“Apocalypse.” That’s what some are calling the COVID-19 pandemic.
They have in mind the images of catastrophic judgment popularly associated with that word.
I find the word descriptive of our current situation, as well, but in the underlying meaning of the word: “unveiling.” It’s an unveiling that brings to light realities we’ve either not noticed or chosen to ignore.
It forces me to grapple with three of them in particular: our misunderstanding of connectedness, economic inequity, and racism as our original sin.
First, our misunderstanding of connectedness.
Few can argue today that we’re not connected. The Internet, globalization and the worldwide spread of a virus make this clear.
Although we make various attempts to act as a connected world community, I’m concerned about how we understand our connectedness.
Hebrew-Christian thought assumes a corporate humanity of persons-in-community, a body with many members. To declare oneself independent of others is to go counter to the Divine intention.
Against this understanding is the modern idea of the social contract. In it we view ourselves as inherently independent – individuals who, in our “wisdom,” surrender some independence for the good of the whole.
We create community, rather than affirm it as part of creation.
In the midst of our intending good, this assumed independence leads us to competition, arrogance and struggle for power.
Second, our economic inequity.
This is clearly demonstrated in the stark disparity of medical resources available in the “developed” world and those available to people who live where they struggle to survive. In our own country, health outcome is determined by zip code.
Inequity is not new, but it’s increasing at an exponential rate. Many people of conscience feel uncomfortable about this but don’t seem to know how to address such a monumental issue.
Amos and other prophets of the eighth century BCE railed against it: those with ivory couches and summer homes in a land of great poverty.
Bernie Sanders may have been an “unlikely” leader, but he spoke uncomfortable truth to power. Maybe his story tells us there’s a role for both prophet and one who governs.
William Sloane Coffin described those roles succinctly. When addressing power, he said, “It’s our job is to say, ‘Let justice roll down like waters,’ and it’s yours to figure out the irrigation system!”
Finally, racism as our original sin.
Racism pervades our societal actions and decisions. Disturbingly, racism emerges in our actions toward “others.”
We hear appalling reports of hostile acts toward people of Asian descent growing from the twisted fear of a connection between the virus and people’s racial heritage. How sad to see this racism expressing itself in the belittling of Chinese children as the “bringers of disease!”
COVID-19 impacts us in different ways.
One of the ways for me has been as apocalypse in the sense of unveiling. Not of “unknown” things, but of all-too-true realities, often ignored, which demand the response of people of conscience – most certainly those who follow the way of Jesus.
Dale Edmondson is the retired pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis, having previously served the First Baptist Church of Berkeley, California. He is an alumnus of American Baptist Seminary of the West (then, Berkeley Baptist Divinity School) and Regents Park College, Oxford University. He was a founding member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and in retirement taught in the College of Theology at Central Philippine University. He lives in San Leandro, California.