Thinking Christians do not want to unintentionally cause the death of others by spreading a virus that spares some and kills others. Obeying the civil magistrate’s order to distance, isolation, or quarantine is obedience to God’s law. In practical ways, in our neighborhood, this means that while our neighbors who are doctors and nurses are working long hours, we are serving them by walking their dogs and sharing our provisions with them.
Recently, after COVID-19 was declared a rapidly spreading pandemic ravaging every nation on earth, the president declared the United States in a state of emergency, public schools shut down interminably, colleges abruptly released their students for home, and social distancing became the new norm.
Although these were clearly extraordinary times—I twice disinfected doorknobs, bathrooms, light switches, and all surfaces that didn’t have a cat sleeping on them—my doorbell continued to ring. Homeless dogs, college students, and neighbors with pressing needs stood on the porch like it was any other Saturday. But the pandemic had displaced them (some physically, some emotionally), and a single question filled the six feet between us: “How does this change things? What does radical, Christian hospitality look like under COVID-19?”
My husband, Kent, came to the door with an answer: “We aren’t sure yet. Are you feeling healthy? Would you like to join us for lunch? Or would you like us to share what we have for you to take with you?”
Kent’s unrehearsed response helped answer the question for me and clarified four important truths.
1. Practicing the Christian ethic of hospitality under COVID-19 demonstrates Christian brotherhood and good Samaritan care for those whose lives are upended and who need help.
With schools closed, students often have nowhere to spend their days. Both college students and school kids need tangible help, and in a climate of social distancing, this may feel like risky business. We need to assess the situation carefully, but giving traveling students and displaced public-schooled children temporary shelter while they get home or while their parents make suitable arrangements during times of unprecedented crisis is not the same thing as “arranging play dates.”
Older and immunocompromised neighbors need help getting groceries and medication. The risk of infection is too high to send them out for basic needs. Yesterday morning, I went shopping to gather supplies for our house as well as the homes of two neighbors. Some of the rules about grocery shopping are new: at Costco yesterday, we had to obey the rules about rationing (only one gallon of milk and one rotisserie chicken per cart), accept the reality of empty shelves (no rice, no Clorox wipes, no baby wipes), and practice patience as the store limited the number of shoppers in the warehouse.
Providing immediate, tangible care for our neighbors demonstrates our love for them and our desire to do good for their bodies and souls. Mark 12:30 reminds us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength . . . and love your neighbor as yourself.” God’s command on our life leaves no room for hoarding or panic. Text frequently and pray daily for people whose health or age makes them most vulnerable both to COVID-19 and to gripping fear. Learn their needs. Make their comfort your priority.
2. Practicing the Christian ethic of hospitality under COVID-19 demonstrates our fear of God, not of men (and the virus they may carry). We are to live coram Deo—before the face of God.
Practicing hospitality when we could be killed by (or kill) a person standing a few feet away boggles the mind and wearies the soul. Psalm 150:6 declares, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!” But we live in a world where the very act of breathing is dangerous.