International cooperation is a Christian value. It can beat COVID-19.
Christ’s words in Luke 10:36-37 to the lawyer who challenges him are a convicting reminder of the call given to every Christian: to love God and to love neighbor.
“‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
In this passage, we remember that neighbor-love is lived out through acts of mercy.
Notably, the Samaritan whom Jesus lifts up as an exemplar of merciful service lives out the call to neighbor-love through an act of healing. He bandages the wounds of the stranger who is no less his neighbor. He takes him to a place and makes provision for him to recover from his injuries.
In today’s world, many cannot recover or find healing refuge from the devastation of COVID-19.
In order to live out the love we are called to as Christians, we must be attentive to the spiritual, physical and even medical needs of our neighbors. Because we live in a global society facing a global pandemic, acting with mercy and loving our neighbors in 2020 calls for global cooperation.
If we have learned anything in this most extraordinary year, it is that coronavirus anywhere is a threat to people everywhere. Viruses have no respect for borders, and we must work together across our normal lines of demarcation to truly exhibit our gospel calling.
The need for international cooperation to beat COVID-19 seems like a self-evident truth to many, but it is apparently an affront to others.
Christians eagerly embrace the Great Commission call to make disciples of all nations, but some of us seem to shy away from the Great Commandment to love God and our neighbors of all nations.
Sadly, many of us have fallen into patterns of scapegoating and playing an international “blame game,” finding a speck in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in our own.
As a Christian pastor, I am appalled by isolationist viewpoints during this time of global need, exemplified by our national withdrawal from the World Health Organization and our nation’s refusal to work cooperatively with international partners to develop a vaccine.
I am also gravely concerned about an insidious ideology driving this isolationist resistance to cooperatively combating the pandemic: Christian nationalism.
Christian nationalism is the idolatrous assumption that the United States is somehow set apart by God as favored above all other nations. It blurs the line between a person’s Christian identity and American identity and, in the process, distorts them both.
I am grief-stricken over the enormous loss of life in our nation and around the world because of the pandemic.
I am also grief-stricken over the bad behavior among those who, in the name of God and country, promote an un-Christian and un-American ideology that feeds on fear and mistrust of both science and people of other national origins.
Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, in their recently published book, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, note that Christian nationalism is on the rise.
Although thousands of Christians have signed a statement decrying Christian nationalism as a threat to faith and freedom, isolating ideologies like this one still threaten the effective pandemic response we need and deserve.
Too many of our neighbors – locally and globally – live in vulnerable circumstances made worse by the threats associated with coronavirus.
In Memphis, Tennessee, where I live and minister, the disproportionately negative outcomes associated with infection among African Americans, the poor and the marginalized are undeniable.
In our congregation, our local initiatives to provide rent and utility assistance to persons displaced from their jobs and their homes due to the pandemic cannot keep pace with the needs of our neighbors. Similar inequities exist across the world.
And, as the World Health Organization has noted, prosperous nations like ours cannot expect to keep safe if less wealthy nations remain at higher levels of exposure risk. No one wins when we do not cooperate.
“Vaccine nationalism” is a losing proposition for everyone, including Americans. As WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “For the world to recover faster, it has to recover together.”
As the rush to approve and distribute an effective vaccine accelerates, now is the time for Christians in the United States to speak up in behalf of our neighbors, both here and abroad.
In Luke 10, Christ calls his followers to act with mercy and to love our neighbors as ourself. Our global response to COVID-19 must be a merciful one and can only reflect God’s loving mercy if it extends compassionately to all of our neighbors, in the United States and in other nations.
As a pastor committed to gospel priorities, I call on our country’s leaders to do what is right for our nation, our international neighbors and our souls. Our faith calls us to speak up for the poor and the stranger, as well as for the dignity and well-being of every human person.
In doing this, we have the opportunity to reflect our highest values as Christians and Americans.
We have the opportunity to build a nation that is truly great and that seeks the well-being of all people as we fight against coronavirus together. We have the opportunity to do right by our neighbors here – and our neighbors everywhere.
For the last 10 years, Cook has served as senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Among his ministry priorities is a commitment to global mission through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s South Africa Ministry Network and advocacy through ONE a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030, so that everyone, everywhere can lead a life of dignity and opportunity.