(RNS) — A little more than a week ago, on Friday (Sept. 25), I got an all-clear from the White House telling me that I had been invited to cover the president’s arrival on Air Force One in my hometown of Atlanta. A few days later, I received a second notice that I could also be a part of Vice President Mike Pence’s press pool during his Wednesday (Sept. 30) visit to the city, as he joined a gathering of politicians and pastors convened by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.
For any journalist, covering the president and vice-president is an honor. But as a faith-based journalist, being allowed to cover both of the Atlanta visits, events usually reserved for mainstream media, was a thrill.
It was only later, when I heard of the president’s positive COVID test, that the honor turned into concern for my health.
I practiced social distancing and wore a mask when I joined the vice president’s press pool, but I was never told if any of the vice president’s staff, or anyone who was attending the Freedom and Faith event, had also attended the Rose Garden event for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. I had no idea whether anyone I’d be covering had come in close proximity to the president after he had contracted the virus.
When I later found out that several of the Freedom and Faith speakers had also been in the Rose Garden with the vice president and one of his staff members, I decided to take the COVID test. Though my risk of exposure is slim, I applied the “abundance of caution” principle on behalf of my family and friends.
As I waited to take the test, I wondered how a joyous moment of covering the vice president and the Freedom and Faith event had led to standing in line for a COVID test. A woman who was waiting with me said that she didn’t have insurance and wished that people would put others first.
That’s when the picture of the Rose Garden ceremony came to mind with its images of the evangelical elites sitting close together and not wearing masks. I began to ask myself, “Why didn’t the large majority of evangelical leaders in attendance, who themselves had just come from Franklin Graham’s 50,000-strong prayer march, decide to put others first?”
Why didn’t University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins and Liberty University acting President Jerry Prevo, as well as Graham, Robert Morris, and Jentezen Franklin, who also attended the Freedom and Faith rally, not put others first by wearing a mask?
Scientists and doctors have made it clear that wearing masks and social distancing do work to help reduce the spread of the virus. Were these evangelical leaders too impressed with the president’s power and being around the political and social elite to care about others?
The irony in this is that these men who came to see Judge Amy Coney Barrett be nominated for the Supreme Court support Judge Barrett precisely because of her pro-life stance. Yet they didn’t seem to care enough about the lives of the people on their homebound flights, nor the people with whom they would soon be leading in their churches and schools?
Look at the pictures of the Rose Garden that day and you’ll see faith leaders mingling in a crowd that not only fails to represent the diversity of this country, but also fails to acknowledge the national pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 200,000 men and women. They failed to put others first, one of the trademarks of following Christ.
The Rose Garden ceremony wasn’t the first time that Christ’s followers had gathered in a garden. The 12 disciples gathered in a garden with Jesus before he was crucified. During their time together, Jesus made it clear to the disciples that he was going to the cross to save the lost, which is the essence of putting others first. He would even sacrifice his own needs and desires.
I’m praying and rooting for the president to get healthy. I am also praying that these men, who sat in the middle of a coronavirus petri dish, would take the words of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians to heart: “No one should seek their own good,” the apostle wrote, “but the good of others.”
(Maina Mwaura is a writer and speaker. You can find more of his written work at mainaspeaks.com. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)