Guardians of hope, health and good theology (blog)
The word is out.
COVID-19 is God’s global hammer against sin – and only those who maintain purity of faith will be spared.
In one place, the ‘evils of homosexuality’ are to blame; in another it’s women in ministry, globalisation or loss of family values. On Facebook, people boast of relying on the ‘protective Blood of the Saviour’ rather than sanitiser; in the US, Kenneth Copeland has attempted to “blow” COVID-19 away with the wind of God, an anti-lockdown protest rallies around the slogan “Jesus is my vaccine”; and in New Zealand a pastor is quoted as calling his congregation to continue to gather because “I’m not about to let a filthy virus scare me out of worship.”
You might shrug off such examples as fringe territory, but the temptation to fall back on the truism of ‘faith alone’ doesn’t only loiter at the edges. And as part of the scrutiny of ideas spawned by COVID-19, we have the chance to ask ourselves anew: how do we live out the heart of authentic faith?
“The simplistic option during a crisis like this one is to turn to religion and prayer as the only solution,” says Rev James Bhagwan, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches. “That’s not only problematic, it’s risky and reckless. Yes, Christians are saved through the gospel of God’s grace. However, this salvation does not mean we escape physical corruption, futility, and death.”
That reality has seldom been more evident among the poorest on our planet, where the arm of this disease is longest and its grip most devastating.
Half a billion people – or more – confront the prospect of being tipped back into poverty as the economic fallout from COVID-19 bites hard. Alongside the terror of the virus itself lurks hunger and loss of hope. For decades our international church partners have poured heart and soul into communities fighting poverty across Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. Now they face their greatest challenge in a generation.
Some struggle personally with lockdowns, unreliable electricity or lack of clean water. But each, with the support of Uniting Church communities through UnitingWorld, has immediately turned their efforts toward meeting urgent needs.
Critically, it’s not just health and hunger that weigh on their minds. Worldwide, in a context where 84% of the population identify with a religious group, the pandemic is seeding big questions – where is God? Who is to blame? What of faith? What of fear?
Rev Bhagwan, like others across the Pacific, Asia and Africa, is helping communities hold and heal together. As people wrestle with sovereignty and suffering, our partners are coming out strong to emphasise the interconnectedness of faith, prayer, science and human responsibility in tackling the virus from all angles.
“We’re called to join our hearts in solidarity with each other, to mourn with those who mourn, to share peace with those who are anxious,” says Rev Bhagwan.
“In many of our regions and across the planet, access to clean water and soap, shelter for protection, and other basic services are a real challenge. Our role is to provide hope and manifest the love of God in practical ways.”
In places where the need is overwhelming, our partners are holding faith, resilience and action together – and that’s a beacon. But their example goes even further.
It calls us to hold our own theologies and practices up to scrutiny too. The connectedness of our world has been laid bare by the virus; our need to take seriously the ecological damage that threatens to unleash new strains of disease; our commitment to ‘one global Catholic church’ united in Christ.
Crisis always prompts innovation and reflection. Keeping these questions at the heart of our journey, even as we grapple with local suffering, is proof of the risky, all-encompassing love of God. And that, right there, is what it means to live an authentic faith.
– Cath Taylor
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