Like clockwork, my wife calls her mother every Sunday evening at 10:00 PM. They typically talk for an hour. Last Sunday, Polly asked her mom whether she was wearing a face mask when she went out in public. Mom replied, “no, I don’t need to wear a mask.” When Polly, out of concern for her eighty-four-year-old mother’s health and that of her father, told her mom, “look, you need to get a mask and wear it whenever you go out of the house.” Mom replied, “when it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Polly angrily retorted, “and no one will be able to come to your funeral.” Mom smugly replied, “oh well, I won’t care. I’ll be dead.” And that was that . . .
It would be easy to dismiss Mom’s careless, reckless, stupid behavior as that of an old woman in poor health. However, there’s a deeper issue that I believe is driving her dismissal of common sense: Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) theology and practice. Mom is the wife of a retired IFB pastor. She and Dad have attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, on and off, since May 1976. You might remember me writing about their church several weeks ago. (Please see IFB Pastor Mark Falls Tries to Use Bible Verses to Guilt People into Attending Church during Coronavirus Pandemic and Understanding the Pastors Who Refuse to Close Their Churches During the Coronavirus Pandemic.) As of today, the Newark Baptist Temple is still holding in-person worship services on Sunday mornings! One person intimately connected to the Baptist Temple told me, “Mark Falls is an idiot.” To that I say, amen. Pastor Falls continues to put theology and politics before the health and welfare of his congregation and that of the local community. Here’s a Facebook video of the Easter service at the Baptist Temple:
Here’s a Facebook video of their most recent Sunday service.
As you can see, the pastor and his congregation seem unconcerned about COVID-19. No social distancing to speak of, no masks, or gloves. The good news is that Mom and Dad haven’t been back to church since I publicly called attention to their pastor’s abhorrent behavior. It’s also evident, based on building acoustics, that attendance is a fraction of what it typically is. (I find it interesting the cameraman never pans the crowd.) Fortunately, some church members have more common sense than their pastor and other church leaders.
Setting Falls’ anti-government ideology and IFB theology aside, why does he insist on putting his parishioners at risk?
As Pastor Falls was preparing to pray at the start of last Sunday’s service, he stated:
Amen. What a privilege to be at the Newark Baptist Temple this morning. We’re so glad to see each of you here, and we are thrilled to know that many are watching us at home as well. Isn’t it great to be able to sing I’m Saved, I’m Delivered? The greatest crisis in your entire life was your sin crisis. Because you are going to have to stand before God someday. And if the Lord can save us from that he can save us from anything.
And there is it is: “if the Lord can save us from that [sin], the Lord can save us from anything.” No need to concern yourself with the Coronavirus. The Lord, if he so wills, can and will deliver you from the virus. Jesus can do what doctors and scientists can’t do. He’s the great physician! No worries. . . . Hardened into this thinking is nascent fatalism. Oh, Falls and other Fundamentalists will deny that they are preaching fatalism, but it’s clear from their sermons, prayers, and actions, fatalism is exactly what they are preaching. In this instance, they are no different from Islamic imams who say, “Allah’s will be done.”
Now let me bring this post back around to what Polly’s mom said about not wearing a mask: “No, I don’t need to wear a mask. When it’s my time to die, I’m ready to go.” Her comment drips with the fatalism taught to her by the pastors of the Baptist Temple, both the late Jim Dennis and now Mark Falls.
Where does this fatalism come from? As with most beliefs within the IFB church movement, their fatalism rests on their peculiar interpretation of the Protestant Bible. An overarching teaching that infuses fatalism into everything IFB churches say and do is the belief that the Christian God is the sovereign Lord of all creation; that he holds the world in the palm of his hand; that nothing happens apart from God’s purpose, plan, and will. Thus, no need to worry. Jesus is on the job! Amen? Amen!
What is it that causes Polly’s mom to be so fatalistic about dying; so much so that she is willing to put not only her own health at risk, but that of her husband? I suspect that her fatalism can be traced back to Hebrews 9:27:
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment
Here’s how this verse is typically interpreted in IFB circles. God is the giver and taker of life. When we are born, we come into the world with an expiration date; a death date. This date is fixed by God, and known only to him. No one dies before their appointed time. God knows the exact moment each of us is going to die. Not only that, he knows exactly how we are going to die. Thus, in Mom’s eyes, Jesus is on the job, and COVID-19 ain’t going to kill her unless God says so. And if God says so, there’s nothing she or anyone else can do about it.
Because of Mom’s intransigent fatalism, it is unlikely that we will ever see Polly’s parents again face to face. We are not willing to risk infection, all because of her stubborn unwillingness to take basic health and safety precautions. We expect to one day hear the phone ring, and at the other end someone will be telling us one or both of them are dead. Will it be COVID-19 that kills them? I don’t know. Both of them have serious health problems. A virus such as COVID-19 would make easy work of them. We wish they would at least take basic safety precautions, but they won’t. I suspect that a month from now they will join their church family after church down at the local Olive Garden for lunch. “See, we all survived! Glory and praise to Jesus!” And three or four weeks later? Some of them may learn that their God is not in control; that their God is no match for COVID-19, influenza, or any of the other countless bacteria and viruses trying to kill us. Biology and science trump religion every time. Too bad the people who most need to hear this will be dead.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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That’s really sad. My parents are around the same age as Polly’s, with some of the same beliefs. Quite a few, actually. But they are staying home, not allowing anyone into their home and being very, very careful,. for which I’m grateful. I have more of a chance of catching this virus than they do.
I hope Polly will be able to see her parents alive and well again.
That’s so sad for you and Polly, Bruce. I’m moving past fear to fatalism in general. The horror that has been allowed to happen by this mockery of a president is killing people. If social distancing had started a week or 2 earlier…90% less people would have died. stupid. I’m going to HOPE Polly’s mom has a change of heart, for both of your sakes.
I’ve encountered a few elderly fundies with this attitude. One retired pastor 80yo told me he’s volunteered to take funerals in this crisis, rather than a younger man, as he’s had a good life and looks forward to his heavenly reward. I wanted to reply that if that’s the case, why does he take 10 different pills a day to keep him alive? Stop those, save our wonderful NHS the expense of that. And it’s not just the vague risk of getting the virus and with a wave of a magic wand…he gets to paradise…it would means some weeks in hospital on a ventilator etc, because he’d been so foolish as to go out in public, which again is taking resources from those who have the virus through no fault of their own.
I feel bad for Polly because she may not see her parents again. I also feel bad for innocent people who may be unwillingly and unwittingly infected because of her mother decided to say “Que sera, sera.”
This is a good example of the conflict between the individual and the group. I personally have disabilities and am an atheist but would not mind dying so I would not have to deal with my health problems. HOWEVER wearing a mask is not just to help yourself. It is also to protect OTHER people in case you have the virus and do not have symptoms of it. It would be good if people could see this as a responsibility to the GROUP that is not very difficult.
“mom” is quite a classic conservative Christian, selfish and arrogant.
Considering Fox has been giving a voice to the idea of the elderly killing themselves for the stock market, the economy, and younger people, it’s no wonder Polly had this maddening conversation with her mom.
The death cult thinks murder is a sin, yet they see no problem getting infected and infecting others, possibly leading to death. Isn’t this considered murder?
This is all so sad.
It’s all very odd, how fundamentalist Christians believe that humans are vile, filthy creatures that are absolutely deserving of a deity’s eternal torture in hell if the human doesn’t profess to believe the right way and offer itself up in subservience to said deity. Plus, the human then must believe that the deity has a preordained plan that said human must determine and follow, that the deity has determined the lifespan of the human, and that the human can somehow be subject to punishment and even death if the human doesn’t follow the path that is supposedly laid out but that the human has to finger through prayer to the silent deity.
I feel bad for fundamentalist Christians. The thought that their deity has a Super Special Plan and can count the hairs on the human’s head is supposed to be a comfort, but instead it’s a prison that leads the hu6to take a que sera sera attitude instead of seizing opportunities and trying to improve.
Bruce and Polly, I hope your parents will be smart about protecting themselves.
I totally relate to this struggle. My mom is not a fundamentalist Christian. She is however a fundamentalist conspiracy theorist. 🙁
It’s not easy.
This pastor later saw the “light” for a time, but went right back to holding in-person services. Based on what Polly’s parents told her tonight (8/2/20), the pastor and his family are now in quarantine due to COVID-19. Polly’s mom asked, “ where did they get it from?” Sigh, yes, where . . . The church, by the way, is located in Licking County, a county with huge infection numbers. Fortunately, Polly’s folks haven’t been to in-person church in months.
I don’t wish COVID-19 on anyone, but the irony of preachers who refused to close their churches getting infected is not lost on me.
If only those who this pastor influences would now see the light.
Thing is, I can hear the voices of the past:
a). Pastor is sick, did you hear. He must have sinned or someone in his family sinned. God is punishing them.
b). Pastor is sick, so is his family. We haven’t been faithful enough in our attendance as a congregation. We’ve let pastor down. We’ve sinned against him and God and now he and his family are suffering due to our congregational sin. We didn’t pray enough protection around him. God is punishing all of us.
c). Pastor must have been doing a great work for the Lord and Satan has now attacked him. He must be a man of God for sure for the Lord to allow Satan to attack him like this.
and so it goes . . .
Fundamentalist Christians aren’t as fatalistic as you might imagine. Since Jesus will always protect them, they would have no problem giving up their guns, their police, their military. But guess what ?!? Even they won’t take their beliefs that far !!! So, how do you tie vaccinations into this ?!?
Well, for starters, you could say that every round fired by a gun causes some brain damage. That there are “secret” toxic radioactive chemicals mixed with the molding of guns that seep out over time. That it’s a well known “fact” that gov’t agents place nanobot technology in all firearms to track your every movement …….. Then tell them that FOX has long been working with the C.I.A. on thought control specifically on their channel. My God ! Do I have to teach you guys how to do this ?!? Sigh …..