Coronavirus: A Problem for the Church?

Throughout the ages, many people, Christian and non-Christian, religious or not, have proposed that we are facing the “end of the world”. With the widespread computer programming scare of 2000 (commonly referred to as Y2K), many people responded in many different ways. There were those who responded in mass panic, many worried about how they were going to face the end of life as they knew it, both religious and non-religious felt this panic. But now as we face another possibility of widespread panic, how should we respond to the new and threatening “coronavirus”?

The “coronavirus” had its origins in China, where the World Health Organization (WHO) identified it as COVID-19. It is believed that the virus came from animals and actually that the source was a seafood market in Wuhan that also sells live animals. It was first reported from Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019. COVID-19 is still mainly affecting people in China with some cases reported in other countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies the spread of COVID-19 as being spread from person to person, mainly through close contact with one another (CDC identifies within about 6 feet). It can also spread when an infected person sneezes and coughs (spread through the respiratory system). The infection can spread through droplets when someone who has been infected sneezes or coughs and a nearby person can either inhale these droplets into their lungs or it can land on their mouth or nose and they can then be infected.

The CDC has identified cases globally and identified the areas in which the disease has spread on a map:

The CDC identifies the blue areas are those where the infection COVID-19 has been identified.

The CDC also warns its readers that the spread of COVID-19 can happen easily. It is a fast paced virus that spreads easily and quickly from person to person.

One of the main concerns is whether there is a treatment for such a virus. Since it is a virus, anti-bacteria will not work, there simply is no existing treatment for COVID-19 right now. An anti-viral would work, however, no anti-flu vaccines seem to have an effect on COVID-19. The Guardian reports that the death rate is only at 2% right now though compared to the 10% death rate of SARS, those who have been infected with COVID-19 that have not died were mostly those who had no underlying health conditions before COVID-19.

President Trump has recently addressed the issue in a speech in which he assured control over the situation regarding COVID-19 in the United States.

One of the other main concerns is that COVID-19 spread from person to person. But the CDC also identifies another way the virus spreads, that being through objects that an infected person has had contact with.

Those who die from COVID-19 tend to be frail, elderly, and/or have heart issues, etc. Those that end up hospitalized are often over the age of 40. The CDC and other organizations, such as The Guardian clarify that there is a danger to the virus because of its novelty. However, there are simple ways in which we can limit the spread and infection.

But the COVID-19 virus is something that is not to be too worried about considering we take the proper precautions and know that the CDC and WHO are working on a vaccine to deal with the raging virus. But how do we respond to such a threat such as COVID-19, specifically within the Christian church?

The Christian Church has been active and a powerful force throughout time in their response and their influence to global dilemmas. During the mid-1300s the world faced a grave threat that we know about today as the Black Death. During the Great Plague, which ended with around 25 million deaths, the church responded chaotically, some responded to the pleas of the people by organizing both religious marches and asking people to pray. Meanwhile, others helped the sick and did what they could to help those suffering.

And there were some in the Roman Catholic Church and many outside the Church that explained to those who were sick that the plague was a judgment from the Lord for the sins of the common man.

The plague took a toll on both the population of Europe and the Church in general. Church attendance decreased as more and more people fell to disease. The problem of such a response was the lack of unity, the Church was very divided, rather than approaching the problem with a unified front.

In recent history, the evangelical Church responded to the threat of AIDS in an equally chaotic manner. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) initially responded to the disease in the same manner they respond to most events, making a resolution that shows where the SBC stands on such an issue.

The first SBC resolution regarding the AIDS pandemic was released in 1987 in which the SBC affirmed Christlike behavior within the Church, but they also seemed very judgmental of those afflicted by AIDS in how they condemned the distribution of condoms or any behavior that would promote “deviant behavior.”

They released another resolution in 1994 that continued their assurance of Christlike behavior and compassion as they realized people could be infected without practicing homosexuality, but the problem of the AIDS pandemic had not come to an end and so the SBC really focused on treating people as Christ would. They still did not agree with the immoral acts of the world, but they fixed their prejudice against those affected and infected by the AIDS virus.

The SBC released one more resolution discussing the AIDS pandemic in 2003 focusing more on politics. In this resolution, the focus was on affirming the good work and humanitarian efforts of President Bush during the AIDS crisis. However, their prejudice against the passing out of condoms and immoral sexual behavior remained as they encouraged Christlike action of those within the evangelical Church and the SBC.

With the rapid expansion of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has not been enough time for the evangelical Church to fully respond. I do not think the Church should respond in the same manner as seen above, there could be more unity among those within the evangelical Church and there is simply more that the Church can do to help those impacted by COVID-19.

The Church should respond in two ways, practically and spiritually.

Practically, the Church should help in aiding people, both affected by the virus and those who could be. Handing out masks, helping people have access to clean water and soap to wash hands, and helping out those who cannot help themselves financially (paying or aiding those who need hospitalization and cannot pay for it themselves) are all good ways in which the Church can help practically.

The best precautions we can take are those that the CDC has encouraged. One of the main ways those within the Church can love their neighbors is to ensure that we are doing all that we can to take care of our neighbor’s well-being. This includes taking care of our own hygiene and cleanliness. Wash your hands with soap and do so frequently, not just when they seem dirty. We should also practice covering our mouth with tissue or the inside of our elbows when we sneeze and cough. In areas where the virus has spread heavily, wearing masks is a good idea to decrease the risk of infection. And it is wise to maintain a distance from others, 3 feet is the recommended distance.

We can love our neighbors well by being aware of our own care and health.

Growing up in Oklahoma, I have had the terrifying experience of growing up with Oklahoma tornadoes. Oklahoma is weird in how we almost celebrate our meteorologists more than we celebrate local celebrities. We give them billboards and tune in to our favorite meteorologist when there is any hint of severe weather (I’m a fan of David Paine). The crazy thing about people from Oklahoma is the enjoyment people get from the “thrill” of the tornado, tuning in and staying up to date with the location and damage done. People who sit on their back porch and watch the tornado come within a mile of their house.

There is a sort of enjoyment and thrill that people get during high-stress situations like tornadoes or even the “coronavirus” outbreak. There are those who would take great pleasure in seeing President Trump fail in dealing with COVID-19. There are those who constantly check on updates and take pleasure in not being affected while others suffer.

One of the best ways the Church could respond to this dangerous feeling is encouraging people to pray rather than constantly research COVID-19. Encourage people to focus on helping others (and helping others as a Church) rather than simply self-preservation (encourage against just helping your own family, but helping others as well).

The other main way that the Church could both benefit spiritually and help others spiritually would be to guide people in and set an example for people of how to pray.

The main way that people could pray is for those infected with COVID-19, we can pray for China. But we could also pray for those who are helping people who have been sick, and the families of those who have been infected. We can pray for those who are fighting against the virus and looking for a cure (CDC and WHO). We can pray for President Trump (even if we disagree with him politically) as he makes decisions that affect the whole of the United States.

The best means of accomplishing what has been mentioned above is through the whole evangelical Church coming together to help. A focus on unity would distinguish the Church in dealing with problems today from how they have dealt with threatening things in the past (Black Plague, AIDS).

The Church would also be set apart from their past in removing any judgment on people dealing or infected with COVID-19 (set in contrast with the SBC’s condemnation on those infected with AIDS). A greater emphasis on loving your neighbor and less condemnation heaped upon your neighbor.

Rather than incite panic among people, the Church could steer clear of “end of the world” theories and focus on helping people physically and spiritually. It would truly be a detriment to the Church and people everywhere if we were to repeat the history of the Y2K panic, rather than aid those dealing with COVID-19.

Current student, English major, at Oklahoma Baptist University, interested in religion, philosophy, music, and literature, etc.

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