One year ago in The Christian Citizen, we published the first in a series of articles on ministry responses to the coronavirus pandemic. “Charity amidst the chaos—When coronavirus comes to your neighborhood,” is Bryan Jackson’s firsthand account of the arrival of the coronavirus in Kirkland, Wash., location of the first fatality in the United States from COVID-19.
Amid rising fear and shortages of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, masks and dry goods, Jackson wrote, “Instead of fighting over the last roll of paper towels or a loaf of bread, we are probably better served checking in with our neighbors, doing what we can not to spread the virus to others — living out an ethic of care.”
Jackson predicted the new virus would “rock many a boat in the coming months” and said it was “too early to determine just how virulent this contagion is.” One year later, having just passed the grim mark of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States alone, we know how virulent the virus is, and we have seen many a boat rocked along the way.
Families and communities have been rocked by deaths and job losses. Businesses large and small, from neighborhood shops to airlines, have been rocked by government-mandated closures and disruption of established patterns of consumer behavior. Churches and other communities of faith have been rocked by building closures and transition to worship and ministry over Zoom and other online platforms. Our politics have been rocked by misinformation and disinformation spread from the highest office in the land as a public health crisis unlike any in a century was politicized rather than met with steadiness, determination and resolve.
We’ve also experienced what living out an ethic of care looks like, from health care and other front-line workers putting themselves at risk just doing their jobs, with some giving their lives doing so, to poll workers showing up on election day to ensure a free and fair election, to churches and other communities of faith choosing not to return to in-person worship, although free to do so, out of an abundance of caution for the health and well-being of their members and that of the wider community.
We’ve learned what an ethic of care looks like from watching teachers lead online classes while juggling their own children being educated remotely, to seeing clergy adapt to using social media platforms to preach the gospel and meet pastoral care needs in new and creative ways.
“We’ve learned what an ethic of care looks like.”
None of this has been easy, nor can we expect a return to business as usual any time soon. Perhaps this is as it should be. The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare inequities we must not simply paper over in some ill-fated attempt to return to normal. Black and Hispanic Americans are dying at higher rates than whites, reflecting disparities in income, wealth, health care access and utilization, and education. Job losses disproportionately affect women, non-white workers, low-wage earners and those with less education. Child poverty rates are again on the rise.
What our society looks like on the other side of the pandemic depends on what we do to address the inequity it has revealed. We have agency. We can choose which direction we want to push ourselves and our society, and maybe even our world.
As Kirk Byron Jones wrote in his review of #InThisTogether: Ministry in Times of Crisis: “The hallelujah in the horrors of COVID‐19 and despicable blatant and systematic racial violence is a spiritual calling for the church to be different. Our ecclesiastical hand has been forced. Either we will change for the prophetic better or show ourselves knowingly to be part of the problem.”
What is our lodestar for change for the prophetic better? How might we fulfill our spiritual calling to be different? Perhaps it is as simple, and challenging, as Bryan Jackson put it one year ago — charity amidst the chaos. Let charity — love — guide us through the turmoil and disorder the coronavirus has visited upon our families, churches, neighborhoods, communities, nation and world.
“What is our lodestar for change for the prophetic better?”
In Charity and its Fruits Jonathan Edwards wrote: “If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overcome love are exceedingly unbecoming Christians. An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!”
Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, … practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
There is enough absurdity and contradiction in the world without Christians trafficking in the same. Amidst the chaos, let charity — love — be our guide as we live out an ethic of care, and change for the prophetic better.
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas is editor of The Christian Citizen and The Christian Citizen Weekly and is host of the “Justice. Mercy. Faith.” podcast. His book #InThisTogether: Ministry in Times of Crisis is available from Judson Press.