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"What should have been a science class became a politics class"

"What should have been a science class became a politics class"

COVID-19


Blessings to you all.

In the late summer, we struggle with basic civic values, how to see the common good, and how to engage in behaviors in ways that place the needs of others before our own.

The COVID reality at the moment is a crisis, as the school year begins, as hospitals are overflowing. Some states are shipping their COVID patients to states with more robust vaccine participation. Some of these states are importing medical professionals from states where responsible behavior mitigated COVID's effects.

There is a human cost — suffering, death, grief. This weekend two of our pastors struggle near to death with the virus. And we are now fully into our nineteenth month of the pandemic.

Bishop Ken Carter

The post mortem will reveal that the instinct to put the economy first has actually harmed the economy; that flawed notions of freedom have actually led to less freedom; that the desire of a few people to position themselves for elected office in the future has done great and lasting harm, to their constituents in the present.

We have passed laws in the state of Florida that place children and teachers in peril. 

As I have noted on many occasions, the politics are baked in, and the politics have extended this pandemic. If you are reading this far, please know that the last thing on my mind is changing your politics.

The last thing on my mind is changing your politics.

Let's reframe the whole matter. Let's simply confess that what should have been a science class, along the way, became a politics class. And we are talking about a virus -- of late, a more aggressive virus.

Some of the present reality:

  • The leading cause of death of police officers last year—COVID.

  • COVID was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. last year, after heart disease and cancer.

  • 3 million Floridians contracted COVID, which is almost one in seven.

  • More than 42,000 Floridians died of COVID.

  • 1,400 known Floridians died last week from COVID.

And there is resistance to a vaccine. No blame or shame here, just lament. I care about you. 

I am reflecting on COVID because it is, in my anecdotal experience, affecting many more people now and in a harsh way.

So, masks and vaccines.

I wear a mask not because I am trying to make an ideological point. I wear a mask because it is a proven way to lessen the spread of this latest mutation of the virus, a mutation empowered because so many have not been vaccinated.

Statistically, we are in a "pandemic of the unvaccinated." Some of the casualties are those who have health vulnerabilities. A child with lupus. An adult with melanoma. Another adult with cancer.

I received the vaccine in February and March when my name came up in the ordinary sequence of events. Two weeks after the second vaccine, I had real protection.

I say this because I occasionally read about a person who receives the first shot and then expresses surprise that they become infected. It is a five-week biological process. 

I may be preaching to the choir here, but I want to cast a wide net. I listen a great deal across the spectrum, and, at times, it is appropriate to speak. I appeal to you, members of the body of Christ, to find your own best rationale and get vaccinated. I am not smarter or better or more enlightened than you. And I do not write out of fear. My hope is in heaven.

I want us to spend eternity there, yet I want you to be alive one to five to twenty years from now.

I do want us to honor the body that is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6. 19). And in the body, we are connected. This is social holiness. This is the connection of the people called Methodist.

Occasionally, a saint will write and say, I am a lifelong Methodist, and John Wesley never talked about politics or health.

And yet he did.

John Wesley ensured that the most vulnerable had access to health care in 18th century England. And he wrote letters to government officials, one of the last one being to William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament, on the necessity of ending slavery.

The health of the body, the church, is the health of each member and how we see each other in the body and seek to strengthen one another. In the body of Christ, we need each other (1 Corinthians 12. 21).

I write to United Methodists in Florida now because, by any measurement, our common life, and in some instances our very lives, are being threatened by how we are living through the COVID reality. 

If you want to read more about where I am coming from here, see the articles I wrote with Dr. Fred Southwick, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Florida and an active member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville, which appeared in the Orlando Sentinel and Tallahassee Democrat.

The practices that will heal us right now are prayer, placing the interests of others before our own (Philippians 2: 3; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15), vaccination, wearing masks indoors and maintaining social distances when possible. 

ON A MORE PERSONAL NOTE: Many of you know that beginning September 1, I will be serving two annual conferences, Florida and Western North Carolina.

In some nations where the United Methodist Church is very strong, less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated. This is due to the COVID effect on a denomination that exists in 40 nations.

It is related to restricted travel to large gatherings (visas) and the large gatherings themselves (public health), where new bishops would be elected.

That is some of the background.

Logistically, we will divide our time between Tampa and Charlotte. We moved some things to Tampa in July, and we moved the remainder to Charlotte this week. My wife Pam has been amazing in coordinating almost all of this.

We are well situated to begin. In Charlotte, interestingly, we will live about five miles from where I served for many years as a pastor. So a lot of that is familiar. 

At the same time, I will begin my tenth year with you as your bishop. I work with great people, I am not naive about my capacities, which are not infinite, yet at the same time, I am excited. There is a lot of work for us to do:

  • Vital and sustainable local churches and fresh expressions.
  • ​Dismantling racism as discipleship, and sanctification for the wellness and resilience of spiritual leaders.
  • ​A clear vision for the continuing a United Methodist Church that is for all of us now and for the next generations.

The good news: There is strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. 

Thank you for reading, for the connection, for being a disciple of Jesus Christ and a United Methodist.
I write to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, our Friend and Healer, Jesus Christ.

Ken Carter
Resident Bishop, Florida Conference
The United Methodist Church


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