Covered in the Blood of Jesus: Christians Culpable for Killing Our Neighbors

Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. […] Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. (Acts 2.22-24, 36 NIV)

On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter—the once cowardly yet brazen man who famously thrice denied Jesus—preached a bold sermon to the crowds who gathered to see the Spirit-filled spectacle. Modern American Evangelicals would have expected to hear him preach: “You are all sinners and Jesus died for your forgiveness.” Isn’t that what Billy Graham would have preached? But Peter’s sermon was different. His take on Jesus’s crucifixion wasn’t “Jesus died for your forgiveness.” Peter’s atonement theology was: “You crucified Jesus!” Yes, he preached that they must repent and be forgiven. But the sin for which he preached they required forgiveness was crucifying Jesus! Jesus’s blood was on their hands! He said they were culpable for his death and this was sin they need to repent of to be forgiven. How different that is from the sermons many Evangelicals preach and hear today.

Today, the U.S. is in the midst of a global pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus that threatens to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. Those most at risk are those with weakened immune systems like those who have pre-existing illness or the elderly. To protect the most vulnerable members of society, epidemiologists the world over have demanded that people stay home so that they don’t become vectors of further infection. This is called “Flattening the Curve” because the rate of infections will grow exponentially if no mitigating strategies are put in place. That curve will quickly overload our already stressed medical professionals and hospitals. By staying home, we reduce the rate at which hospitalizations are necessary and give our medical community a fighting chance.

Meanwhile, the federal government and the current president in particular are royally botching the national response to this pandemic. In typical fashion they are shifting blame away from themselves to anyone and everyone else and seeking to protect the economy over the vulnerable in a blatant attempt to protect the president’s re-election chances. The administration sees the Evangelical church as nothing more than a voting bloc likely to swing the election in their favor, so they have resisted requiring states to ban religious gatherings larger than 10 people. States like Florida, where over 1/5 are over 65 years old, have given religious gatherings an exemption to Social Distancing policies, making church gatherings outbreaks waiting to happen.

Here’s a video of churchgoers in Ohio (another state that’s following the current president’s lead) being asked why they think it’s alright to continue gathering when it puts people’s lives in danger. Those who were asked had an eerily automatic response. “I’m covered in the blood of Jesus.” The reporter, who clearly isn’t familiar with the jargon of American Folk Religion, ignores this ignorant phrasing and simply asks if they are concerned they might infect their neighbors and put their lives at risk. Nope! They aren’t concerned one bit. They have the magical protection of the Jesus Blood Spell so nothing and no one else matters.

How far we’ve come from the Day of Pentecost. Instead of Jesus’s crucifixion being something the people were ‘cut to the heart’ for causing, instead of the feeling of guilt and shame of being culpable for the execution of an innocent man, modern American Evangelicals see Jesus’s death as a self-serving lucky charm. “The blood of Jesus” is treated like a personal forcefield. They get “covered” by it and they (supposedly) can’t get the COVID-19 virus. (We’ll see, won’t we?)

But they’re not entirely wrong: They are covered in Jesus’s blood. You see, Scripture also tells us Jesus was crucified by the Powers (cf. I Cor. 2.8). The Powers are somewhat mysterious to modern peoples. We don’t talk about them much. But ancient people understood the Powers much better. They are the dark forces at work within the world which hold people in bondage and destroy lives. These Powers often work through rulers, authorities, and systems of government. They are Powers with Policies. It was the corrupt religious power of Jerusalem leaders combined with the violent military-empire power of Rome and the economic power that exploits the poor that put Jesus on the cross. Sure, there were specific individuals who represented those powers who made crucial decisions in the process. But they were just figureheads. The Powers were behind it all (cf. Eph. 6.12). Today the Powers are behind a different plot to destroy lives: Anti-intellectual Arrogance and a Martyr Complex produced by Right-wing partisan politics.

The reason church-goers were so eager to spout their terrible theology to a TV reporter is because they were anxious to signal their cultural allegiance. They were proud to declare their opposition to the settled science of epidemiology and they have been convinced the idea of ‘staying home’ is a plot to rob them of their religious liberty. This didn’t happen overnight. The Culture Wars have been raging for decades. Anti-scientific sentiment has been growing since the Modernist-Fundamentalist schism symbolized by the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial.” Today, many Evangelicals oppose science as a badge of honor. They believe they are exercising “Faith.” They believe they are “covered in the blood of Jesus,” which to them means they are magically protected from harm and justified before God. But they are covered in his blood in a very different way.

Like the crowds who gathered for Pentecost in Acts 2, the Christians who are refusing to stay home and adhere to social distancing policies are also culpable in crucifying Jesus—they are covered in his blood alright! They are complicit in his unjust murder by their participation in the systems that destroy innocent lives. In the same way that those gathered in Acts 2 weren’t directly the persons who conducted the mock trials or ordered Jesus’s execution, yet Peter includes them in the blame, the Christians who are ignorantly refusing to avoid large gatherings may not be personally responsible for killing immuno-vulernable people, but they are complicit and culpable. The blood of the vulnerable—in whom Jesus is present—is on their hands (cf. Mt. 25.31-46).

In reality, the demands of Christian “Faith” aren’t believing in magical blood spells. The demands of Christian faith are Allegiance to the God who showed up in our world as a lowly man, a peasant, who was crushed by the machine of dark worldly powers. Christians betray the One we claim is our Lord if we arrogantly put others like him in danger. We will be covered in his blood, along with the blood of our friends and neighbors, with all the shame and guilt that entails.