind of Christ.

If, then, there is any comfort in Christ, any consolation from love, any partnership in the Spirit, any tender affection and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him even more highly and gave him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name given to Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1–11

What are your thoughts?

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