Let us forgive Sam Oosterhoff for committing the cardinal sin of hypocrisy. Seriously.
He has been unmasked — huddling alongside 40 people without face coverings, in defiance of his own government’s guidelines. A revelation on social media for all to see — a politician of faith losing face on Facebook, until he deleted his photo-op.
The moral of the story? Do unto others, and breathe unto others, as you would have them breathe unto you.
Behold, he has apologized: “I should have worn a mask when we took a quick pic, given the proximity of everyone, and I apologize for failing to do so.”
Oosterhoff is not the first public figure guilty of a breach of faith, nor will he be the last to stray from the true path. Many federal politicians more famous than he — from Andrew Scheer to Patti Hajdu — have revealed themselves as two-faced, exposing their faces in public places while exhorting all others to mask themselves.
Premier Doug Ford has forgiven him his sins. But before this episode is forgotten, Oosterhoff has an opportunity to atone — by making amends.
While his faith warns of the Antichrist, Oosterhoff can be the antibody who inoculates everybody — the embodiment of an antiviral, a proselytizer in a pandemic, a preacher for true believers, a role model for fellow travellers in the Progressive Conservative movement.
We worry about all those who worship the false idols of immunity and immortality, so who better than the moralizing Oosterhoff — always avowedly pro-life — to take a vow of fidelity to save lives in mid-pandemic? Surely that is the moral of the story here.
First elected as an MPP in 2016 at the tender age of 19, thanks to the embrace of the Canadian Reformed Church flock in his Niagara riding, he has long worn his faith on his sleeve and put his heart and soul into his politics. Forever chaste, belatedly chastened, he has now seen the light.
Henceforth, Oosterhoff shall go forth and disseminate the public health mission of saving people from themselves, shielding them from the evil of the virus, the sin of temptation and the folly of defiance in the time of COVID-19. On this matter of life and death, Oosterhoff could be a true servant of the Lord, not just Ford.
As a man of faith, who better to make the case to his fellow worshippers to pray at home, not in a house of worship?
With COVID-19 cases rising inexorably, the danger is growing in places where people congregate. That’s why you hear public health officials fretting about “congregate care” in nursing homes, but houses of worship are also places of congregate caring.
That’s why they’re called congregations. After all, fellowship is part of worship in the best of times.
But the worst of times are no ordinary times. Gyms and restaurants are facing new restrictions, called upon to make enormous economic sacrifices to keep people apart.
It’s worth asking why churches and synagogues, temples and gurdwaras, are still allowing people to make sacrifices of themselves in the middle of a plague. Yes, many religious leaders insist they are faithfully following the path of social distancing, but at a time of heightened anxiety, when public health officials are demanding maximum restraint — asking people to avoid work and stay at home — why risk the peril of prayer in public places?
If people can stay connected to their friends and officemates remotely via the new technology of Zoom, why not stay connected to God through the timeless miracle of remote prayer? Why risk infecting others by inflicting themselves on a house of worship, rather than worshipping from home via Wi-Fi?
Faith demands sacrifices, but surely the life of no human being is worth sacrificing to a supreme being. Church choirs have agreed to stand down and go silent, so that we might all sing from the same song book rather than spread the devil’s virus, but why are all other congregants free to gather up close and in person?
There has been enormous hand-wringing about restrictive rules for restaurants, but the clasping of hands in public prayer stirs little discussion in Canada. Across the U.S., religious groups have pushed back — litigating and congregating in large numbers against governing authorities that try to restrain or constrain the supposedly inalienable rights of evangelical Christians or ultra-Orthodox Jews — but as the COVID-19 caseload increases, the time for long-distance praying is surely drawing closer.
That’s the discussion that people of faith, and politicians of faith, must have. There is no better time than now, after the public folly of Oosterhoff’s Facebook photo-op.
We now know that masks save lives — not just for the wearer but for others in the vicinity. But we also know — now more than ever — that keeping our distance keeps us that much safer.
In mid-pandemic, no life is worth risking on a wing or a prayer.
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