by Alan Cornett
Ann Coulter, she of blonde and bombast, posted a jaw-dropping column yesterday in which she called Dr. Kent Brantly, who is a real medical hero, “idiotic” for his decision to go to Africa to treat the needy. It was a choice that led to his (and nurse Nancy Writebol’s) infection with the deadly Ebola virus.
Brantly’s apparent idiocy, according to Coulter, has led to Samaritan’s Purse spending more than $2 million to bring him back. “Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did,” she writes, “has now been overwhelmed” by that tremendous financial cost. Because making a cost-benefit analysis of helping others is what the Biblical Good Samaritan is best known for.
“Why did Dr. Brantly have to go to Africa?” Coulter asks incredulously. Missionaries like Brantly “slink off to Third World countries…to do good works” when their real need is here in America, “the most consequential nation on Earth.” Brantly should have “served the needy in some deadbeat Texas town” instead of engaging in “Christian narcissism.” This is the Coulter worldview.
I know there are some, many, in fact, who in essence agree with Coulter. I have spoken with Christians who think just this way. We have enough work to do here, why go somewhere else?
But Coulter has presented us with a false choice. For us to complain that Dr. Brantly should have stayed here to do his work is, 1) to presume that we have any right to control what Dr. Brantly should do (I thought that was one of the fears of Obamacare, that doctors would be told where to work), and 2) that Dr. Brantly is the only doctor who can do volunteer and charity work.
I have made ten trips to foreign countries doing missionary work (in a teaching, not a medical, role). I have good friends who have traveled to Sierra Leone where Ebola is now spreading. And I know people who know Dr. Brantly. I understand why people decide to “go.”
When someone decides to go to a foreign field to do needed work, they are not the only ones who are capable of a certain role. Dr. Brantly is not the only doctor from Texas. There are doctors in Texas who have no desire, or ability, to go to Africa like Dr. Brantly did. That’s perfectly fine. But they don’t have to wait for Dr. Brantly to get well, decide to abandon Africa, and return to Ann Coulter’s deadbeat Texas town. No, they could go do that work themselves right now.
There are always more who stay than those who go. To criticize those who go for not staying is to make the false assumption that all our resources are currently being utilized to their fullest capacity. It is to assume that the missionary who goes does not leave behind scores—hundreds—of others perfectly capable of doing the same work here.
Paul of Tarsus spent a couple of decades traveling from city to city in the eastern Roman Empire preaching the gospel. Barnabas found Paul (still Saul at the time) in his hometown of Tarsus, but convinced him to leave to come to Antioch to help out. That began Paul’s journey far afield, a journey that would lead to him being stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and eventually martyred. Couldn’t Paul have stayed in the deadbeat town of Tarsus and just preached there? Was Paul an idiot to leave, just a Christian narcissist?
Philip the Evangelist spent some early time “going,” traveling to Samaria, encountering the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza (dangerous places, eh?). But Philip ended up in Caesarea where the account of Acts leaves him. Paul comes through Caesarea in Acts 21 where he stays with Philip, who apparently has been there all this time, probably for twenty years. Philip had decided to “stay.” We have no record of his work, but no doubt he had been busy doing what needed to be done in the deadbeat town of Caesarea.
Neither path was wrong, both Paul’s and Philip’s work were needed. As the body has many parts, and each with its own role, so we do not need to judge the one who goes nor the one who stays.
Sadly, those who often criticize those who choose to go, as Dr. Brantly went, are those who are really afraid that with those workers gone, they themselves might be expected to step into the gap.
So when Ann Coulter criticizes Dr. Brantly, is it because she laments the loss of his help in serving others, or is it because with him gone, she might be afraid someone will expect she do it herself? Ann, there’s a deadbeat Texas town just waiting for you.
Alan Cornett is a former assistant to Russell Kirk. He blogs at PinstripePulpit.com. You can follow him @alancornett. He writes from Lexington, Kentucky.