At the heart of true religion is love. Love in action begets life and imparts strength when the recesses thereof induce stress. Friends, we are living in a stressful time. COVID-19, amongst other maladies, has been sweeping away lives, tearing apart families, and inducing fear. As such, many are turning to religion to soothe what the mundane cannot. And rightly so.
There is, however, one fear. Survey the political climate of the U.S., and we will see the line between church and state is being blurred. Take for example the U.S. presidents’ responses to epi/pandemics. As per Robert A. Nowlan’s, The American Presidents, Washington to Tyler: What They Did, What They Said, What Was Said About Them, and Full Source Notes:
In 1832, with cholera causing high mortality in the American cities, [President] Jackson was urged by both lay officials and clergymen to declare a national day of prayer and repentance in hopes of stemming the epidemic. Jackson refused on constitutional grounds. “I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys.” (265)
Juxtapose President Jackson’s response to the incumbent’s to the COVID-19 Pandemic:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim March 15, 2020, as a National Day of Prayer for All Americans Affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic and for our National Response Efforts. I urge Americans of all faiths and religious traditions and backgrounds to offer prayers for all those affected, including people who have suffered harm or lost loved ones. (The White House, 2020)
Two completely opposite responses.
Proclaiming this “National Day of Prayer” is a gateway to give religion a voice through government. A “National Day of Prayer” can turn into a “National Day of Rest,” where one day out of the week families stay at home, shopping is suspended, and secular activities cease. It would be good for the environment, and would reinstate the familial connectedness that technology and the busyness of life have eroded. This all sounds good. In fact, this is part of the Pope’s plan to address climate change in his, ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS: ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME. To address the fast diminishing environment, the Pope writes:
Rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others. And so the day of rest, centred on the Eucharist, sheds it light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor. (173)
The Sabbath indeed is to be honored. But it should be honored on the right day, the seventh day, Saturday, (Hebrews 4:1-11) and centered on Christ (Mark 2:27, 28). The day of rest the Pope wants to mandate would be on the first day of the week, Sunday, and is centered on the Eucharist. He writes in the said encyclical:
On Sunday, our participation in the Eucharist has special importance. Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world. (68)
And even if the true Biblical Sabbath were to be made law, it would be ungodly. God does not want us to serve Him out of coercion, but love. For love is at the heart of true religion.
Everyone is entitled to liberty of conscience, and when under the guise of the common good we deprive humanity of that right, persecution is the result.
Nowlan, Robert A. The American Presidents, Washington to Tyler: What They Did, What They Said, What Was Said about Them, with Full Source Notes. McFarland & Co., 2012.
Pope Francis. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home. 2015.
The White House. “Proclamation on the National Day of Prayer for All Americans Affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic and for Our National Response Efforts.” The White House, The United States Government, 14 Mar. 2020, www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-national-day-prayer-americans-affected-coronavirus-pandemic-national-response-efforts/