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THE LAST WORD: Evangelicals not to blame for COVID-19

Kerry Hubartt

“The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals” — seriously?

That was the headline on the March 27, 1,387-word op-ed piece in The New York Times, written by Katherine Stewart. Her column has received, and deserves, scathing rebuttals.

Stewart, author of “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” and “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children,” has a clear distaste for the religious right in America.

The premise of her lengthy diatribe in the Times is summarized by both the headline above and the subhead to her piece, which says, “Trump’s response to the pandemic has been haunted by the science denialism of his ultraconservative religious allies.”

In the column, Stewart writes, “Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.”

“The crux of Stewart’s piece is that the Republican Party has become embedded with a spiritual movement whose beliefs fly contradictory to science, blaming the idiocy and extreme actions of a few who defied public health orders against large gatherings to stigmatize half the country,” wrote Tristan Justice of The Federalist in one rebuttal.

“Stewart’s piece, however, only further exposes a deep disdain for the Christian faith through the employment of hypocritical arguments in an attempt to smear the religious right.”

“You simply knew this opinion piece was going to come out sooner or later,” wrote Timothy P. Carney, the senior political columnist at the Washington Examiner and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, in another immediate response.

“She’s trying to imply that evangelical conservatives caused this plague,” he wrote, “even though it began in Wuhan, China, where less than 3 percent of the country is Christian.”

Stewart’s op-ed accuses Christians of denying critical thinking, citing two evangelical leaders, one in Florida and one in Louisiana, who continued to have church services despite the outbreak. She points out those two instances as though they represent the vast majority of churches throughout the country, which, on the contrary, have closed their doors to the gathering of parishioners to worship together to practice social distancing.

And she singles out other examples of religious extremism as though they typify evangelical Christians that comprise nearly a quarter of the U.S. population.

“When you’re engaged in a struggle between the ‘party of life’ and the ‘party of death,’ as some religious nationalists now frame our political divisions,” Stewart wrote, “you don’t need to worry about crafting careful policy based on expert opinion and analysis.”

“Through this lens,” Carney replied, “a certain portion of the Left gets to see our current crisis in the most self-congratulatory way. Blaming anti-science evangelicals for this all satisfies the vanity and ideological appetites of a certain type of liberal.”

Bill Donohue, president and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, also wrote a rebuttal to Stewart’s op-ed, saying she is one of the proponents of the “crazed idea” that religious conservatives demand “Christianity be privileged by the State” and imply “that to be a good American, one must be Christian.”

He says her column blames President Trump “for listening to these people, resulting in an allegedly poor response to the coronavirus.”

“This is a cheap game,” Donohue writes. “It would be like conservatives blaming left-wing cable television channels for the coronavirus. How so? By suggesting, and in some cases stating, that Trump is a bigot for putting a ban on travel from China. He did that on Jan. 31, 10 days after the first case of the virus hit the U.S. Joe Biden said that Trump was fomenting ‘xenophobia’ and ‘fear-mongering.’

“The medical community acknowledges that Trump saved an untold number of lives by making this decision,” said Donohue. “Would it now be fair to blame his left-wing critics for the coronavirus? No, only a Christian conservative who thinks the way Stewart does would blame them.”

“Stewart’s remarkable condemnation of Christians is littered with the type of ignorant mockery so common in the modern media landscape today,” wrote Justice in the Federalist.

“This is the level of intellectual scholarship that the New York Times fancies these days,” Donohue concludes. “The newspaper of record is now mainstreaming paranoia.”

– Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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