In the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, bandits make short work of the traveler, but they are not cast as the wrongdoers of the story. Far more time is devoted to those who commit the “sin of inaction”: the Priest and the Levite who simply go about their business and ignore the dying man. They didn’t rob him. They didn’t harm him. But in choosing inaction, they are cast as the villains in one of history’s most famous morality tales.
The more power we have, the more sinful it is to ignore that opportunity to love our neighbors as ourselves, meaning that an elected official in the executive office does not have the luxury of inaction: The choice not to act on any given public threat is the choice to abdicate ethical responsibility.
COVID-19 is one of the greatest public health threats of our lifetime, and Alaska’s elected executives, through their minimalist approach, have effectively chosen inaction; they continue to hide their eyes from the ethical responsibility that history has presented them. Alaska’s COVID-19 rates are at record highs, more Alaskans are hospitalized with the coronavirus than ever, hospitals are at capacity and public health leaders are sounding all alarms.
Despite this clarion call for stronger, more direct action, Anchorage’s mayor said that he won’t impose any mandates or restrictions even if there are lines outside Anchorage’s hospital emergency rooms. Alaska’s governor has also chosen the sin of inaction, turning a deaf ear to hospitals and other leaders across the board begging him to reinstate the emergency declaration.
If Alaska’s hospitals were overwhelmed due to an earthquake or a tsunami, causing us to need outside help and turn away patients in need, both parties would unify in the call for action. Instead, our executives have politicized the vaccine, demonized the mask and ignored the science as they choose time and again to do the bare minimum, which is not what this moment demands of them.
The Hippocratic Oath warns against “therapeutic nihilism,” calling for the prevention of disease as the first option, “for prevention is preferable to cure.” The same doctors who look to that oath are begging us to follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, which recommend vaccines, masks and washing our hands. The mayor and the governor have instead chosen to follow the lead of Pontius Pilate: Inaction and washing their hands of all responsibility.
But we have the opportunity to help our city and our state by helping them to do the right thing: We can, and we must, contact our elected representatives to implore them to support mask mandates and an emergency declaration. Because in a democracy, everyone has the responsibility of taking action.
Rev. Elizabeth Schultz and Rev. Matt Schultz are Anchorage faith leaders; this commentary was co-written and endorsed by the steering committee of Christians for Equality.
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