He Did Not Have to Die

by Dwight A. Moody

 

He didn’t have to die.

 

The Reverend Gerald O. Glenn, that is. But he did, and his death was announced to the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church of Richmond, Virginia, on Easter Sunday. Another minister at the church posted a sermon on Facebook with the news.

 

He didn’t have to die, at least not this way, at this time; although there are people who believe when God sets the time of our departure there is nothing you and I can do to change it. I certainly don’t agree with that.

 

Millions of doctors, nurses, aids, and EMTs work hard all the time to rescue people from death, and they often succeed, as do firemen, soldiers, police, and even parents and friends. We honor them for this.

 

Rev. Glenn died of the COVID-19 virus, and he died after a week in the hospital. Now his wife is in the hospital trying to postpone her own destiny with death.

 

Doctors could not save him and may not save her, but both of them could have saved themselves if they had heeded the call to shut down public worship and stay at home. His governor had issued a stay-at-home order on March 17, after public health officials stated it was the right thing to do. Other governors elected to delay doing what needed to be done.

 

But Glenn could have taken care of himself. But instead he twisted his call to preach the gospel into a repudiation of sensible strategies for himself, his family, and his congregation. He announced he would preach through the pandemic “unless I am in jail or in the hospital”.

 

He is not the only one.

 

All over our country there are well-meaning ministers who have taken this same position. “I’m not shutting down my church!” they say; or “No government is going to tell us when we can worship and when we can’t.” They turn this public health crisis into a constitutional tug-o-war between elected officials and ordained officials.

 

In some countries around the world this is happening—ungodly rulers fearful of those who pledge allegiance to anything other than the state or the party or the person in power. There are plenty of examples of this in history, including biblical history. Millions of people, and not just Christians, have risked their lives to remain faithful to their deeply held political or religious convictions.

 

Ironically, many if not most of mayors and governors in these United States, those who are sending people home, are themselves Christians: baptized and practicing believers; they are people who take their public duties as a form of Christian faithfulness. Our stay-at-home strategy is not an attack on religion, or business, or education—it is a defense against a virus. It is a global defense against an international enemy.

 

But some Christian leaders have turned this pandemic into their opportunity to be either a notorious miracle worker, commanding the virus to stand still, or a courageous martyr, sacrificing a life for the cause of Christ. History has demonstrated that there are always Christian people who will take inspiration from these misguided ministers, who will march with them straight into a fools grave, who will “drink the Kool-Aid” (as we learned to say after the Jim Jones affair in 1978).

 

I admire people who are willing to sacrifice all that life offers to be true to our Lord Jesus Christ, just as Jesus poured out his own life in faithfulness to the work God had ordained.

 

I think of the great German Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was arrested by Hitler, confined to a concentration camp, and murdered a mere week before his prison was liberated by the Allied armies. We celebrated the 75th anniversary of his martyrdom on April 9 while Reverend Glenn, in the hospital, was succumbing to a virus that is no respecter of persons.

 

It was, at best, a pseudo-sacrifice, a pouring out of a Spirit-filled, God-soaked life in a misguided gesture of gospel intent. He didn’t need to die.

 

The Reverend Gerald O. Glenn, bishop of the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church did not need to die. And neither do you. Stay home, for Christ’s sake.

 

(April 16, 2020)