Covid discriminates, Christians shouldn’t.
Part Three of our series “Making sense of coronavirus with reason and faith.”
The UK government at the onset of the Covid-19 crisis warned that “the virus does not discriminate”, but it quickly became apparent that that wasn’t strictly true. People with pre-existing medical conditions and the elderly were known to be especially vulnerable from early on, and we now know that ethnicity is also a risk factor. The majority of healthcare workers who have passed away in the UK are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Public Health England suggests that people from BAME communities are both more likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19 and more likely to die after contracting the virus. More research is needed to determine the exact causes of these differences, but there have been suggestions it is partly due to exposure to the virus among ‘frontline’ professions such as supermarket workers and medical staff, or high poverty rates among some BAME communities.
These factors do not exist in a vacuum however, and many people find themselves in a number of vulnerable categories. In its annual report, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation points out that all BAME groups are more likely to live in poverty than the white population. Researchers have long pointed out that social inequalities impact health outcomes. For example, according to Adam Wagstaff, people in poverty are more likely to have unfavourable health outcomes within the same country, and poorer countries have overall worse health outcomes than better-off countries.
Differences in income, ethnicity, gender, employment status, and geography all mean that though we may all be facing the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. Lockdown in a high-rise with no garden and an essential job, or a work or living situation which was already precarious, looks very different to lockdown with access to outdoor space and the option to work from home. Working mothers have been more likely to lose their jobs or be furloughed during the outbreak, and even women who continue to work full-time have borne the brunt of a ‘second shift’ of unpaid childcare, home-schooling and housework. As restrictions ease, we must find a way to reconcile our collective trauma as a nation and a global society, and the specific traumas in which we do not share equally.
The Christian message
Christians view social inequalities as a symptom of a broken world. One of the Bible’s clearest directives is to value the needs of others above our own (Philippians 2:3–4). Paul also outlines in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28). This ideal of equality is not reflected in the world around us, and helping people in the community who are most vulnerable to the virus and its consequences is a vital way of showing our Christian love. Whether it be through volunteering time and resources, building each other up spiritually and mentally, or simply offering a helping hand to a neighbour, there are many ways that congregations can help their communities.
For those in positions of leadership, the considerations of their congregation’s diverse experiences and ongoing needs should be at the forefront of the movement out of lockdown. While some people continue to shield in their homes and feel trepidation at online services ending, others are eager to return to in-person gatherings. A balance must be struck which allows genuine and equal access to the act of being Church together.
Equality as a church body means more than being simply not racist, not ableist, and not discriminatory. It is about actively taking part in discussions with our members about their lived realities and responding without defensiveness or blame. It means listening to the experiences of our culturally, ethnically and religiously diverse society, and accepting where our behaviour has fallen short, and how we can influence change.
Lockdown showed that there is a silent swell of people who wish to attend church but feel, for whatever reason, that doing so online is best or safest, with the Church of England experiencing their highest number of congregants online. It showed that people want to pray, want to connect, and feel a deep yearning for meaning and practical action. What an opportunity for the Church to respond to those people and welcome them in ways that meet them where they are.
True equality comes from building up those around us. Jesus said: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40–45). Let us build a body of Christ which considers all the circumstances of its members and welcomes all with open arms, ready to learn from each other and come out of the crisis stronger.
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