As we move into the sixth year (well, it feels at least that long) of this COVID-19 pandemic, a few things are becoming clearer. One, as this Christianity Today piece observes, our "neighbor" is not just the person next door but also people several continents away.
But even that thought is complicated. As Andy Olsen, the publication's managing editor, writes, "In our globally connected age, humans — and Christians in particular — have flaunted our ability to stretch the definition of 'neighbor' as far as an internet connection or a Boeing 787 will carry it. One takeaway of the COVID-19 crisis so far is that our boasting rings hollow. We clearly still react most strongly to events in our own backyard, and it’s very possible the pandemic will push the world inward to a new, self-centric era."
If people half a world away really are to be thought of as our neighbors, let's consider what is happening to them, compared with what is happening to many of us in the U.S. Here's what Olsen writes:
"If the COVID-19 pandemic has hammered wealthy nations, it’s arriving in many poorer ones like a demolition crew. Foreign investment is fleeing, revenue from oil and tourism has vaporized and unemployment has risen to perilous levels. All this in places where most people have little or no savings to cushion their fall. Days before Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, ordered his 210 million countrymen into their homes, he lamented that it would 'save them from corona at one end, but they will die from hunger on the other side.'”
Are people of faith in America, in response, to rush to the side of the people of Pakistan? Or India? Or Namibia? And if we don't, does that somehow condemn us as hard-hearted people with no moral center?
Hardly. Rather, it means we should do what we can to alleviate the situation closest at hand and then turn our attention beyond our walls in whatever way we can.
As Olsen notes, "In a firestorm, it’s only human, even prudent, to worry about your own house and your next-door neighbor’s house. But the lesson of pandemics in a globalized era is that there are no clear boundaries between neighborhoods; flames don’t just jump streets, they jump continents."
The point is that our minds and hearts should recognize our context, both immediate and global. We need to think of both even if we can do nothing immediate to assist people in Africa, Australia, South America. . .
* * *
THE PANDEMIC PRESSURES BLACK CLERGY
It's been quite well documented that a disproportionate percentage of African-Americans have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And pastors of black churches are working at top speed day after day to help their congregants deal with this, as this RNS story reports. Among other developments, the story notes, "The Church of God in Christ, another historic black denomination, has reportedly lost close to a dozen of its bishops and other leaders to COVID-19, including Bishop Phillip Aquilla Brooks II, who was the Michigan-based first assistant presiding bishop." Sigh.
* * *
P.S.: Earlier this week here on the blog, I connected readers to a story describing how the virus pandemic has been a boon for the ISIS terrorist group. But there's something of a flipside to that story, too, and you can read about it here. It turns out that in various places Islamophobia has blossomed because of this pandemic. As the author of the story notes, ". . .a pandemic of global and historic proportions, a novel coronavirus that is infecting people in almost every country and territory on Earth, has been weaponized by the far right to attack … Islam and Muslims. . ." Hatred clearly knows no bounds.