Pastor Toby Sumpter on COVID-19: an in-depth critique

Pastor Toby Sumpter on COVID-19: an in-depth critique

What follows is a list of articles and comments from Pastor Toby Sumpter about Coronavirus between March 1 and July 27, 2020. Interspersed is commentary by Josh Congrove, an elder from Trinity Reformed Church. In a similar vein, we’ve collected Pastor Wilson’s writings on this topic hereThese posts are long, so we have also provided a summary of their arguments (as of 09/01/2020) and the errors they contain. Our own writings are gathered here

Harvey Weinstein, COVID-19, and Democracy Now

March 19, 2020

We don’t really know the mortality rate. The mortality rate of confirmed cases is not a real mortality rate if many cases go unreported. We do not have a statistical base, a large random sample of the population, to project reasonable numbers from. Are most cases mild or severe? Are many cases mild enough to be mistaken for a bad cold or influenza? Do we know? The simple fact is that we do not know. In all likelihood we will know in the coming weeks and months and years, but until then, it cannot be said that we are acting upon facts. At best, we are acting based upon partial truths, but without the entire picture or a great deal more of the picture, we simply cannot know what it is we are dealing with. We are making decisions without reliable data. And in the absence of facts and truth, what we are left with is guesses and feelings. And both are notoriously biased.  

—One of only a few references I found to the limits of Moscow’s knowledge on COVID-19.

A Message on Plagues,

March 22, 2020

The prophecy of Joel is about a coming disaster in Israel, the hope of repentance and reformation, and the promise of international justice. We do not know the full nature of the hardship we are facing, but we know that it is from the Lord.

—One of only a few references I found to the limits of Moscow’s knowledge on COVID-19.

Tyranny Nannies and Christian Freedom,

May 5, 2020

We’ve just been given the 30 day trial version of this liberty mugging in the recent corona panic where the body count is not yet known for the Statist salvation foisted upon us. And I don’t mean the body count of the victims of the virus (which also seems somewhat elusive); I mean the body count of the victims of the State’s good intentions.… The state has been given the sword. Their job is to punish evildoers. They are not to provide care for the elderly. They are not to tell families how to be healthy or safe from viruses or how to run their businesses. When the state starts swinging its sword in the house, people always get hurt. 

We’re constantly hearing from Moscow that Christians should not apply Romans 13 woodenly, without a regard for the differing nature of our constitutional republic versus a monarchy or empire. Here, we have the Constitution as the chief ruler, and also have multiple levels of “rulers”, intended to prevent tyranny from arising. Checks and balances, and so forth. Ok, all well and good.

Yet the very same people making these claims are the ones constantly speaking of the governmental authorities as if they’re monolithic. The Statist threat. The “body count” from the “State’s good intentions” (thus Toby Sumpter). But which is it? If you acknowledge the reality of different levels of government, varied rulers, and so forth, then there isn’t one overarching State. By the same token, if there’s only the State on the one hand and God’s law on the other, then we’re in the Roman empire, and really are in a strict Romans 13 setup, and have no recourse for civil disobedience until we’re explicitly told to violate a command of God. But if we’re not, and we really do have lesser magistrates, we need to stop speaking of the masking regulations as if it’s one giant State coming to get us. It’s not the federal government that’s issuing masking mandates—it’s states!

In other words, how is it that masking has made defenders of federalism and states rights into such advocates for the 14th Amendment? #IrrationalArguments

Cheerfully Difficult

July 4, 2020

But they are not free to make up emergencies, they are not free to treat the healthy as if they are sick and infected, and they are not free to make up stupid solutions for make believe problems. There is no pandemic emergency for young and healthy Americans. And random pieces of fabric do absolutely nothing to prevent the spread of viruses. Regular fabric is to a virus what volley ball nets are to mosquitoes. And that means everybody is going around wearing something because it makes people feel better and does not a lick of good. Chances are also decent that these pieces of cloth actually encourage the spread of a lot more sickness and bacteria. Just watch everyone touching their masks everywhere they go. Think of that as a little Petri dish growing exotic colored mold fuzz. Now breathe deeply. Mmmmm.

—This post is breathtaking in its bombast. One wonders why any experts should be consulted at all, when one could simply listen to this pronouncement of how little masks do. #NoExpertise #Masks

Apart from legitimate science-based use of medical face masks in, you know, actual medical scenarios, the current random-piece-of-fabric-face-mask frenzy is nothing less than virtue signaling submission to the Statist gods. Matt Williams has called them Marxist Burqas, and that seems about right. They are symbols of submission to the high priests who just a few minutes ago were praising the looters burning down Target because of “systemic racism.” They were praising the antifa riots and protests mixing thousands of people in close quarters for their courage and virtue. By what standard? The standard is revolution and statism.

—Frankly, these statements are logically unglued. There’s no rationality or logic whatsoever in a statement like “They are symbols of submission to the high priests who … were praising the looters burning down Target.” If words matter, as he says they do, then so does logic beyond words. And there’s none of that here. Forget a = b and b = c implying a = c; here, it seems to be “masks = submission to high priests”, “high priests = people who ordered masks”,  “people who ordered masks = people praising looters”, “people praising looters = high priests”, and therefore a = g, despite the fact that b, c, d, e, and f have no equality whatsoever. It’s a rhetorical statement with no substance. #IrrationalArguments #Masks

If your church cancels worship or complies with that wicked decree, you need to find a new church. The state does not have the authority to make up fake emergencies to limit Christian worship.

—This is likely the nadir of Pastor Sumpter’s statements. Even if we agree that a church need not comply with a “wicked decree” (like the California one he’s referencing here), who are we to say that this is damnable for that church? There may be many local contextual reasons why the church did what they did. And even if not, how does authority lie with Pastor Sumpter not knowing any particularities to call a man to leave a church because of its local judgment on such an order? #ChurchAuthority #Masks

The statist idols are all deaf, dumb, and blind. They have mandated worthless pieces of fabric be worn on your face. That is their current sacrament, but that feeling you’re getting isn’t Christian peace.

—Pastor Sumpter may say that he was only referring to the masks being a sacrament vis a vis how the “idolatrous rulers” (whoever those may be) see them, and that he’s not including Christian rulers (magistrates or sessions) in that category. But it’s left unsaid, and it’d be more than natural to infer that he thinks anyone wearing masks in church is wearing a sacrament of idolatry on their face. What else can it mean when he shifts pronouns from “their” to “your”, if not that you as a worshipper are participating in a sacramental act by wearing a mask, one that gives you “a feeling” of peace that’s not real? If it gives a feeling, isn’t it sacramental? And if so, aren’t you participating in an idolatrous practice? #Masks #IrrationalArguments #ChurchAuthority

If this is not what he means, he should retract this statement, or vastly clarify it.

Titanic at the Bottom of the Atlantic,

July 9, 2020

Let it be utterly clear: I do not object to civil leaders actually protecting the public from dangerous diseases.… This is why, despite our doubts and suspicions about the true nature of the “crisis” and our disagreements with a universal quarantine and identification of pastoral ministry and churches and Christian worship as “non-essential,” I and my church happily submitted to the shut down orders in the beginning…

But in the months that have followed it has become clear that this is manifestly not a health crisis on a magnitude that merits the universal mandates and shut down orders. We recently jumped from 7 to 14 cases in my county and zero deaths, with maybe one or two hospitalizations. And this is what my mayor and city council called a “spike” in new cases, instigating a universal mask emergency order. Heh. What is this? What is this really? The mask mandate is the requirement for God-fearing, law abiding citizens to join the revolution. It is a mandate that Christians wear the uniform of the mob. That is what I refuse to do and what I urge all thoughtful conservative Christians to do.…

—“Uniform of the mob”? Seriously? I mean, has Pastor Sumpter never worn a mask for Halloween? (Personally, I never have, but the evidence shows that Moscow has little problem with wearing masks then.) #IrrationalArguments #Masks

It’s no accident that apart from true medical masks used in medical situations (which turns out has even been questioned by numerous studies), but [sic.]the iconic use of face masks has been by criminals and bandits. The mob driving this political stunt is run by criminals and bandits.

—Here, Pastor Sumpter leaves room for use of masks in medical situations. But it’s clear from this statement as well as the others he’s made that this is a very small subset. He’s speaking of uses in medical institutions, or, if we’re being charitable in our interpretation of his words, by those who have significant medical conditions. His citing (as recently on FB of this exception as if it’s magnanimous to churches who differ, or carves out room for faithful elders requiring masks, is disingenuous. That’s not what’s he’s saying.

TOM SAWYER, MASK MANDATES, AND MOBS

July 27, 2020

But to be completely clear, I have no qualms with people who work in medical facilities or professions or have medical conditions or doctors’ recommendations or are otherwise immune compromised or elderly or have freely chosen to wear face masks for reasons completely of their own. I consider this a Romans 14 matter: let every man be convinced in his own mind. Our Senior Minister Douglas Wilson has emphasized this in particular to our congregation, underlining the fact that people are free to attend our worship services with or without face masks, no questions asked, no judging, period. Full stop. 

—Again, note the exception he carves out does nothing for showing charity and respect for elders’ decisions. It’s about hospitals or individuals with medical difficulties. #ChurchAuthority #Masks

In other words, my Tom Sawyer advice is actually in favor of and fully consistent with those who want the freedom to wear masks. It is not any kind of protest against any kind of free choice. It is only a protest against people putting a gun to my head. Underline that two times.

—This is bizarre reasoning. One does not argue for freedom to wear masks by disobeying requirements to wear them. Can you imagine that argument applied to marriages? My husband told me to clean the table, but because I’m convinced it’s not effective, I’m supporting the right of people to clean the table by not cleaning the table. Absurd. #IrrationalArguments #Masks

It really is hard to keep your eye on all of the balls, but the same people who are insisting on mask mandates and that churches be closed or heavily restricted under threat of misdemeanors, fines, and in some places even prison time because the coronavirus might kill millions are the exact same people applauding the riots in Portland and Seattle and mass protests in other cities all over the country. 

—Another hopelessly huge argument. “The same people”? Who are they? Yes, some people arguing are “the same” (e.g., the Democratic party). But it’s not that simple. Note that those who are disobeying mask orders are often those most in favor of woke mobs, i.e., the young people. So the argument really falters here. #IrrationalArguments #Masks

So follow me closely here: the mask mandates – while no doubt championed by some true believers – are driven by the same mobs. I said this before, but it bears saying again, apart from the scenarios outlined above, the masks are the uniform of the mob. The reason I refuse to go quietly into that good night is because I’m not a revolutionary. I refuse to join the mob. The mask mandates are the precursor to the mob mandates.

—Another outlandish statement, that mask mandates are driven by mobs. Surely, that’s why governors like Holcomb, DeWine, etc., are in favor, because they’re servants of the mobs, right? Laughable. And what to say about “Masks are the uniform of the mob”? The masks people wear bear no resemblance to mob masks. One might just as well say that “masks are the uniform” of skiers. #IrrationalArguments #Masks

First, as I mentioned in the Facebook post, I think this is what Jesus would do were He here. He ran roughshod over the supercilious rules of the Pharisees, intentionally ignoring them, transgressing them, and mocking them.

—This is vast and misleading overstatement. In point of fact, Christ actually didn’t transgress many of the Pharisees’ rules. Indeed, the only rules He transgressed were those that went against God’s original law (notably, on the issue of the Sabbath). On the contrary, our Lord actually told his disciples to do all that the scribes and Pharisees said (Matthew 23:3).

And, more to the point, our Lord didn’t disobey the civil magistrates’ ordinances—to the disappointment of many of his disciples.  #IrrationalArguments #RailingAgainstTheMagistrate

Comment from Toby Sumpter on Doug Wilson’s Post Titled Warhorn, Moscow, and Binding Consciences

August 19, 2020

Lucas, regarding the charge of “statist idolatry,” the analogy I’ve used a number of times in this conversation is the meat offered to idols ala 1 Cor. 8. The mask in itself is nothing, just as the state is not really a god at all, but we have an entire culture mandating the masks in the name of the State-Our-Savior. So, the widespread submission to that false god by wearing his badge *in solidarity with that claim* seems to me to be clearly an act of statist idolatry.

—Another huge, impossible-to-prove set of statements from Pastor Sumpter. “An entire culture mandating the masks in the name of State-Our-Savior”? Show we where the entire culture is doing so. First of all, how does a culture mandate anything? A culture is not an authority in itself; the rulers in the midst of a culture are. Second, in fact, I see large parts of the culture not acquiescing to any mandate (e.g., young people not masking up…).  So how is it “an entire culture” even submitting to the mandate, let alone mandating it? Third, where is the culture doing it in the name of “State-Our-Savior”? This is inference piled on inference to make a rhetorical point that has no substance.

And what to say about “submission to the false god by wearing his badge…”? Prove that a mask is a badge of submission to the authority. It’s just silly.

FB comment on Tim Bayly’s post of August 24, 2020:

I commend 1 Corinthians 10 to you as a case study in some of these themes. Paul says in one breath that the sacrifices to idols are both nothing and communion with demons and that a man may eat meat sacrificed to idols without asking questions but should refrain if he is told it was sacrificed to idols. What space is left by Paul’s claim that eating pagan sacrifices is communion with demons? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot, if approached with wisdom and love. Blessings,

—Pastor Sumpter repeats the 1 Cor. 10 argument he’s mentioned elsewhere. But there are hosts of problems with this analogy. First, of course, there’s the fact that the Scriptural example clearly involves idolatry, and the mask issue does not. Pastor Sumpter has never established that wearing of masks, or even mandating of masks, is akin to eating meat sacrificed, nor akin to idolatry of any sort, or statism of any sort.

Beyond that, even granting this “argument”, such as it is, the Apostle in fact never said that eating meat offered to idols is “communion with demons”. He says, rather, that he doesn’t want his readers to have fellowship with demons; in my opinion, he’s raising this as a potential objection someone could raise about eating such meat, an objection he then proceeds to eliminate by saying an idol is nothing. The reason not to eat has to do with not offending the one who has an objection, not because it’s communion with demons.

Third, the command not to eat the meat “for conscience sake” is not about the eater’s conscience, but the man who told him (1 Cor. 10:29). Yet we keep hearing from Pastors Sumpter and Wilson that it’s the individual’s conscience that’s at stake when he doesn’t want to wear a mask, and so we shouldn’t “bind that conscience.” But that’s not what the Apostle is addressing here.

So, even assuming this applies to our situation, the central lesson to be taken from it is opposite from what Pastor Sumpter is making. Namely, the point is that our overall tilt should be to eat the meat, or to wear the mask.  It’s breathtaking Pastor Sumpter would try to turn this application around. Instead, it seems Pastor Sumpter wishes to take upon himself the role of a conscience-bound “weaker brother”, advising us that “wearing a mask is idolatry”, and then to impose that conscience upon not only his own church, but churches at large, not even knowing their composition. #IrrationalArguments #Masks #ChurchAuthority


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About The Author

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Josh Congrove is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church. He holds the PhD in Classics (Indiana University) and recently wrote a bio of St. Augustine (soon to be released). He loves language, rare conifers, his wife, and their four children—not in that order.

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