Viruses are extremely unpredictable, as the worldwide Ebola outbreak last year proved.
That outbreak highlighted a significant problem, and one whose reconciliation is firmly grounded in biblical truth. Here’s what I mean: When society makes the freedom of the individual preeminent, then potential life-threatening dangers follow. I know that doesn’t sound American, but let’s work through the issue of Ebola in America.
Leviticus 13-14 provides a detailed discussion of Mosaic Law regarding the diagnosis, separation and treatment for individuals with leprosy. Summing it up in a nutshell … anyone who was infected with the highly contagious disease had to be separated from the rest of the camp. The rules of Godly living required that the good of the community outweighed the good of the individual … as painful as that was to all parties.
This way of thinking took firm root in America’s not-too-distant past, as previous generations battled scarlet fever and severe influenza outbreaks. For example, my father tells me his family was quarantined during a scarlet fever bout in the 1930s here in Illinois. I asked him how his family survived without being able to go to the store for food and all the other household stuff his family needed.
His response? Neighbors brought food, and really anything we needed. The neighbors yelled to my dad’s house, asked them what they needed, bought the stuff and simply left “the supplies” on the front porch.
This type of display of Christian charity and community was common. To these folks, showing kindness during a time of need was just the Golden Rule in action.
But we only have to look at the cases of two American nurses who returned home after working with Ebola patients in Africa to see how our nation has veered away from its founding Christian principles. While one nurse in Texas voluntarily agreed to be quarantined after returning home, another nurse in Maine defied state authorities, claiming the quarantine violated her individual rights. A judge ruled in the Maine nurse’s favor.
An attorney for the Maine nurse applauded the judge for understanding “what liberty is about” as well as “how the government can’t restrict your liberty unless there is compelling justification.”
This is indeed a fine line … but there are times in which the individual’s rights have to take a back seat to the safety of the community. And I think it’s important to realize that God’s Word here is more than just a list of rules and regulations. A good chunk of it is there to protect us and keep us alive.
So, whether it is closing our borders or setting quarantines, our politicians will always struggle with “right answers” if they don’t adopt Biblical standards. And the truth is, in a moral society, people should actually want to be quarantined if they represent a threat to their neighbors.
The idea of balancing the value of the community with the individual is ingrained in Christianity. In the ancient world, a person was required to shout “Leper!” in order to protect others from harm. Please note: It was not considered evil to be a leper, but it was considered evil to knowingly infect another person.
Today, the idea of an individual’s rights seems to occupy some sort of religious high ground. This holds in both public as well as private life. We saw this at the height of the AIDS crisis in America, when some irresponsible individuals intentionally infected other people.
What a far cry from the America that Alexis de Tocqueville described in his book Democracy in America, published in 1835. De Tocqueville wrote that he could travel all over America and never see any real signs of police officers or of government. Moral principles and self-government were so ingrained in our society that the people were able to govern themselves without the need for a lot of cops.
Today, we have the opposite: We have anarchy and lawlessness in all forms of government as well as anarchy and lawlessness as a way of life among the citizenry. Lawlessness begets lawlessness, I suppose, a true self-feeding dog.
This interesting parallel test case involving the two American nurses showed us what could happen on a large scale when the rights of the individual are placed radically above the rights of the non-infected community.
It doesn’t take too much of a stretch to imagine a day in America when victims of a virus will have their own political group demanding their rights – and, of course, challenging the court system with a “right-to-infect” agenda. In the meantime, though, who is protecting your rights, your children’s rights and your grandchildren’s rights to be safe from infection?
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