(Reverend Mark Creech is director of the Christian Action League of NC. He was a pastor for 20 years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.)
In the 1980s, I made three trips to India as a short term missionary. During one of these trips, I spoke at a leper colony where people were separated from their families and ostracized by society. Their plight in life was extremely sad.
Dr. Paul Brand coauthored with Philip Yancey the book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image. Brand served in India as a medical missionary and a specialist in the disease of leprosy.
One day, Brand was examining a leper’s hand and was trying to explain to him that he could stop the disease’s progression and even restore some movement in it. But Brand didn’t speak the man’s language so well. When he noticed the leper started weeping with muffled sobs, he thought he might have said something wrong. Instead, Brand’s assistant told him the leper was crying because he had put his hand on his shoulder, something the leper hadn’t experienced from anyone for many years.
Brand told Philip Yancey, “Leprosy is a devastatingly lonely disease. In many countries, victims are still kicked out of their homes, rejected by the community, and sometimes forced to live outdoors…” This is consistent with what I witnessed in India.
In the first four verses of chapter 8 in Matthew’s Gospel, there is a story about a man with leprosy who met Jesus along the way. The leper had heard Jesus could heal, and so he said to him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus then reached out his hand and touched the man, answering, “I am willing, be healed.” And the man was healed immediately.
Note the text says that Christ touched the man, something others had been unwilling to do. Christ’s touch rejected the societal rules of his day that strictly forbade touching someone believed to be leprous. Our Lord knew that even more significant than the prospect of catching the sickness, or being tagged with its negative social stigma, was the man’s need to experience human touch, to feel the love of another, to not only be healed physically but to be healed of isolation, alienation, and loneliness of the soul.
If the current pandemic has shown us anything, it’s shown us the importance of human touch – a simple handshake that demonstrates trust and solidarity – a kiss or an embrace, which is a validation of love and warmth. Until the coronavirus crisis and the call for social distancing, we often took these expressions of caring for granted, but not so much now. We’ve realized that bumping fists or elbows while wearing masks is just not the same.
During the 1990s in Romania, thousands of unwanted children were raised in crowded orphanages and deprived of human touch and affections. Researchers said that consequently, the children suffered “blank facial expressions and were socially withdrawn.” They were mentally deficient, delayed in their abilities to talk, and didn’t smile. According to the researchers, in this case, it wasn’t that they didn’t get any human touch; it was that they didn’t get enough.
Scientists tell us that being touched triggers the neurotransmitter serotonin, a lack of which has been linked to depression and other psychological disorders. In other words, touch helps keep people healthy, and a lack of it can make people ill.
I realize my argument is somewhat debatable. Still, it deserves attention. I have concerns about how the current health and safety protocols imposed during the pandemic – the lockdowns – the social distancing – are possibly doing more harm than the coronavirus itself. Showing and receiving affection, whether we’re adults or children, is no small matter. It’s not a non-essential, and we must resume normalcy as soon as possible, even if the virus is still with us.
I was glad to read that Governor Cuomo of New York seems to be changing his mind about lockdowns. He recently said during a press conference:
“We are looking at months of shutdowns and the economic, mental, and spiritual hardships they bring. We need to act now. If we don’t, dining will remain at levels too low for restaurants to survive; offices will remain empty, hurting the service business that depends on those office workers, theaters and sports venues will sit empty, people will remain out of work, with all the psychological traumas that entail.”
Cuomo is right. That’s what you get when you create a leper-type society in response to a disease in which 99% of the people who contract it recover. Our nation’s response has been over the top. The number of deaths from COVID 19 is undoubtedly painful. However, if the current policies continue, the fall-out in the long-run, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually will likely be even more devastating.
Let me conclude with this solemn statement from Jeffrey Tucker in his book, Liberty or Lockdown. Tucker writes:
“Our times have reminded us that being called diseased is like other forms of social division that drive people apart and make them more dependent on power. It leads people to fear, hate, and separate. Jesus too not only addressed that topic; he lived it…He dealt with it with compassion, moral courage, and patience. May we all live and learn.”
To President-Elect Joe Biden and Governor’s across the country: Please, no more lockdowns. No more leper-type policies that alienate and isolate, and make for a leper-type society. It hasn’t worked and it won’t. In fact, it just makes matters worse in a thousand ways. Life must resume.