The day we learned of the two American aid workers stricken with Ebola in Liberia, I started hearing from talk show listeners with a variety of views. Here in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, there was particular attention to the Fort Worth church community of Dr. Kent Brantly, who has earned appropriate praise for his selflessness in traveling across an ocean to care for people in a cauldron of poverty no American has ever experienced.
His colleague, Nancy Writebol, is no less honorable for her devotion to the cause. But as the story broke, a common sentiment began to attach itself to our prayerful good wishes.
In a sentence: They’d better not be brought back to America. But days later, they were on separate planes to Emory University in Atlanta.
I asked callers whether their concern was based on a fear of a mishap at Emory resulting in additional infection, or based on mistrust of all the people telling us on TV that there is nothing to worry about.
The answer was both. A lot of both. So I looked in the mirror and weighed my own reaction. I want the best treatment possible for these Americans who gave so much of themselves, but I cannot grow dismissive about my other countrymen put at risk by the decision to fly them back.
Do I expect a mishap? No. Do I have active mistrust of officials and TV experts so determined to comfort me that they suggest I’m kind of a moron if I worry at all? Yes, that’s a problem.
Remember, we have a government and no small number of medical voices who have told us that countless spottily-immunized border kids pose no health risk once inside our nation. Not so long ago, we had armies of people with medical degrees twisting our arms to believe AIDS was an equal risk to gays and straights. Today, we can find countless people with lab coats and degrees who will tell us they know beyond doubt that human productivity has changed the temperature of the planet. Don’t tell me medicine and science are not corruptible.
But with no specific agenda I can firmly detect to poison the testimony of the majority of experts, I am stopping short of suggesting the return of these Americans was demonstrably reckless. But it is not my favorite thing.
An Atlanta surgeon interviewed by ABC said the Ebola patients need two things— top doctors and cutting-edge technology, both of which are portable to Liberia. This does not sound unreasonable. So I brought to the radio my moderate approval of the Ebola patients’ return, tempered by the hope that nothing goes wrong and the ever-present concern that maybe somewhere people are not being wholly honest.
Do we know with certainty that body fluid contact is the only method of Ebola transmission? Pardon me, but the two people we now pray for are from the community that should have known the most about how not to get it.
For this mixture of sentiments, one of my best friends called me un-American.
I love Mike Gallagher. First as a listener, then a friend, and now a Salem Communications colleague, he is a blessing in my life every day— and a segment on my show every day as he joins me to promote his plans for his slot that follows mine. Mike believes the only acceptable feeling for an American— and a Christian, by the way— is unmitigated acceptance of Kent and Nancy’s return. He finds it unseemly at best and cruelly harsh at worst for any of us to balk at their reintroduction into the American environment.
He made a point to tell me, “I’m not saying you ARE un-American… it just sounds that way.” This led me to text him afterward: “I’m not saying you ARE dismissive about public health… it just sounds that way.”
Our conversations are proof of the sheer idiocy of any claim that conservative radio is a redundant echo chamber. Mike and I share the fabric of fundamental conservative values, but we are constantly finding nuances and stories and personalities to disagree about, and they are some of our favorite moments.
We found ourselves in harmony on Thursday, however, as our mutual friend Ann Coulter upped the stakes for Ebola indignation. Ann, in her inimitable style, found a way to make strong and valid points— and then turn it up to eleven with an outright attack on Dr. Brantly for going to Liberia in the first place.
Her thesis: our own nation has more than its share of needs ideally met by people of faith who do should try to heal our own citizens and our own twisted culture rather than wing off to “disease-ridden cesspools.” Citing the deep cost of returning him and his colleague to America, she mocks him for costing his charity far more than the value of anything he could have ever done in West Africa.
This calls for compartmentalization. Ann’s point that we do a crappy job of paying attention to our own rotting society is inarguable. But the moment she begins to hector and berate those who have followed a calling she does not share, I have to part company.
Here’s a crazy thought. I believe there is enough God, and enough Godliness, to fill the hearts and minds of all the people necessary to turn our nation around from its moral decline. And crazier still, there is enough God and enough Godliness to propel others to travel to remote suffering corners of the planet to save lives and save souls there as well.
These are not mutually exclusive goals. Ann is right to suggest that if we are going to care about Africa, we should care about the societal poison of Hollywood and the moral outrage of expansionist government. And my friend Mike Gallagher is not wrong to remind us that Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are our fellow Americans, and for many, fellow believers, who have a valid claim to their best shot at the best treatment available.
But I am not wrong in harboring certain concerns that their return features a disease we do not know everything about, being wrangled by skilled professionals who are human and thus subject to occasional mistakes.
As such, my intent moving forward is not to complain but to pray. For Kent, for Nancy, and for the people surrounding them seeking to make them well. My hope and expectation is that nothing will happen to make us regret their return, and my wish is for healing for them and safety for their caregivers.