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In the multipurpose room of the Westside Church of Christ in Bakersfield, Calif., socially distanced chairs await members of the congregation’s youth group.
Opinion
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The virus hit us where we ain’t

Satan used Douglas MacArthur’s strategy to divide us. After a year of COVID-19, how can we reunite?

My father was one of the many muddy dog faces who appreciated Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s military strategy of “hit ‘em where they ain’t.”  

Instead of attacking well-defended positions, MacArthur selected lightly defended objectives across the long New Guinea campaign of World War II’s Pacific theater. Bypassing hard targets in favor of soft targets, MacArthur suffered relatively few casualties. As a result, “Dugout Doug” became a national hero, and my dad came home after visiting exotic places like Biak, Hollandia and Noemfour — not to mention the Lingayen Gulf. 

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Seventy-five years after V-J Day, Satan has proven himself even better than MacArthur at hitting us where we ain’t. COVID-19 has destabilized congregations, disrupted worship and disgruntled members in previously undreamed-of ways. 

Who would have ever dreamed that Churches of Christ would become flummoxed about the default setting of “the first day of every week” (1 Corinthians 16:1)? 

ANGRY — AND NOT COMING BACK 

Two stories from three congregations near me illustrate how hard we have been hit. 

One congregation lost four families. Two of them left because the elders did not ask enough by requesting the basic COVID-19 mitigation steps of hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing. Two more families left because the elders asked too much. All four said, angrily, that they will not come back.


Related: Survey: COVID-19 deaths among members of Churches of Christ


In a second congregation, the elders implemented temperature checks, careful cleaning, advanced Lord’s Supper preparation and advising those who are in high-risk groups and those who are uncomfortable to remain home. A family left in disgust, saying that the elders were imposing on their liberty. 

They moved their membership to the third congregation, which had taken a hands-off approach, and shared their complaints with all who would listen. Among their listeners were two families who felt unprotected by the congregation’s hands-off approach — so they moved their membership to the second congregation.  

Incidents and accidents, hints and allegations have sprung up across our brotherhood. Perhaps the worst hit is to our confidence. Didn’t we think before COVID-19 that we knew what we were doing?   

THREE TYPES OF CHURCHES EMERGE 

It seems to me that our congregations have fallen into one of three broad categories:

• Motivated either by deep devotion to Hebrews 10:24-25 or to alt-right politics, some of us have refused to close our doors at all or have closed our doors very little.

• Most of us have sort of opened or kind of closed as we’ve watched the dreaded graph lines go up and down. Sigh. What next?

• Some of us have closed our doors for months and months due to a myopic focus on fearful numbers, a deep-seated habit of shutting things down or by the freeing desire to liberate the church from the legalistic traditionalism of scheduled meetings. I say that last part sarcastically. There’s always a reason to do less.

TOUGH QUESTIONS AFTER COVID-19 

The worst time to solve a problem is during the problem. 

The worst time to solve a problem is during the problem.

After this is all over, we would be wise to put ourselves through a prayerful and thorough review.

• How can we forgive ourselves and move on from whatever real or perceived wrongs have been committed during the most astonishing events of our lifetime? 

• How can church leaders who might have blown a call or two regain confidence and restore trust?

• How do biblical faith, legitimate fear, social panic and spiritual maturity interact in frail hearts and confused minds?

• How can we better process vast amounts of conflicting information? Should we develop ties of trust with experts in public health so we’ll know how to better handle the bad times? Expecting church leaders to be public health experts is asking a lot.

• How should we communicate among ourselves and with other churches during crises so that the ties that bind do not come unbound?

• How can we train our members to better respond to crises that affect the life of a church?

• How do we learn that one size doesn’t fit all and that different members of the same congregation might need to follow different solutions to the same problem? Is it possible for those who want to meet to keep meeting and for those who just can’t meet to not meet for a while? Allowing each other this much space is a bit foreign to us. 

GETTING TO A BETTER PLACE, TOGETHER 

Truth be told, my dad didn’t always appreciate Douglas MacArthur. I suspect that his opinion of the general was at its lowest as he fought his way across a barren and bomb-cratered airfield toward the caves and cliffs of Biak. That haunted his dreams for years.

Only years later did my dad’s appreciation for MacArthur renew. He accepted and respected that the Old Soldier had “hit ‘em where they ain’t” and got him home.      

Asking and answering the tough questions about how we have handled COVID-19 might also take us a few years. Slowly accepting that we can handle what God sent us and patiently accepting that we can learn from what God taught us, we can get to a better place on all of this. 

Eventually, that’s where we need to be.   

DON PRATHER is minister for the Buna Church of Christ in Texas. His 20-year career in Texas public schools included training and experience in counseling and administration. 

Filed under: Coronavirus COVID-19 covid19 Opinion Views

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