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Unity is the solution to the coronavirus pandemic and must be its lasting legacy

Unity is the solution to the coronavirus pandemic and must be its lasting legacy

  • LGBT+ cleric Rev Irene Monroe says we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves.
Martin Luther King Jr memorial.

In a responsible response to the coronavirus outbreak faith leaders around the world have cancelled worship services.

Traditional Bible study has gone online. Congregations watch sermons on Zoom. And old videos of singing church choirs have popped up in my inbox.

Our global engagement with one another right now is social distancing while staying connected. And this reveals our acts of spiritual communion. 

This pandemic doesn’t call for pandemonium, petty divisions, political wrangling, or panic buying. We are all in this together! Our collective concern should be about saving lives and not the momentary upending of our lifestyles. 

This global crisis highlights how we are bound in shared humanity.

Medical historian and epidemic expert Howard Markel put it like this: ‘Coronavirus is a socially transmitted disease, and we all have a social contract to stop it.

‘What binds us is a microbe – but it also has the power to separate us. We’re a very small community, whether we acknowledge it or not, and this proves it. The time to act like a community is now.’

The act of an inclusive community is a difficult concept and lived reality to actualize. This is particularly true in this time of local, national, and international polarization.

Moreover, an ‘us versus them’ mentality has infected even our churches – places that by their very essence and ethos should mean community.

We cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves

Indeed, such a crisis has infected some of my fellow Methodists.

The United Methodist Church is about to split over the issue of LGBT+ inclusion.

It will formally divide into those allow LGBTQ marriages and clergy and a new ‘traditionalist Methodist’ denomination, allowing outright discrimination and denunciation of LGBTQ people in the name of God.

All we are waiting for now, it seems, is a vote at the UMC General Conference in May to confirm this.

Indeed, I was due to be the guest preacher at a United Methodist Church on 15 March.

The plan was that I should help celebrate the church’s 15th anniversary as a Reconciling Congregation in March.

UMC Reconciling Congregations welcome people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations. They will be the inclusive UMC congregations if the split goes ahead.

Of course, by the time 15 March came round, COVID-19 had forced the end of mass gatherings.

But in the sermon I didn’t preach, I argued it is not enough just to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken.

It is not enough to talk about institutions, churches, and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation, and not see these prejudices and bigoted acts in ourselves.

We cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves.

So perhaps the most significant task, and the most challenging work we must do first, is to heal ourselves. Moreover, we must do this work in relationship with our justice work out in the world.

This pandemic we are experiencing shouldn’t divide us as a community, a nation or a world.

‘I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be’

In Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ he was struggling to change a nation.

King understood the interconnectedness of human life and the intersectionality of oppressions. His worldview of a global community resounds in these words: 

‘In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.’

Let us unite in this struggle. We can heal ourselves of our indifference toward one another and heal a world fighting to save its life.

In honoring the sanctity of all human life, let’s care for ourselves and each other.