Dear brothers and sisters,

Given the exponential spread of the delta variant, I will be unable to join you at indoor worship services and church gatherings until the coronavirus pandemic abates.

A primary factor in my decision is the general lack of masking and distancing that I observe at white evangelical Protestant services since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced indoor masking guidelines to combat the surging delta variant.

In surveys, white evangelical Protestants are the religious group with the highest percentage of vaccine refusers. With 53% of Texans still not fully vaccinated, that means perhaps two-thirds of you at a typical church service will be both unmasked and unvaccinated.

My decision also reflects my Christian ethic. To love my neighbor means following public health guidelines that protect our community in a public health crisis. Attending indoor services and gatherings where people are largely unmasked, unvaccinated and not distanced increases the risk that I might catch the delta variant and spread it to others.

Those others include the most vulnerable among us: the poor, the infirm, the stranger, the children. Did not Jesus teach us that to be his followers, we must care for “the least of these”?

While for now I must refrain from in-person church attendance, I will continue to support my own congregation, as I did during my previous quarantine, by streaming weekly services and by praying and giving.

Though evangelicals like me are in the minority, many of us believe that our Christian witness is compromised by putting our personal freedom above our community’s health.

The root of this compromise, however, lies in putting the politics of division above the gospel. By following political leaders who practice such politics we have committed the sin of Esau. As he sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, we have sold our gospel for a few years of political power.

Surveys of religious affiliation show that white evangelical Protestants comprise 14% of the U.S. population, down from 23% in 2006. Meanwhile, “nones” are the fastest-growing group. One reason they cite for leaving the church, especially the young, is the hypocrisy they see in white evangelicals.

We profess Christian peace, charity and moral probity. Yet we stoke cultural war, heed the dog whistle of MAGA racism and follow a man who glories in anger, slander, deceit and division. We must repent.

As evangelicals, we believe the Bible is a divinely inspired guide for faith and practice. But intellectually, we use the Bible chiefly to remove any ambiguity from our lives. This leaves us open to authoritarian leaders and conspiracy theorists who feed our uncritical habit of mind.

Before writing this open letter, I spoke with local clergy from other Christian traditions. Their experience shows it is possible for faith leaders to implement public health guidelines and hold their churches together through difficult times.

In addition, I have spoken to white evangelical church leaders and suggested that open churchwide discussion to respectfully exchange views would better serve church unity than avoidance. Yet such open discussion has not, so far as I can see, occurred in white evangelical churches or the white evangelical community. Though I hope to be wrong, the prospect of such a discussion seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, we cannot pretend that Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter and the pandemic never happened. Those of us concerned about the direction of the evangelical community cannot so easily forget that when the crisis came, you chose to put us and your neighbors at risk rather than be inconvenienced by wearing a mask in church.

So, I will continue to pray about a bedrock principle for managing conflict through communication. Disagreement must be seen not as a problem to avoid, but an opportunity for discussion, clearing the air, resolving division, coming together—and where needed, for confession and repentance.

Your Brother,

Mark Ward

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Mark Ward Sr. is an associate professor of communication at the University of Houston-Victoria and author of the forthcoming book “Introduction to Public Speaking: An Inductive Approach.” He may be reached at wardm@uhv.edu.

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Quincy Thompson

I almost forgot! May I suggest you check out Matthew 7:3-5. Just a thought.

Mike Gomez

https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/aug/06/ron-desantis/ron-desantis-effort-blame-covid-19-spread-migrants/

Mike Gomez

Brian,I’m writing a blog with people like you in mind.

As I I’ve stated before Victoria Advocate E-Edition has a search bar where you can type in my name and view all my comments. If that’s not enough, my blogs are listed for all to see.I’m not going to do your homework for you. I have posted my proof on the topics you mentioned. It would be too time consuming to repost the same sources over and over for those too lazy or would never accept them anyway.

Those that know me know that I am flexible and several several shades of gray… I am never going to use ALL or 100% in any of comments because there’s always the exception rather than the rule.Proportionately is something that I use.

Btw,Show me where I have ever used MSNBC as a source. TV network pundits are never my source….I consistently use the Washington Post ( I have a subscription) NYT ( limited subscription) and Houston Chronicle ( subscription) Fact-check,Snoops,and Politifact but you would call them left -wing bias because they don’t suit your confirmation bias. And here we are.

You keep saying “Tell us,enlighten us” as if you are the majority opinion that wants some proof. Believe me there are many who don’t need me to post any proof because they are informed and know exactly where I am coming from.

Glen or Janice Ullman

Mike, I have a feeling some of the boys commenting here do not understand the concept of main stream media or majority consensus when dealing with fact based science, historical data, or a Democratic Republic?…Glen

Quincy Thompson

No Glen, I understand the concept of "main stream media" as I have watch them turn into the radical support wing of the Democratic (Socialist) Party. That is why they are "Fake News"! I cannot believe the garbage they put out but can understand why if people watch only that they would think like you do.

Glen or Janice Ullman

Quincey, I’ll just say Brother Ward really knows how to get us communicating. And Brother Coffey got it right when he said don’t hold your breath waiting for resolution. At this point we will just have to rely on the good old majority rule concept, and hope and pray for peaceful transfers of power.

Quincy Thompson

Glen, I will gladly go with majority rule, using the Electoral College, if we can prevent fraudulent voting in the big cities of the swing states. Do that and we will have an election process that we can all believe in and we will have no problem with a peaceful transfer of power. By the way my name is Quincy.

Allen T Coffey

Mr. Pot, sounds like the pot being totally unselfaware about the pot's log/beam/or whatever out of your own eye. Think about it.

Quincy Thompson

Mr. Kettle, May I ask you what churches you pastored over the last 30 so years. Just curious where you taught your beliefs and where they were receptive to them.

By the way I have gotten several planks out of my eye over the years and have learned to look out for them.

Quincy Thompson

A very interesting column Mr. Ward. You blast people for practicing their faith because it isn't the way you think it should be practiced. You say we shouldn't divide and then you divide. You say we should communicate and if I will only get rid of my MAGA hat (I have several) and my beliefs that go with it, then we could do that. You say you want to communicate but only on your terms. If you are really worried about COVID may I suggest that you call your President and tell him to stop the flood of positive migrants across our southern border. Nah, you wont do that. One last point "Brother". I can only surmise from the blasting of my hat that you support the Dem Party and therefore its platform. Since abortion on demand is a major plank of that platform how can you quote the bible and say that we must care for '"the least of these"'. You talk of hypocrisy among us but I suggest that if you really want to see it just look in your mirror.

Mike Gomez

Accept not except

Glenn Wilson

Mike, remember way back in the day we were able to edit our comments, as well as see the article etc to which we were responding? After we lost that ability the individual in charge promised me twice that those abilities would be restored. I should have saved those promises for lawn fertilizer.

Glen or Janice Ullman

Thank you brother Ward. It’s nice to see honest feelings and facts, along with the courage required to present them. Your detractors here would skip over the point you make about the simple act of inoculation or wearing of a mask while around others. The fact our hospitals are full and that a lot of people are avoiding congregations of any kind, should be enough to impress upon people that we all need to take this seriously starting with our governor and state legislature, who would ignore the real priorities to promote gun carry, women’s rights, as well as supporting the overthrow of democracy with their over complicated and costly attempt to skew the simple process of voting…Glen

Allen T Coffey

Dr. Ward, having spent 30+ years -- up to 2016 -- in White Evangelical churches as a pastor, I was going to suggest that you not hold your breath waiting for the discussion you seek to happen. But seeing the previous comment, I see that I don't need to make that suggestion now.

Rick Dockery

I’m black. He can say what he wants. White peoples, especially Evangelicals, have a target on their back, and that’s wrong. The “tolerant” are the least tolerant. I will always stand for liberty, and apparently this gentleman wants to go on and on about a specific race of people and their denomination practicing liberty. Again, his right. I’ve been on the other end of discrimination and wrong is wrong. At least you spelled white instead of whyte Mr. Coffey.

Mike Gomez

Right- wingers will stick to their talking points regardless of how idiotic it sounds. The idea that people coming from the southern border take a right turn and populate the red southern states with Covid is ridiculous..Those same people will switch to the Afghanistan refugees in the next month or two. The medical professionals tell us that the spike in Covid cases is caused by unvaccinated Americans. Abortion on demand is not on any political platform and I challenge you to prove that. It’s been my experience that only zealots use lies and exaggerations to try to make a point.

Glenn Wilson

Mike, -- "Right-wingers will stick to their talking points regardless of how idiotic it sounds." -- Yes, they certainly will, exactly like left-wingers and no-wingers. Party affiliation or independence have no bearing on that.

Mike Gomez

It’s not equally divided…. https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/6B0EB93F6BA17608D82B4D23EDA75E50/S0008423920000396a.pdf/how_rightleaning_media_coverage_of_covid19_facilitated_the_spread_of_misinformation_in_the_early_stages_of_the_pandemic_in_the_us.pdf

Quincy Thompson

Mike, I know that you like calling me a zealot and accuse me of lying and making exaggerations to make a point but in this case you need to take a real good look in the mirror to see a zealot who is using a lie and exaggerations to try and make a point!!!!! If you will go to the DNC 2020 Party Platform, section titled Achieving Universal Affordable, Quality Health Care; paragraphs titled Securing Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice and read you will find that platform plank I was talking about. It's right there in print try READING IT! The 2 Million illegals (best estimate) that have come over so far this year aren't just staying in Texas but are going all over the country and the positive ones are spreading COVID everywhere. By the way the largest groups of unvaccinated in the US, as reported in the news, are the Latin and African-Americans. I think in some part to Kamala Harris who, if you will remember, said that there was no way that she was going to take any vaccine that Trump developed and made a big thing of it. Dang, I think she took it, does that make her a liar?

James Chandler

From the Official 2020 Democratic Party Platform:

Securing Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Democrats are committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice.

We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion.

Brian Vandale

Mike, you always talk about truth and facts. Where's your proof and facts, that the people coming across the border and other refugees, are COVID and disease free. Unvaccinated people here in the US may be spreading it, but until you have facts and prove that illegal immigrants and others are free from COVID, etc. then you're contradicting yourself. You tell everyone else to show facts, because you do so please enlighten us with the facts. Also today I was sitting and thinking, you know the Democrats comment and talk about the right wingers (GOP) not getting vaccinated and spreading COVID because they're Trumptards. Well I also would like to see facts , that every Democrat is vaccinated. After all the right wingers, sheep, Trump's cult, etc. are to blame for the increase in cases. So I assume there's facts or proof that all Democrats are vaccinated. So Mike guide us to the facts and not from CNN, MSNBC, NBC or any other left wing bias news media.

Mike Gomez

What Kamala Harris actually said” In September, Harris, then the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate, hesitated when asked if she would take a vaccine that was approved before the election.

“I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump,” Harris said, “and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about. I will not take his word for it.” Mar 16,2021 Washington Post ….I said the same thing, I wasn’t gonna take trumps word for it if the CDC or the FDA are Dr. Fauci said it was OK, I would take it

Mike Gomez

Btw Brian Practice what you preach. Show your proof that contradicts my comments…Please no Fox News,NewsMax ,Breitbart or Alex Jones . See I can do the same thing

Allen T Coffey

Mr. Dockery, thanks for the information. I know absolutely nothing about you beyond your comments. I did some research and I can't find you in Victoria, or in any of the near by communities. This leads me to wonder why you're interested in "correcting" all of us who are, "wrong." Please feel free to correct me if you so desire.

Rick Dockery

I’m not on social media. I’m not extremely comfortable with my info being out there, but you can email me at dockeryrick900@gmail.com to go from there. You do not have to agree, I think we all try to correct each other.

Rick Dockery

Seriously, why is this in the paper? What defines a white evangelical church? This letter makes zero sense. I'm to believe that every white evangelical church is how you describe? Do you honestly think, that under roman persecution, plagues, and wars, Christians would not gather to worship? If you are not comfortable in Church, don't go.

Mary Ann Wenske

I agree- why is this in the paper? I questioned the author's point about "Nones" leaving religious groups because of the hypocritical actions of "white evangelicals," but then I realized that with this column, he is proving the point. The hypocrisy of a white evangelical trying to use religion to bash a specific segment of the population for a what is taken as a political point demonstrates the same hypocrisy of which he speaks.

Mary Ann Wenske

And even if this column is meant to be satire, it fails, because the author does what he accuses others of doing.

Mike Gomez

Just what I thought common there is no abortion on demand clause. You must have reading comprehension problems. Democrats support Roe v Wade in which Bill Clinton said the party wanted the personal decision should be between the woman and he doctor not the gove WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup's latest update on U.S. abortion attitudes finds 58% of Americans opposed to overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, while 32% are in favor. Since 1989, between 52% and 66% of U.S. adults have wanted to maintain the landmark abortion decision. Today's support roughly matches the average over that three-decade period.

rnment. Hence safe,legal and rare…Most Americans feel that way according to Gallup June 2021….”

Quincy Thompson

No Mike you have the comprehension issue. Free access to legal abortion is "abortion on demand"! I'm sorry that you can't admit that to yourself. Maybe there is something deep inside you that reminds you that for evert abortion a young developing human child is brutally murdered in what should be their safe space.

Mike Gomez

Rick,White Evangelicals are a known political wing of the GOP...Remember when they met in Texas to decide if they were going to except a Mormon in Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate they could endorse..Target? They put that bullseye out there on social media, so they are fair game. I’m glad this column is in the paper because it’s an opinion that I have been reading.

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