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  • Writer's pictureRobin Rhine McDonald

Covid-19, Churches Opening, & Caring for the Vulnerable

Right now pastors are in between a rock and a hard place. Though, as I’ll explain, I believe the church has a unique opportunity to take on a much needed leadership role in our society.

On Friday, the president called governors to allow places of worship to open and has even threatened to override their lack of adherence to that order.

On one hand, it is exciting that churches are being told they are valuable and are allowed to open.

On the other hand, there is concern about opening up, gathering for service, and causing at risk individuals to die.

I have read the wise words of pastors and leaders of the church who emphasize the importance of having wisdom, of caring for the vulnerable, and of loving our neighbors.

I could not agree more with those wise sentiments.

In the spirit of those sentiments, I think it is important we consider all those who are vulnerable in this time.

From a health stand point, those who are at risk include those who are over 65 years old and those who have a chronic disease such as lung disease or asthma, serious heart conditions, compromised immunity, severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and/or liver disease.

94% of deaths from COVID-19 in the US are from those with at least one of the above underlying chronic diseases.

80% of those chronic diseases are a result of lifestyle choices, primarily diet.

The church as well as most of the country has been turning to the CDC for direction on how to navigate this. While there is definite merit and benefit to what the CDC is saying, it is important to consider what isn’t being said and why.

The CDC has has vested interest with the soda industry, and takes millions of dollars in funding from the soft drink industry to launch obesity campaigns that focus EXCLUSIVELY on fitness. [1]

The CDC is also a part of a system that largely sees preventative medicine and treatment through pills and vaccines. While lives have been improved through these measures, there are those that have not. (128,000 Americans die from taking medications as prescribed. [2]) In many cases, it would have served the individual better to turn towards diet, or at least, included nutrition in treatment.

It makes sense that the only solution posed to solve this pandemic is to develop a vaccine, without mention on the importance of improving diet to reduce the number of individuals at risk.

Now, my point isn’t about whether or not people should drink soda or take medications. It’s that we ought to consider what other measures can be taken as those who desire to love our neighbor and to care for the health of the bodies that comprise the Body of Christ.

10.5% of the United States population has diabetes. 33% are pre diabetic. 80% of those who are pre diabetic do not know that they are pre diabetic.

65% of people with diabetes will die from heart disease or stroke.

There are 1,853 deaths each day from heart disease, that’s about 647,000 deaths EVERY year.

These are not new numbers. This has been the state of health in our country long before COVID-19. 

Hundreds of thousands dying from lifestyle induced diseases.

Quality of life reduced decades before it needed to.

Good, loving people without energy or vitality to serve in the ways they are called.

These same precious people are now the most vulnerable and at risk by this virus.

Consider how the virus, is proven to be mild to moderate in affect on healthy individuals. Don’t we owe it to the vulnerable, and those who are on that trajectory, to consider how we, as the Church, can educate, resource, and empower congregants to not only move out of the high risk zone, but to experience the health they are made to have?

As the Body of Christ, we can lead not only in spiritual health, but also in physical health as well. These two aspects of our well being are inextricable. We see this play out in Jesus’ ministry where he spent a substantial portion of his short public ministry healing bodies.

From a broader stand point, those who are also vulnerable during this time are those who have lost their jobs, who no longer have businesses, who are suffering from unprecedented depression and anxiety, and who are in abusive and compromising situations by being at home.

Certain businesses are still not permitted to open.

Unemployment continues to increase.

Our economy is in the gutter.

Many have been left vulnerable as a result of the measures taken to fight this virus.

Not to mention, as unemployment increases, so do deaths.

With all that is going on, stress is at an all time high.

Stress is a primary contributor to the chronic diseases I mentioned above, it has been connected to premature death as well as sudden death.

Unemployment increases the risk of death for all causes.

Loss of earnings is also associated with decreased health.

We are contending for the health of those who might die from this virus by remaining closed, while at the same time creating another crisis of death as a result of shutting everything down. [3]

Whether or not the process taken was necessary is debatable.

What we have seen is that large essential businesses have remained open by following the guidelines of the CDC with hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of people going through their buildings each day.

Small businesses with only dozens who may go through, who could more easily control traffic and adherence to CDC guidelines have been prevented from doing business.

I don’t think that opening up churches and gathering on Sundays has to be about idolizing Sunday services or forgetting the power of the Body of Christ despite buildings.

I think that opening up churches can be another way of leading in this crisis. What if by opening up and hosting Sunday services, while following the CDC’s guidelines (which they now have specifically for faith communities who decide to do just that), we pave the way for small businesses and other churches to do the same?

What if we come up with outdoor options or other creative means of community that respects the guidelines in place?

What if we create opportunity to reduce the collateral damage that has taken place the last few months?

I think we owe to the vulnerable to at least pray and consider what we can do.

In an interview from the Theology in the Raw podcast interviewing a follower of Jesus and infectious disease specialist from the University of Chicago, John C. Bicona, who says,

"I don't understand why Home Depot can stay open to sell flowers or liquor stores can stay open. But small mom and pop business that is selling stickers or whatever there product is, why can't they and small churches open and just follow the guidelines - 6 ft, wear a mask - that's just not consistent to me."

"The best thing you can do is good practices. Follow what the government says. Have the elderly stay home."[4]

If you go on to listen to the podcast, they wrestle with what it mean to be the church and the challenges that have occurred with churches opening up thus far.

The burden of ensuring safety and adherence to the guidelines falls on pastors and staff. Thinking through how to create a team of volunteers who can support in rolling out a safe process is another aspect to consider. Additionally, with varying opinions from congregants, there would also likely need to be a process of preparing congregants for the measures that would be implemented.

Furthermore, what does it look like for congregants to step up, to collaborate, and alleviate the burden placed on those in leadership?

What options and alternatives do we have? What can we create?

I think we have more to consider than is being given to us by the CDC and the news outlets, and I believe, that through prayer, wisdom, and faith, the Body of Christ can be a powerful, loving leader amidst one of the greatest challenges of our time.

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