“What a difference a day makes, twenty-four little hours, brought the sun and the flowers, where there used to be rain,” or snow in the more recent context of the Great White North. I remember my Dad playing that 1959 Grammy winner sung by Dinah Washington. Use simple math to multiply that difference-making day by a week and we have the alarm encountered by hundreds of thousands of Canadians crossing the border to return home from March Break, or a snowbird winter, when informed at the border they are to go home, go directly home, and stay home.
Over the last week Canadians have been witnesses to the rise of a new statistical interest, a fresh constitutional question, and the coining of a new word, “covidiot.”
Covidiot. The first time I heard the word two other songs came immediately to mind. The first, Green Day’s 2004 hit American Idiot declares, “Don’t wanna be an American idiot.” The second, Weird Al Yankovich’s 2006 parody hit Canadian Idiot, which similarly asserts, “Don’t wanna be a Canadian idiot.”
The word covidiot stems from the behaviour of Americans and Canadians on the beaches of Florida after a “stay home” and “keep physical distance when in public” plea was made by government and medical authorities. Similar behaviour was repeated this recent warm and sunny weekend in Vancouver, and in Toronto with the release of a new video game.
Across the country federal and provincial leaders have requested, or ordered under authority of legal enforcement, that gatherings be constrained to below a selected number – starting at 250 and working down to fifty, twenty, ten, then five, all with minimal spacing of two metres between participants.
Many Christian leaders have adapted to this request by moving Sunday services and weekday gatherings (whether church, bible school, college or university) online, by holding parking lot or drive-through communion, setting up social media communication formats, and inviting congregants to support food banks and check-in on neighbours’ needs.
Other Christian leaders have defiantly stated they will not forsake the assembling together (Hebrews 10:25) of their flocks in person, stating they must obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Some Christian leaders are simply uncertain what to do in uncertain times.
And, that’s why I’m writing this. Some Christian leaders asked me for advice. Most particularly, they want to know whether the government can compromise our rights to freedom of religion (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 2(a)) and freedom of peaceful assembly (section 2 (c)).
The short answer is, “yes, the government can compromise those rights.” You will find more detail in my book Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017), but the key to that “yes” is found in section 1 of the Charter which reads, “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
I suspect few Canadians or Canadian judges would disagree that the circumstances of Covid-19’s rapid spread demonstrably justify government taking legal action to constrain peaceful assembly for the purpose of public safety, provided the law is equally applied by the government making it, i.e. there are not exceptions for either non-religious groups or religious groups.
On the matter of freedom of religion, there is no constraint against finding alternative ways to engage and share religious beliefs and practices, which, as noted above, many churches have done.
The statistics supporting the government’s claim for reasonable limits on peaceful assembly are staggering, and staggeringly simple to understand.
According to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control, the average person who gets the flu will infect 1.3 other people. Take this out to ten generations (1 x 1.3 x 1.3 x 1.3 x 1.3 x 1.3 x 1.3 x 1.3 x 1.3 x 1.3)* and that person will spread the flu to 14 people. The incubation period for the flu is one to four days, so you might infect people before experiencing symptoms yourself. The hospitalization rate for flu is 2% of those infected. This is statistically the number taken into account in the design of hospital intensive care units – about twenty people in every one thousand, spaced out over a period of five to six months. The death rate is under 0.1%.
The W.H.O. and CDC have identified the statistical average infection rate for Covid-19 as 2 to 2.5 people. So the ten generation infection rate is (1 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2)* 1,024 to (1 x 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5)* 9,537. That’s a significant range, and a dramatic difference from the flu. The incubation period for Covid-19 is one to fourteen days, so you might infect people for up to two weeks before experiencing symptoms yourself, hence the significant range in ten generation infection rates. The hospitalization rate for Covid-19 is 19% – that’s 195 to 1,812 all in a matter of weeks if everyone were to go about our lives as normal (as we pretty much do with the flu). This is an influx for which the Canadian medical system is unprepared – as were China’s and Italy’s. Hence the requests and orders to stay at home and observe spacial distancing. The mortality rate for Covid-19? 1% to 3.4%, dependent on medical intervention when required. You do the math.
There is a vaccine for the flu. None yet exists for Covid-19.
In addition to the broad numbers above, there are risks based on demographics. Let me break it down based on one household, my own. In a matter of weeks I will move from one demographic category to a higher risk demographic when I turn 60. Males are already experiencing a higher mortality rate per capita from Covid-19 than females. My wife is already in the higher age risk demographic, suffered kidney failure three years ago and has had more than one issue with lung weakness (e.g. pleurisy and other bronchial ailments) putting her in one of the highest risk categories for women. Our daughter, in her thirties, is in a higher risk category because she smokes. Our grandson has a compromised immune system.
Now, think of how many people you know who are over sixty. Seventy. Eighty. How many you know who smoke? How many may have compromised immune systems evidenced by asthma, allergies, past illnesses, multiple sclerosis, cancer… the list goes on.
Governments in Canada are not trying to stop the sharing of the Gospel. They’re trying to stop the sharing of Covid-19.
Jesus left us with three great commandments. Love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27). Love one another, and by this the world will know we are his disciples (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17). And, love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27). I explore how disciples might effectively live out these three concepts of love in my book Church in Society: First-Century Citizenship Lessons for Twenty-First-Century Christians, but here are a few thoughts for today.
Based on all of the above, here are two questions to ask in regard to gathering in a time when gathering is restricted. Is the Gospel being constrained by not gathering? Is it loving toward other disciples or toward our neighbours to gather?
Is this a time for Acts 5:29 defiance, like Peter and those with him in Jerusalem who were commanded by religious leaders to stop sharing the good news about Jesus Christ, or a time to heed the advice of Jesus and the apostles Paul and Peter concerning government?
Jesus told his followers to render unto Caesar (the government of Jesus’ day) the things that belong to Caesar (say, the government of our day), but not to give government the things that belong to God (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17).
The apostle Paul expressed, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” (Romans 13:1-3, ESV)
And the apostle Peter stated, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people… Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.” (2 Peter 3:13-15, 17 ESV)
Rather than gather, this is a time to heed Paul’s advice to his protégé, Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV)
Pray for political and medical leaders who have accepted responsibility for all Canadians, including you and me. And, accept responsibility for yourself.
I don’t wanna be a Christian covidiot. I hope you don’t either.
*The math has been corrected. A friend pointed out that my first set of numbers did not include the 1 originating person with the flu or Covid-19.