Covenanting for Justice During the Pandemic
Like many of you, I am mourning the loss of mentors, colleagues, and friends to COVID-19. The lament is raw and persistent and sometimes immobilizing. But working in ministry, I am keenly aware that the church’s mission does not stop during a crisis. In fact, it seems to have ramped up. Church leaders, healthcare workers, educators, neighbors are all working hard to come up with new ways to serve the needs of their communities, even as we social distance. Christians—whatever our vocation—continue to be the church in a thousand places, and we persevere in being God’s mission to the world.
Some great stories of hope have emerged in this crisis—of people singing from balconies, of applause for hospital workers, of the creative ways that people have raised money for charities. But there are also stories of violence, racial disparity, neglect. The pandemic has revealed the best and the worst of human nature. It has brought into relief the great inequities that plague our global community. It has reminded us of our common humanity, while also highlighting the grave inconsistencies in opportunity.
A few weeks ago, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, and the Council for World Mission released a joint statement, “Calling for an Economy of Life in a Time of Pandemic.” Consistent with the WCRC’s Accra Confession, the statement brings to the fore the link between economic injustice and ecological degradation. It calls attention to the fact that those who suffer disproportionately from eco-disaster, economic disparities, and now the pandemic are people of color and the poor.
Scientists have borne this out. I was on a call last week with a Harvard scientist who released a groundbreaking study which found that people with COVID-19 who live in regions with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the disease than people who live in less polluted areas. I went to school in the Bronx (New York City), which suffers from the highest air pollution rates and asthma rates in the U.S. Some of the highest death rates from the coronavirus have been in the Bronx; the majority of people who live there are people of color. It is not difficult to see how race, socioeconomic status, and ecological distress intersect to produce the deadliest outcomes.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on how my privilege benefits me in this crisis. I have good healthcare, live in a neighborhood with clean air, and have a comfortable house to stay in as my family and I obey our local “stay-at-home” order. But there are people within my own community who do not have access to those human needs and who, in addition to worrying about contracting COVID, are also anxious about their safety given the rise in xenophobic and racial aggressions during this crisis.
I’ve also been reflecting on my—and the church’s—responsibility to right these injustices. With the adoption of the Accra Confession, we Reformed Christians “covenanted for justice.” We committed to: working for justice in the economy and the earth both in our common global context and in local setting; deepening our education and moving toward confession; and committing our time and energy to changing, renewing and restoring the economy and the earth, choosing life.
How might the church, and each of us individually re-commit to this covenant so that all might have equal access to abundant life? As the recent “Calling for an Economy of Life” statement shrewdly concludes, “This [pandemic] calls for cooperation and solidarity within and across countries, embodied in networks of faith communities, civil society, and social movements as well as fresh systems of global governance rooted in justice, care, and sustainability. Through such action and in that spirit, ways can be found, if we are bold, to root our systems, powers and hearts not in the old order, but in the new creation.”
May it be so, with God’s help. Let us re-commit to covenanting for justice.
—Monica Schaap Pierce, Ph.D.
Reformed Church in America
Reformed Church in America