COVID-19 Directives and Religious Communities

COVID-19 Directives and Religious Communities
19 May 2020

The Nigerian Context

The coronavirus disease called COVID-19, is an infectious respiratory disease that spreads from person to person. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it spreads "primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes."

Despite the obvious and observed reality of COVID-19 around the globe, various religious leaders and followers in Nigeria have flouted the government directives to contain the virus. For example, The Guardian reports that Jingir, an Islamic cleric, claimed COVID-19 was “a lie and a conspiracy meant to stop Muslims from performing their religious rites.” To prove the impotence of the virus, he alluded to the account of Prophet Ibrahim and the fire: “Is the virus as effective as the fire that could not burn Prophet Ibrahim?” He cited Turkey and an unidentified European nation as examples of countries that considered the virus a lie. 

Other Nigerian news sites report that angry Muslim youth torched a police station in Kastina, along with cars and motorcycles, when their Friday prayer was interrupted and their leader arrested; two Christian leaders were also captured defying the directives to shut down churches, defending their action as wanting to educate their members about COVID-19.

Some Christians argue that COVID-19 is a sign of the end as stated by Jesus; therefore, the only measures required are repentance and readiness for Christ’s return. Others claim that following the government directives, such as staying home and practicing social distancing and hand washing, are evidence of lack of faith. 

Some Christians argue that COVID-19 is a sign of the end as stated by Jesus; therefore, the only measures required are repentance and readiness for Christ’s return.

Still others assert that anointing their households and land, as directed by their General Overseer, will protect them from the pandemic. They base their claim on the Passover event (Ex. 12). In this vein, some dismiss coronavirus as a disease of the “Egyptians,” which can never come close to the “Israelites,” while others view the pandemic as a punishment from God on humanity because of the high level of sin and corruption in the world today. 

Thus, the answer to coronavirus lies with God.

Due to these religious beliefs, certain religious people do not take seriously the guidelines and directives provided to avoid and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article seeks to demonstrate that the guidelines and directives provided by the government and WHO for reducing the spread of COVID-19 are rooted in the Bible. 

Old Testament Directives on Handling Pandemics (and Other Disasters)

The Old Testament contains directives that can be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to escape from its effects and reduce its spread to others. The following guidelines and precautionary measures were observed when a pandemic – or other catastrophe – occurred in the Old Testament: stay home, quarantine, practice social distancing, wash hands, store food, and burn the clothes of the infected. Each of these measures is discussed below. 

The Old Testament contains directives that can be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to escape from its effects and reduce its spread to others.

Stay home – When disasters occurred in the Old Testament, people were either called upon to flee from it or, more often, told to remain indoors until the event was over. When God sent a flood to destroy the earth, Noah and his family were asked to stay home to avoid the disaster (Genesis 6–7). 

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. (Gen. 7:6–7)

When the Lord was to unleash punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah, his angels instructed Lot to flee with his wife and daughters to escape the destruction (Gen. 19:1–29). 

The two men said to Lot, do you have anyone else here – sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against his people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it. (Gen. 19:12–13) 

Abraham, on the other hand, stayed home until the disaster was over.

Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. (Gen. 19:27–28) 

When the Lord sent the angel of death upon the land of Egypt to kill the firstborn of both people and animals, the Israelites were to stay home to be spared from the impending death (Gen. 12:1–30).

Take a bunch of hyssops, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. (Gen. 12:22) 

People were to stay home until the pandemic was over. 

When the Lord was about to send disaster to destroy the city of Jericho, Rahab was told to stay home with her family and relatives to avoid the destruction (Josh. 2:1–20).

[Bring] your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. (Josh. 2:17–19)

The prophet Isaiah, speaking prophetically, tells the people, when facing catastrophe, to stay home for a while until it is over. 

Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. (Isa. 26:20–22) 

Matthew Henry’s commentary provides an excellent application of these verses which is very helpful: “When dangers threaten, it is good to retire and lie hid; when we commend ourselves to God to hide us, he will hide us either under heaven or in heaven.” The best action to take when danger looms is to stay home to be safe. 

From the above Old Testament Scriptures, it is important to adhere to the government directive which will help in managing the spread of COVID-19.

Quarantine – Isolating those already infected by a virus and quarantining those suspected to have come into contact with it is also taught in the Scriptures. 

Though world governments may not be aware of the scriptural basis for their directives and guidelines in containing the coronavirus, they are originally derived from the Bible. When people contracted certain infectious viruses in the Bible, they were quarantined for seven to fourteen days to prevent infecting others and to avoid further outbreaks (Lev. 13). 

For example, when Miriam was inflected with leprosy, she was isolated from others until she recovered (Num. 12). The people were discouraged from approaching her. 

Social distancing – Today’s masses have been advised to observe social distancing to reduce the spread of the pandemic ravaging the world. This has been quite difficult to observe in Nigeria, partly due to lack of proper measures to implement, but also due to many people’s belief that they are covered with the blood of Jesus and therefore cannot be affected by the coronavirus. 

In biblical times, people with infectious diseases like leprosy were isolated from others. When they had to move around others, they were to shout “unclean, unclean” so others could observe social distancing and avoid being infected (Lev. 13). They were assisted or helped from afar. 

The reason behind social distancing is that anyone can be a carrier of the virus and can spread it via social interaction and contact.

Hygiene and sanitation – Moses commanded the people of Israel to practice sanitation (such as hand washing) as a means of avoiding contaminating infections from others. When a person had any unusual bodily discharge, such a person was considered unclean, their clothes were considered unclean, and their bed was considered unclean. Everything he or she sat on or touched became unclean. Every saddle the person rode on (or, in our context, every car the person rode in) became unclean. 

Whoever then touches any of the things which were under him shall be unclean . . . and he who carries them shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Likewise, whomever the one with the discharge touches without having rinsed his hands in water shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. (Lev. 15:7–8) 

This is why today people are asked to wash their hands with soap and water often – virtually everything the infected person touches becomes infected, whether people, door handles, the railings of staircases, chairs, clothes, buses, or anything else. 

This explains why health workers and governments track those who have had contact with a person infected with COVID-19; they may have been contaminated with the virus. This explains again why the Nigerian government has provided measures to clean garages and bus stop rails and promote the use of hand sanitizers for regular cleaning to prevent unknown infected individuals from spreading the virus.

The importance of washing hands with soap and water cannot be overemphasized, as virtually everything touched or used by anyone infected by the coronavirus automatically gets contaminated. This is why the government has emphasized always carrying hand sanitizers and has offered alternative ways of concocting hand sanitizers at home. 

This also explains why a grocery store in Pennsylvania threw away food items estimated at $35,000 after a woman coughed on them. Though it was not yet ascertained if she was COVID-19 positive, such a drastic measure was taken to keep people safe. 

Burning the clothes of the infected – The clothes of those infected or killed by the coronavirus should not be moved to Africa for cheaper sales but should rather be burned (Lev. 13:53–56). Exporters should be banned from importing clothes from other parts of the globe worn by infected individuals. Okirika (used cloths) should be banned within the country because those who buy and wear them could become infected. 

However, an earthenware vessel which the person with the discharge touches shall be broken. (Lev. 15:12)

Food storage – People have been advised to store food at home because the duration of this global pandemic is uncertain. People from certain quarters are grumbling about this move, but it is not new. It was practiced in the Bible. It was God's strategy for preserving people during difficult times. For example, Noah was commanded to store food for the time of the flood (Gen. 6:12). Joseph suggested to Pharaoh that food should be stored to serve the nation during the time of famine (Gen. 41). 

What about those unable to stock their homes during this period? This is where Christians are to shine their light and assist the weak. The Bible says, “Blessed are those who have regard for the weak” (Ps. 41:2). The weak in the current pandemic are those who cannot afford food for their families. The church is called to step up with government aid to assist the weak.  

Time for Action

To fight this common enemy, we need to unite irrespective of our religious beliefs and various interpretations of the pandemic in order to defeat COVID-19. 

COVID-19 is a deadly disease that has claimed and still is claiming many lives. It has claimed the lives of thousands of people globally. To fight this common enemy, we need to unite irrespective of our religious beliefs and various interpretations of the pandemic in order to defeat COVID-19. 

Focusing on just one solution may not yield the expected result. A combination of the various solutions proffered (repentance, prayer, handwashing, staying home, self-isolation, quarantine, food storage, etc.), without neglecting any, will go a long way in combating the pandemic. Therefore, let all religious people take seriously the directives and guidelines provided by the government – in addition to prayer and repentance – in order to fight COVID-19.

Dr Priest's book The Conversion of Igbo Christians to Islam, was published in April. Check it out and buy your copy here today.

The Conversion of Igbo Christians to Islam