As the year 2020 progresses and passes before our eyes, one can only wonder how a small disease-causing agent like the COVID-19 virus could upend the lives of millions of people across the globe. In my professional work as a nurse bioethicist, I have been called in numerous times to provide support and consultation to both family members who cannot visit their loved ones, and to medical staff who struggle with the limited medical options available for their patients and the ensuing moral distress. I wish I could take you into the hospital rooms where I can only virtually hold their hands when they weep and agonize.
I would love to show you how important it is to protect the vulnerable through a mask, a vaccine, or other measures such as access to testing and basic healthcare provisions. Isn’t it something that Jesus would want us to do? How do we as Adventists react to the uncertainty concerning our physical, emotional, and financial health? In many congregations the pandemic has brought forth the best out of people. At the same time, like in Charles Dickens’ story, A Tale of Two Cities, it has brought to light the worst lack of neighborly love for others.
As Christians, we are invited to service and to eliminate, or at least reduce, suffering. Christian service is, however, a two-pronged call, one to serve others by demonstrating God’s love for us through our compassion, and second to invite others to partake of that love. The prophet Micah states, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Why has empathy and compassion for our neighbors, particularly during this pandemic, given way to some uncaring behavior in some of our congregations? Some view wearing a mask as not having enough faith in God’s protection, never realizing that even Jesus pushed the temptation of doing something against better knowledge far away from him. For some church members, the Christian love for one’s neighbor has been replaced by an insistence that a person is an island to themselves, with no obligation for others if one deems that this moral duty is too burdensome. This disregard for others has now come to the surface in our churches. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, was just the wind that has fanned already present burning ambers. Now, Christian brothers and sisters openly defy other Christian brothers and sisters who submit themselves to protecting others, even intentionally undermining carefully organized social distancing activities in places of worship.
Have we lost our perspective of love for one another? Could it be that some of us are entangled in speculative conspiracy theories that are based on unverifiable facts? Bettina Krause cites in her article in Adventist World that Ellen G. White warned us from becoming too entangled in political pursuits and blind alliances. Moreover, based on a study conducted by Stanford University in the United States “Partyism,” is defined as an ingroup bias. That bias is so strong that people will support a particular political party in spite of having other deeply held values that are in opposition to that particular political party’s ideology on issues related to gender, race, religion, language, and ethnicity.
Our Adventist faith is based on the presence of a loving God who is kind and who protects us according to his wisdom. Small measures like wearing a mask and getting a vaccination are reasonable acts of kindness toward oneself and others. It is for the same reason that we as Adventists advocate for individual and community-based health programs. Did the COVID-19 pandemic erode our trust in God and love for our neighbors? Does it demonstrate love for others when we carry concealed or open firearms to peaceful church activities? Some may feel empowered and protected, but others might feel intimidated by the show of openly carried weapons by non-security people. How does it affect people who have escaped an abusive home situation, gang violence, war turbulences, or had to run for their lives for other causes? Reassuring or frightening?
In 2020, the United States of America is holding a presidential election. How is this government interested in the wellbeing of others? Can neighborly love be reflected by potentially using deadly force, curbing immigration, believing in white racial supremacy, wanting to limit social services and healthcare to the poor, restricting religious tolerance, and the permissibility of exploiting the environment at all costs? Now, all these issues have been carried through the church doors and are separating us further than any social distancing of six feet can possibly accomplish.
Let us remember “Not to obstruct the legal rights of an immigrant or orphan. Don’t take a widow’s coat as pledge for a loan. Remember how you were a slave in Egypt (everybody is an immigrant to the U.S., except the Native Americans) but how the Lord your God saved you from that. That’s why I’m commanding you to do this thing. Whenever you are reaping the harvest of your field and you leave some grain in the field, don’t go back and get it. Let it go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so that the Lord your God blesses you in all that you do.” Not only will God bless us, He declared that by our love for one another we shall be recognized as His true church!
It is the love for others and God that is also the fundamental theme of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s (1729-1781) play Nathan the Wise. Within the storyline, a wise judge told the quarreling parties that they could find out which ring/truth was the authentic one by living a life pleasing to God and humankind instead of pursuing idle ideas. The one who loves the most and shows the greatest respect for others would be the ultimate true ring/truth bearer. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus said, that by our love for God and for our neighbors, not by our name, the true church shall be known and recognized, including its members!
If Christ is at the center of our Church, then tolerance, inclusion, respect, and compassion should supersede any political ideals or theological traditions that are contradictive to loving God and the neighbor as yourself. Only in love can we come together in one faith. Let us be known as the church that loves the most and loves unconditionally. Because of this, people will be eager to hear more about Jesus and the Good News of not having to be afraid amidst the turmoil, for God is stronger than any firearms, viruses, or financial downturns. All you need is Love! Even the secular Beatles knew that already. Let us be mirrors of God’s unfathomable love!
Notes & References:
 Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1999.
 Micah 6:8 (NIV)
 Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
 Bettina Krause, “Thinking ‘Adventistly’ About Politics: How Should Seventh-day Adventists Relate to Political Entanglement and Partisanship?,” Adventist World, May 13, 2020; Ellen G. White, “Selected Messages,” Review and Herald, 1958.
 Milenko Martinovich, “Americans’ Partisan Identities Are Stronger than Race and Ethnicity,” Stanford News, August 31, 2017, https://news.stanford.edu/2017/08/31/political-party-identities-stronger-race-religion/.
 Deuteronomy 24:17-19 (Common English Bible)
 Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, and Patrick Maxwell. Nathan the Wise: A Dramatic Poem. edited by Kohut, George Alexander New York, Bloch publishing company, 1917. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/17013308/.
 Luke 12:22-32 (NIV)
Gudrun Klim, PhD, MA, RN, CNS, attends church and resides with her family in Spokane, WA, USA. She is a Registered Nurse (BSN, 1989, Union College) who holds a master’s degree and certification as a nurse specialist in Community Health Nursing (1997, Washington State University), a master’s degree in Bioethics (2017), and a PhD in Nursing (2019) from Loma Linda University. Currently, she is supporting patients, families, and healthcare providers as a nurse bioethicist at the Providence Health & Services, Eastern Washington and Montana Region.
Image credit: United Nations on Unsplash.com
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10759