Over the years, I’ve seen wealthy megachurch pastors shaking change from cash-strapped parishioners, and I’ve beheld toothy evangelists emotionally manipulating crowds to coerce conversions. I’ve seen pious politicians cherry-pick the Holy Bible in order to snatch the moral high ground from their enemies across the aisle, and I’m no longer surprised when trolls I encounter on Twitter include a saccharine religious identifier like “Christ follower” in their profile. But I’d never predicted that I would witness prominent Christian leaders dismissing death.

A prominent church in Texas recently paid for a billboard to ask commuters: “Is the coronavirus a judgment from God?” But that’s not as bad as Ralph Drollinger, the Christian minister who leads a Bible study for members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, who answered the question in the affirmative. In a series of blog posts, he argued that the disease is “God’s consequential wrath on our nation,” warning that “whenever an individual or corporate group of individuals violate the inviolate precepts of God’s Word, he, she, they or the institution will suffer the respective consequences.” Robert Jeffress, another Christian minister close to Trump, echoed this idea by warning, “All natural disasters can ultimately be traced back to sin.” Their interpretation of recent events is not as uncommon as you might assume. One recent poll reports that some 44 percent of Americans say the pandemic is a “wake-up call” from God and “signs of coming judgment.”