YouTube restores John Piper’s ‘Coronavirus and Christ’ audiobook after ‘violation’ ban

A 3D-printed YouTube icon is seen in front of a displayed YouTube logo in this illustration taken on October 25, 2017.
A 3D-printed YouTube icon is seen in front of a displayed YouTube logo in this illustration taken on October 25, 2017. | REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

YouTube restored access to Reformed theologian John Piper’s audiobook Coronavirus and Christ on his Desiring God channel Monday after taking it down last week for "violating" the platform's community standards.

The audiobook was uploaded to YouTube and on April 8 but was subsequently taken down from the video-sharing website on May 15 without any explanation except a notification saying the video was "removed for violating community guidelines."  

Even though it had been removed on Piper’s channel, the video was still available on the Crossway Podcast YouTube channel here and archived online.

YouTube released a statement on April 28 announcing that in response to COVID-19, it had expanded its “fact check information panels” to the United States by up-ranking, down-ranking and demonetizing certain videos that mention the topic.

On April 7, YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan told Axios that the Google-owned platform had already “removed thousands of COVID-19 videos … for violating policies …”

“YouTube's policies [about the new coronavirus] are entirely focused on the content of a video and not who is doing the speaking,” Axios reported.

After being reinstated, Piper’s audiobook on the Desiring God YouTube channel jumped from over 187,000 views to more than 200,700 views as of Tuesday afternoon.

In the book, Piper, the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the founder of Desiring God, offers six biblical answers to the question: What is God doing through the coronavirus?

YouTube’s censorship of the audiobook followed a call by 22 military chaplains to “discipline” a senior army chaplain for sending nearly three-dozen other chaplains an email containing a copy of the e-book.

The 22 military chaplains, some of whom are from the LGBT community, had a problem with the book because it states that “some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions.”

Representing the 22, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which advocates for a strict separation of church and state within the U.S. military, urged Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to punish Senior Chaplain Col. Moon H. Kim. Kim is the command chaplain of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in South Korea, the largest U.S. military installation outside of the United States. 

The complainants, MRFF said, “do not subscribe to the ultra-conservative/Reformed/evangelical Christian theology of John Piper.”

In a section titled, “Examples of Specific Judgements on Specific Sins,” Piper wrote that one example “is the sin of homosexual intercourse,” citing Romans 1:27 in which the Apostle Paul states that “men committing shameless acts with men” received in themselves “the due penalty for their error.”

“That ‘due penalty’ is the painful effect ‘in themselves’ of their sin,” Piper wrote. “This ‘due penalty’ is just one example of the judgment of God that we see in Romans 1:18, where it says, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.’ Therefore, while not all suffering is a specific judgment for specific sins, some is.”

A copy of Kim’s email that contained the PDF sent to the chaplains was reviewed by The Christian Post. In the body of the email, Kim wrote to fellow chaplains that he wanted to share the short booklet with them.

“This book has helped me refocus my sacred calling to my savior Jesus Christ to finish strong,” Kim wrote. “Hopefully this small booklet would help you and your Soldiers, their Families and others who you serve.”

MRFF contends that the book was “clearly meant as a full-fledged [government] endorsement and validation of what the book espouses and proclaims.”

Reps. Doug Collins, R-Ga., Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., and 18 other Republican House members signed a joint letter asking the Pentagon to protect the religious liberty of service members from the demands of an “anti-religion” group.

Piper also responded to the issue in a 17-minute audio interview posted online.

“I think it would be fair to say that some of my views about what the Bible teaches, even rightly understood, the author of that letter hates. He hates what I think,” Piper said, referring to MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein. “‘They are,’ he says, ‘incendiary,’ ‘bigoted,’ ‘vulgar’ — not just because he misunderstands, but, in part, because he does understand, and that’s how he thinks and feels about some of what the Bible teaches.

“I consider all of those views to be true because they are what the Bible teaches, and therefore, they’re very valuable to know,” Piper stressed. “So I think it’s not just that he misunderstands, but that he gets some things right in those quotes, and he just doesn’t like them.”

Piper said there are three areas where Weinstein seems to misrepresent his stance in either the letter to Esper or an earlier interview with CP. “For example, when I say that ‘some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions,’ he assumes that I know who those people are, or at least what kind of people they are,” Piper said.

“But here’s what I write on page 72. ... The coronavirus is ... never a clear and simple punishment on any person. The most loving, spirit-filled Christian, whose sins are forgiven through Christ, may die of the coronavirus disease. But it is fitting that every one of us search our own heart to discern if our suffering is God’s judgment on the way we live.”

Follow Melissa Barnhart on Twitter: @MelBarnhart

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