Doug Wilson's confession of faith

Dear Pastor Wilson,

In today’s post, you state the following:

"We also believe that many of the churches across the nation that are imposing this requirement on their people are doing so because of their general feckless approach to everything. But we don’t believe that about Warhorn, and we don’t believe it about some of the churches in our own communion that have taken this same approach. We make a clear distinction between the two.

We have made this very point while encouraging individuals who have been banned from worship unless they have a mask. If your leaders have been otherwise faithful — clear on LGBTQ issues, not woke at all, faithful in their exposition of Scripture, etc. — do everything you can to work with them as dutiful members."

Yesterday, in your comment to Lindsey, you said the following:

“Lindsey, if the church is otherwise healthy, and the leaders are otherwise good men, I would try to work with them. This does not mean masking up in worship…”

So… are the members of a church where masks are mandated during worship supposed to submit to their elders in the question of wearing masks or not?

It seems to me that your answer is “no.” Which makes me think that the title of the Warhorn post is right: this is a confessional issue for you.

As the Warhorn article points out, you’ve consistently said that wearing a mask is statist idolatry. That’s what I was accused of today. Yet you don’t use the word “idolatry” once in this post, as if the question of whether or not mask mandates are statist idolatry is irrelevant to the question.

If a mask mandate is statist idolatry, then we are in serious error to require masks at our worship service. Not the kind of error that you can simply carve out an exception for.

But, if not, then parishioner at church x above should be exhorted to submit to his elders. Right?

Posted here: Warhorn, Moscow, and Binding Consciences | Blog & Mablog


Pastor Wilson’s response:

Lucas, by “work with,” I meant coming up with respectful counter-proposals that might address everyone’s concerns. E.g. “May we come fifteen minutes early and sit in the back of the balcony?” If they cannot come up with a solution, then it time to recognize that it is a choice between submitting and asking to be transferred.

On issues like this one, idolatry lurks in the motives and intentions, and so I would be wary of saying that “Murphy is an idolater.” I can’t see his heart. But when idolatry appears in such situations, it would be in the mandating, not in the masking.

Posted here: Warhorn, Moscow, and Binding Consciences | Blog & Mablog


With respect, I think your detailed appeal to the “facts on the ground” actually weakens all your other points.

If the issue, at root, has to do with authority and submission – whether we’re talking about the church “institution” (as headed by the elders) submitting to the civil magistrate, or the parishioner submitting to the elders – then isn’t your personal evaluation of the COVID data completely moot?

I mean, Mama don’t care if Junior has reservations about the sugar content of his applesauce. When Mama tells him to eat it, he’s going to eat it. Maybe I am looking at it too simply, but isn’t that ultimately where the discussion of authority has to end? It ends with the person in authority having the moral right to demand obedience to their instructions, regardless of whether or not the subordinate agrees with him, doesn’t it?

If your argument is that we should obey elders and civil magistrates by virtue of the fact that they possess authority, then I guess I don’t see why you even bother bringing your analysis of the COVID data into the discussion. Is it to say that if the data were different, you’d be defying the civil magistrates? If so, you seem to be contradicting yourself. Or did you only bring this data up specifically as it relates to interacting with Pastor Wilson?

Still chewing on all of this. Thanks.


Thanks for this. Our public health experts may end up being wrong about masks. But as of now they’re not so wrong that they should be blown off, especially if local rulers are calling for a mask mandate for indoor gatherings.

I get the impression that Moscow, ID is a unique situation. It seems like the officiousness of the officials is WAY out of proportion with the current status of COVID locally. I suspect that’s coloring all of their commentary.

Happily we’ve been able to meet outside all summer. So we’ve just been distancing w/o requiring masks. But the weather won’t hold out forever. As we’re finalizing our indoor plans I know the group that’s going to whine the most are my bros who love DW et al.


Engaging the virus problem without engaging the data is a needle you can’t thread.



Brother, got to say I don’t think the ‘facts’ section in this article is good. Wish I had more time to comment over the past few months, but a few points. Aside from needlessly stating the opposition in a way that frames them as idiots:

Objection 1: “But they count everybody who dies as a Covid death!”

…they only counted 65% of the unexpected deaths as Covid deaths.

By leaving it at this it might give the impression that covid deaths have been undercounted. But, as I’m sure you know, the reason for the non-covid unexpected deaths is that around one third (or more) of excess deaths are caused in various indirect ways by the lockdown itself rather than Covid (e.g. people with chest pains not going to hospital etc.). In the UK we have similar proportions of excess ‘non-covid deaths’ and until very recently, our criteria counted everyone who was ever diagnosed with Covid, who subsequently died (even if they had recovered from Covid) as a Covid death. Thus making it impossible, statistically, to ever recover from Covid. This national embarrassment was only recently corrected, revising our Covid death toll down by around 10%.

Then, even more importantly, there is still good reason to believe that co-morbidity is not adequately factored in. By looking at annual ‘excess deaths’ rather than ‘covid deaths’ it becomes apparent that many who died of Covid would soon have died anyway from other illnesses they already had. That’s why annual excess deaths are not particularly exceptional. This is crucial context that is missing from your analysis.

Objection 2: “But that other study said our ER’s would be overwhelmed and 1.2 million Americans would be dead even if we took extreme action immediately!”

No they didn’t. That’s a lie debunked back in March. Neil Ferguson’s Imperial study accurately predicted that, if we shut down, the peak would occur a few weeks later without overwhelming the country’s critical care capacity. It also accurately predicted the second spike of cases being much larger after we decreased our mitigation efforts.

In the UK, and as far as I can tell also in the US, there has not been a second spike of deaths even larger. ‘Cases’ are largely irrelevant unless you divide by number of tests (testing levels increased after lockdowns) and unless they issue in deaths. I’m afraid I must retract my implied support for Ferguson’s modelling that we previously discussed here. Aside from the fact that the range of deaths he gave was so wide as to be almost impossible to be wrong (20,000 to 500,000 for the UK) I think his model has proved to be wrong it 2 key respects. I will have to go read it again to confirm, but if I remember correctly:

  1. The paper argued that the only way to avoid run-away high death tolls was ‘supression’ (i.e. hard lockdown) and that ‘mitigation’ (soft lockdown) would still result in unacceptable deathtoll and overwhelming of hospitals. Well, Sweden have disproved this as they did not follow either. Listen to Ferguson being questioned on this point.
  2. His paper implies that the only solution avoiding these mega deathtolls is a vaccine, and thus that if you re-open without one, deaths will jtake-off again. Here we don’t need even need to turn to Sweden, as most countries re-opening has not caused this, despite no vaccine.

Objection 3: “But they were totally wrong about what would have happened if we took another course of action. There’s no way 2 million people would have died if we had just gone on with life as normal.”

That’s simply an opinion, and it is unverifiable.

Obviously that can be turned right round to say the same of those who claim ‘See, the lockdown worked!’. However, in addition to what I said above, we do have significant ‘live experiments’ to look to, namely what has been going on in countries that did not do Imperial-type lockdowns, like Sweden, yet clearly did not experience the magnitude of deaths expected. The original Imperial predictions were only for UK and US, so you need to scale the numbers on the Swedish population, as was done a couple of months ago by someone here:

Still, ask yourself this: Who do you trust more—the men paid to be experts in infectious diseases who accurately predicted what would happen in the course of action we took, or the men who can’t even admit that’s what happened, instead crowing about the models being wildly wrong?

But which experts? There are credible experts on both sides. And science is fraught with bias in politicised areas. One thing that has irked me somewhat in various Warhorn avenues is the pouring of scorn on men who try to assess the evidence themselves, rather than leaving our fate in the hands of the scientists, as Lord Sumption very well remarked. It is true we must be conscious of our abilities and training, but in this piece, are you guys not arrogating to yourself what is condemned in others? Despite being armchair experts yourselves, you have taken it upon yourselves to make an authoritative interpretation and pronouncement on the ‘FACTS’. I don’t begrudge you that, but please at least allow others the same liberty. And are you too not also in principle already going against the ‘experts’ by having (pre-emptively) chosen civil disobedience in your churches on the question of masks (for leaders) and singing (for all)?

Objection 4: “But it really is just like a severe flu season.”

No. It’s not… If we have any integrity, it is impossible to downplay this as a severe flu season.

Are we talking flu or flu/pneumonia here? In many European countries the numbers have actually corresponded to a mild flu season or less. Even in the UK, who I think have one of the (if not the) worst mortality stats in Europe, worse than the US, you only have to go back to 1999 to find the winter flu season giving more deaths:

When you ask the more relevant question, which is excess deaths rather than covid deaths, you get a truer picture of the scale of the situation. From the limited data I’ve seen from the US, a similar picture emerges as the UK. To respond that it was only because of the lockdown begs the question.

Objection 5: “But it wasn’t worth the economic cost, and people die from economic trouble, and they changed their tune on masks, and they are oppressing me.”

Only when you are able to acknowledge the basic facts that the models were right can we begin to reason about what we might well have done differently.

This stacks the debate in a way that must be rejected as it obscures the larger more important picture. The question of the response being wildly disproportionate to the malady should be front and centre. The burden of proof must be on those who wish to set fire to a valuable building (people’s livelihoods) to show that such measures are indeed needful. Don’t touch the match until you first show it to be so.

I offer these counter’s in the spirit of good debate. I wish I had more time to proof-read and sharpen the arguments, and know that some of my points could be made to be more directly applicable to yours. I know I focus a bit on the UK whereas you’re talking the US, but I think a lot of this is transferable, as our death toll is one of the worst.

For many months I’ve found this place one of the best to go to for a critical view on the covid situation:


Sure. But the problem being examined on the table right now is not ultimately a virus problem. It’s an authority problem. As in, who has the authority to do this and that when people’s thoughts on the virus problem and what to do about it are in conflict.


Not so sure brother. I’ve heard a number of people comment they will not go to the cinema now that masks are required, and will just do their shopping online. Could accelerate the death of the high street. Commentators have been making this point.


I have a very simple model that shows that it will be almost impossible for the US to emerge from this with fewer deaths from Covid as a percentage of US population than was suffered in the 1968 Hong Kong Flu, even if authorities are over counting Covid deaths by 10%. I think it’s likely that we will pass the 1957 Asian Flu also, but that’s not a done deal yet. I believe that would make Covid worse than any flu season in living memory. (We are still a LONG way off from 1918 Spanish Flu, thank God.)

As for “excess deaths,” I’m not sure how to count that. We have taken such drastic action on Covid that I don’t know how to compare this year to last year. Certainly every year is different, but this year has been unprecedented in my lifetime, and I’m no longer an old man. Would large percentages of the population staying home tend to increase excess deaths or decrease them? I don’t know what to hypothesize, there are good arguments on all sides.

In general, I agree that the facts section of the OP has some problems. I think the intent is “Moscow’s argument fails on its own merits,” but as we can see from many of the posts here, it’s possible to have lots of perspectives on the data and the tradeoffs, which I think tends to weaken the overall argument.

From my standpoint, it’s a question of authority. If the civil authorities have the authority to mandate masks, then Jesus’s followers should absolutely respect them by wearing those masks. (We should perhaps even respect them in this if they don’t have the authority. But if they do, it’s not even a question.) My income tax is a lot more skin off my nose than my mask, and I’m specifically commanded to pay that, so I do.


Not to discourage discussing the facts, but a brief search reveals criticism of Swiss Policy Research for spreading conspiracy and false claims. Whether that is true or not would take its own investigation.

I have been studying up on viruses and epidemiology since the pandemic began. I still find it fascinating despite COVID fatigue. Many claims are independently verifiable. You can make predictions that validate your theories. You can look at past claims and compare them to the present.

Part of the overall problem seems to be epistomological, another part is failure to learn from others’ mistakes.

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Yikes! You Keep Having Things to Say | Blog & Mablog. Pastor Wilson really does believe that the church has no authority over what goes on in the sanctuary. And not even over the sacraments, it sounds like. And he doesn’t think Communion requires community? Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but this sounds seriously weird, like the Roman Catholic practice of taking the bread to sick people to eat by themselves.

I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between the debate over COVID-19 and the debate over global warming, and my guess is that views on both are highly correlated. Commonalities between COVID-19 and global warming include the substantial possibility of serious harm to people (although not equally shared), the substantial cost of actions to prevent possible harm (again not equally shared), substantial uncertainty about the real risks, and the need to make a decision about what actions to take (or not) before the actual outcome is obvious. It’s very difficult to develop a response that obtains widespread social agreement under such circumstances, especially when the potential benefits and obvious costs are unequally shared from one person to another. So instead various factions shoehorn COVID-19 or global warming into their various narratives for what’s wrong with the world, and the debate devolves to symbol rather than fact.

For example, many hardcore small-government conservatives do not approach the global warming debate as a matter of getting the right balance in undertaking current actions that will be costly to prevent future dangers that are not completely certain. Instead, they view global warming to be nothing more than a hoax and scam put forth by the money-grubbing and power-hungry (Doug Wilson appears to be in this camp). But why abandon facts, however uncertain they may be, for conspiracy theory? My hypothesis is that global warming simply cannot fit into the worldview of the hardcore small-government conservative because if global warming were truly a problem, it would have no small-government solution. To engage in a fact-based debate (while taking uncertainty into account) over the right balance of policies to undertake regarding global warming would be to concede that small government is not the answer for everything.

Now COVID-19 comes along, in which it appears that people with little or no symptoms can sometimes widely spread the disease through the air. Engaging in a fact-based debate (while taking uncertainty into account) over the right balance between preventing death and not destroying people’s livelihoods would be to concede that the government has the authority to substantially limit conventional liberties during an epidemic. Instead, it’s easier to make COVID-19 into a story about fake news and power-grabs in which refusing to wear a mask becomes a vital symbol that one is fighting for God.


Thanks Henry, you wrote what I wanted to write :slight_smile:

About the SPR site: apparently they put up some wrong information and “conspiracy” stuff. (what’s that anyway? Btw almost no liberal sites got labelled “conspiracy site” ever), and I don’t know if one can trust them, but many links are to normal external sites, like bloomberg, arvix,, so I would recommend following the links and not taking the text at face value.

The thing with “facts” is that it is easy to leave out other “facts”. That is our main problem. On the conservative and on the liberal site. We are so bad with ambiguity, and our worldview kicks in to tries to resolve it one way or another.

I believe that the scientific method is not the only way to attain knowledge, and it has limits. These limits become more and more visible, especially when dealing with complexity.


Yeah, I’d say don’t be hoodwinked by the increasing amount of spurious ‘fact-checking’ websites. It’s becoming a boringly predictable response against places that question the narrative. Let’s focus on discussing the evidence on it’s own merits.


Yes indeed, Henry. Masks are less economically ruinous than lockdowns, but still lead to decreased output.

The other day I was out on a construction site and a framing contractor informed me that there have been massive shortages of lumber and other materials because whenever an employee at a lumber yard (or similar place) tests positive for Covid, the place is shut down for a period of time. Even though in many states (mostly the “red” states) lockdowns have mercifully ended, various government controls and central planning remain. Or just plain old fear, leading companies to impose hurtful measures upon themselves.

I realize that is only anecdotal evidence, not scientific evidence.

There has not been, and five months in there still has not been, a rational evaluation of the risks of the virus vs the risks of economic Depression and the unintended consequences of lockdowns. I would argue much of the rioting we have seen in major US cities is partially due to the fact that many people are anxious and uncertain, and wanted something to do besides be cooped up at home. I would not say the lockdowns caused the riots, but they helped to create a heated environment where riots became possible.

We will be living with the long term consequences of these policies for many years. God help us.


I would also recommend both of Alex Berenson’s booklets on Covid 19. You can buy them on Amazon for a low price. They can both be read in just a few hours.


I’ve greatly appreciated Berenson’s work on COVID19. He doesn’t fit neatly into either side of the debate, which is good for both I think.

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You’ve nailed it. I was sympathetic to Doug Wilson’s climate change skepticism because it is a threat that is nearly impossible to independently verify. Then the pandemic came around and it was like a veil was lifted from my eyes. I could see right though Wilson’s arguments. When presented with a clear and present threat there was no way out but through denial. Rather than making me more skeptical of the coronavirus threat, Wilson’s diatribes led me to question whether his climate change skepticism comes from a similar impulse to deny the existence of threats that can’t be mitigated on an individual basis. It has also caused me to question libertarianism which seems to lack a good solution to the tragedy of the commons.


What’s the concern level with masks in relation to the “safety-first”, risk-averse culture we currently live in? This has been a concern we’ve discussed during this entire COVID season. We live in a day where the more motherly ethic of security and safety is overly dominant. Isn’t masking and some of the other responses to COVID just more of this?

It’s been stated that in early March, when the reports out of China, Iran, and Italy were awful, the projections of deaths were terrifying, and we didn’t yet know what we were dealing with that being overly cautious was right and good. But, since then, since we’ve seen that this virus isn’t the plague it was thought to be, shouldn’t there be a concern for the effeminacy of risk-aversion and safety-first as the dominant ethic be part of this discussion? What’s the level of concern that masking (and other measures to try and mitigate the effects of the virus) are part of the overall cultural obsession with safety and protection and helicopter-parenting and nanny-stating?


Doing my own fact-checking on just one chart you shared, “Coronavirus in Sweden: Predictions vs. Reality”, I immediately found several issues. First, the Imperial College predictions did not even mention Sweden. The paper only examined US and UK. Second, the chart misleadingly simplifies the paper. There is no “Moderate-mitigation (no Lockdown) scenario” presented in the paper. Instead, they look at combinations of several mitigation strategies and their effect on peak ICU usage. Third, the paper does not make an estimate 25x too high. If I try to compare the closest prediction from the paper to Sweden’s response, I see the prediction wasn’t far off (I am looking at Figure 2–“case isolation, home quarantine and social distancing of those aged over 70”–a blue line). It predicted a peak utilization of 90 ICU beds per 100,000 population. I couldn’t find the actual figure but ICU beds were indeed insufficient. With a total of 58 deaths per 100,000 the blue line prediction seems not far off from the reality. Whether Sweden’s mitigations line up with the definitions in the paper is another matter subject to interpretation. But I can’t find support for the claims in the chart.

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