President Trump stirred up a bit of controversy recently with his comments about injecting UV light or other disinfectants in an attempt to treat the COVID19 virus. I want to say up front that I do not hate the President or regard him as the genius of the age. I will certainly say that I find it less than helpful for a President to ‘spitball’ in front of running cameras! But I am not setting out to defend or condemn the president – beyond saying that those who misrepresent him as having encouraged people to drink bleach or mainline Lysol are inaccurate and those who regard him as unfortunately prone to speak first and think later have a point. But, it was the President’s remarks that kicked this new wave of national conversation off. I responded, as is my practice, with research. And, it turns out, there is a fairly-long history and a new twist to therapies involving ‘injecting’ UV light as a treatment for viral and bacterial infections. In the 1940’s and 50’s UV irradiation of the blood was heavily researched and did in fact prove to kill off both viruses and bacteria. There were problems. 1. Irradiating the blood didn’t reach the interior of all the organs – places where germs continued to build strongholds. 2. UV light did as much damage to our own cells as to the viruses and bacteria. These were not seen as insurmountable difficulties. Lots of therapies (think chemo) damage the patient. But, if it kills the disease and then allows the patient to heal, it’s an acceptable tradeoff. More research might find ways to get the light into places the irradiated blood wouldn’t carry it. But, in the U.S. the research came to a halt because developing chemical antibiotics and antivirals seemed more promising. As it turns out, the antibiotics made much more rapid gains than the antivirals – at least so far.
UVI advocates have raised the cry to renew that research from time to time on the grounds that germs develop immunities to the antibiotic or antiviral drugs but not to UV light. In 2016 Cedars-Sinai heeded that call and cranked up UVI research again. Advances in LED technology and focusing in on UVA (as opposed to UVB or UVC) have allowed them, they think, to overcome both the previous problems. UVA is much less damaging to healthy cells and by putting LED devices down a catheter, the UVA can be admitted directly into the interior of the lungs. Initially, the research focused primarily on the kinds of secondary infections that arise in intubated patients. But in the face of the current crisis a bio-tech firm (AYTU) has partnered with Cedars-Sinai to push the research in the direction of COVID 19 – which, researchers say – is also killed by UVA. A press statement along with a world-wide patent for the prospects of the ‘Healight’ platform as a treatment for COVID19 was released via AP on April 20. The process is in pre-clinical trials at the moment.
How quickly can the process move through the testing protocols? I don’t know. Will the process be proven effective in clinical trials? I don’t know. Is this process any part of what the President had in mind? I don’t know. Is the timing curious in any sense? It seems so to me. Of course, there is always research going on and something is bound to turn up. Right? Still, it strikes me that we are, over and over again, more fortunate than we have any right to expect. Almost – well, blessed. It appears to me that we (setting aside national borders and thinking of human beings) did this to ourselves. There’s a familiar story! And, although I may be waxing too metaphorical, it appeals to me to think we may find the cure in - the light.
The church (writ large – not just this congregation or any one denomination or movement) should always be learning. Sadly, we aren’t. We tend to coast. One study I looked at years ago estimated that the average American congregation runs 30 years behind circumstances. At the time (the 1980’s) that would have put the average American congregation operating as though it were the 1950’s. There were – and are – lots of reasons for this. Some of it is simple finances. The average American congregation is very small and seldom has more funds than it needs. Many small neighborhood and rural congregations inherit technology as it is phased out in better funded sections of society. For instance, in the 1980’s, lots of congregations were using mimeographs cast off by the school systems. Somewhere about the mid-80’s the congregation I served at the time inherited a mimeograph with extra drums for colors and a stencil cutter to go with it! The new mimeograph was even electric! The old hand cranked black ink only model (and the little wire tipped scribe for attempting to produce art on a stencil) went into a storage closet. You never know – we might need that someday!
But there are attitudinal drivers for the lag as well. At about that same time, a couple of grocery chains ran a program where a church or school could turn in $X worth of grocery receipts to get a computer. Another $X worth for a printer. This allowed me to get by the financial constraints. I collected everyone’s receipts (and roamed the parking lots of the stores in question rounding up strays) and soon got the congregation a computer and printer. The fact that it cost no money did not mean that it came into the church without objection. There was apparently some concern the Kremlin would be able to hack into our membership rolls. Explaining that the computer didn’t even have a modem netted me a lot of blank stares. I don’t mean to make fun. I will, all these years later, soon be 63 and I find myself less and less enthused about the expanding state of technology! Like most people, I harbor suspicions of things I don’t understand and can’t control. I try to have this wisdom – there are brothers and sisters I trust who can do what I can’t in these areas and they are treasures in the congregation I currently serve.
And behind all this, the Church is about as traditional an institution as you can imagine. We have a founding and an ethos rooted in circumstances 2 Millennia old and growing! The weight of all that tradition has a positive function. When you need an anchor, nothing else will do and you will want no broken links in the chain. The problem comes in knowing when to raise the anchor, set sail, and drop the solid weight of all that tradition into new waters.
Anyway – The church tends to coast and run behind existing circumstances. Consequently, many of us may still be attempting to address the culture of and meet the problems of, say, the early 1990’s and thus lack relevance in 2020. The COVID 19 contagion and our response to it may be forcing us to catch up. I don’t know what all the lessons will be when the whole thing shakes out but I see some things already.
If I haven’t worn you completely out on this topic, bear with me once more as I wander through a few more thoughts on the Evangelical/Fundamentalist divide. As I related last time, many scholars cast the divide along the fault line of ‘truth’ and ‘spirit’. In this understanding Fundamentalists concentrate on truth to the exclusion of spirit and evangelicals concentrate on spirit to the exclusion of truth. Also, as I related last time, I believe that any effort to have one (truth or spirit) without the other is bound to end with having neither. But, I’m less than certain that this understanding really frames the divide between Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.
I remember one cartoon picturing a labeled Fundamentalist pointing to a labeled evangelical. The speech blurb above the fundamentalist read – “I’ll call you a Christian if you’ll call me a scholar!” I’m pretty sure that doesn’t really capture it either. Certainly, Christian Modernists hold Fundamentalists to be ignoramuses but Christian Modernists are only a sub-set of Evangelicals. I can only say that I have seen what I regard as both good and bad scholarship as well as deep and shallow faith in all camps.
If I have to pick a ‘Mason/Dixon line’ for the Evangelical/Fundamentalist divide it would concern the always necessary balancing act the church has to maintain between ‘in the world’ and ‘of the world’. The New Testament acknowledges that the church is ‘in the world’. Of course we are! But the very name ‘church’ (Ecclesia) is compounded of ‘ek’ (out) and ‘kaleo’ (called). The ‘called out community’. Called out of what? Well, called out of the world.
But – in Jesus – God entered the world. And in the Great Commission He gave us a mission to the world. And we live in the world. And Jesus was about opening the closed gates and inviting the world in. All true. But ‘of the world’ is something else. Jesus objected to the legalism of the Pharisees but he still worked with them and gained followers from among their numbers. Jesus had no tolerance for or outreach to the worldly collaboration of the Sadducees. In all His outreach – and Jesus reached deep into the world – He was calling people out of the world and into a kingdom ‘not of this world. This would not have been possible had Jesus become ‘worldly’.
Hence the New Testament continually urges us to stay clean of the stain of the world, to live in the world without becoming of the world, etc. Here is the balancing act – reaching into the world and ministering to the world without getting sucked in by it. When the stark difference between the world and the church disappears it means either that the promised New Earth has arrived or that the present world ate the church. In this moment, it would mean the latter.
Evangelicalism made Christianity ‘relevant’ to the rapidly changing modern world. Many people believe in a new wave of evangelicalism ushering the church into the information age the way the old evangelicalism ushered the church into the industrial age. But in either case, there is the implicit danger that the church will rush past relevance to the world and become like the world and thus, no good for the world. Fundamentalism sought/seeks to bar the door against this. But if evangelicalism contains the danger of the worldliness of the Sadducees, Fundamentalism contains the danger of the legalism of the Pharisees. This too will create a church that is no good to the world.
As I have said – it’s a balancing act and we tend to lurch from error to error. I still know which way my instincts tend, try to guard against the inherent dangers, and recognize those who must guard against the opposite dangers of their instincts as my brothers. And I praise God that He redeems our works cause elsewise, we’re all toast.
Time to keep another promise! A while back I wrote a post attempting to correctly define ‘Evangelicals’ and clear up some of the confusion surrounding the term. At the time I told you I did not identify as an evangelical myself and promised to explain why - one of these days. To begin the explanation, I need to consider another term – Fundamentalism. For what it’s worth, I’m not incredibly fond of that term either – especially as it has become freighted with baggage that usually invokes thoughts of ‘mean nasty racist bigots’ and, possibly ‘terrorists’. But such negatives were not always associated with fundamentalism and, I don’t believe, need to be today. Whatever you think of that, when I have to choose, I find myself on the fundamentalist side of the evangelical/fundamentalist divide. Why should there be a divide?
Christian fundamentalism arose in the late 1800’s in opposition to Christian
Modernism, largely in opposition to Christian Modernism’s embrace of Darwinism. I need to pause here to explain Christian Modernism as the effort to recast Christianity in a form acceptable to a modern enlightened age. Since ‘every knowledgeable person’ accepted Darwinian evolution, the more backward and embarrassing elements of Genesis needed revision. Hence the ‘days’ of creation became the ‘day/ages’ of theistic evolution. Likewise, Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 was reimagined with a wink and a nod as a great teacher subtly shaming everyone present into sharing lunches, they had planned on keeping to themselves. As to the modern evolutionary synthesis, I will tell you plainly right now that I regard the idea of everything arising from nothing by accident, or even of life arising from non-life by accident as intellectual suicide. I also believe Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. If that casts me as an ignoramus – then you see how the negatives began to attach to fundamentalism.
But, once a core body of doctrine – fundamentals - starting with the special creation of the physical universe by God, began to be defined, fundamentalism was about much more than Darwinism. Many things pronounced nonsense by Christian Modernists were held to be fundamentals – the virgin birth, the literal belief in the miracles of Christ, an actual future second coming. Christian Modernists held all these things to be metaphors at best, myths at worst. Fundamentalists felt that if you surrendered these ‘fundamentals’ there was nothing left of Christianity worth having. Dwight Moody and Billy Graham* rank among the most famous preachers of the fundamentalist movement.
Now, if you recall my post on evangelicals, you will quickly perceive some similarity between the core good news ‘evangelion’ of the evangelicals and the ‘fundamentals’ of the fundamentalists. But there is also a difference. Evangelicalism was born of a desire to unify Christians in a modern world where transportation, communication, etc. made it possible to exceed the old tribal and political boundaries that had constrained the church. Fundamentalism was born of a desire to defend Christianity against the intrusion of that same modern world. Hopefully, you can see that both movements were good – and bad.
Evangelicalism broadened and unified the too narrow and fragmented church, fitting the body of Christ for service in a rapidly changing world. As Christian Modernism demonstrates though, the evangelical spirit also invited that world into the church. Fundamentalists took exception. But often, fundamentalists become too narrow and especially, too judgmental. Some fundamentalists seem to covet the prerogative of judgment belonging to God alone.
Some Christian scholars cast the evangelical/fundamentalist divide as along the fault line of ‘spirit’ and ‘truth’, I.e., evangelicals emphasize ‘spirit’ at the expense of ‘truth’ and fundamentalists emphasize ‘truth’ at the expense of ‘spirit’. This may very well be. Certainly, any attempt to have truth OR Spirit is bound to result in having neither.
Here, I can only speak for myself. What I really want to identify as is – ‘A Christian’. And though my instincts lean to the fundamentalist side of the divide and though my experience of the evangelical movement is that some fundamental truths are inevitably sacrificed in the name of ‘unity’ and ‘relevance’, I count evangelicals as my brothers. Further, I recognize that the adaptations and reactions of the church in every age are always both good and bad as our fallen nature and the work of the enemy among us assures. Our righteousness is always filthy rags as it were. Somehow, God redeems us and our works anyway.
*To demonstrate the potential for ‘crossover’ in the evangelical/fundamentalist divide, Graham was definitely a fundamentalist in his early career. In his later years he seems to have become an evangelical. I assert only that he remained a Christian all through.
A good friend of mine recently sent me a copy of some words by one of my favorite writers – C.S. Lewis. I have read most of Lewis’ works but was not familiar with the collection of essays called Present Concerns (1948) from which this selection was drawn. But it reconfirms for me why I am so fond of Lewis’ writings. Though published 72 years ago, I think it speaks with an absolutely fresh voice for us as we navigate the current COVID 19 crisis. Remember – in 1948 the atomic bomb was new. If you read this through a second time you might want to try substituting COVID 19 for the atomic bomb. At any rate, let me share with you what was shared with me.
“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. How are we to live in an atomic age? I am tempted to reply: Why – as you would have lived in the Sixteenth Century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; ; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents. In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
Some strictures are laid on us by the state and federal governments and I encourage us all to be as good citizens as our conscience allows – but those who are coming unhinged are only afraid of death – if not for themselves then for those they love – and the Bible has always assured us of what we all already knew – the mortality rate for life in the fallen world is 100% At present, the mortality rate for COVID 19 in the U.S is still under 2% and that is calculated only from those people who were sick enough to go to the hospital or worked in medical settings. The rest of us have not even been tested. I do not intend to make light of the crisis – but as Louis Lamour frequently put it – There is one thing certain about life – none of us gets out of it alive! Take reasonable precautions – but have a little perspective. And for those whose trust is in God – a little faith.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church