Noble: Church in time of Covid-19; ‘giving out of extreme poverty that extends into generosity’

HG Wells (1945) summed up our perception of the present times, “a jaded world devoid of recuperative power…ordinary man is at the end of his tether”.

More than half of us are feeling great uncertainty. Both the business community (90%) and the general public (75%) believe that the economic challenges that spring from the Covid-19 experience are larger than the health issues (MFO, 2020).

Image: Covid-19 and the global economy.

We grapple with a deluge of information—much being unfounded conspiracy theories—and our brains struggle to process the sense of loss and trauma, making us disappointed with trite platitudes. Our doctors warn of the impending mental health crisis even as domestic violence increases. Like Bertrand Russell (1903), we wonder whether, “…all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction…”

Science is about probing and testing and checking and retesting. Exploration writ large. The wily nature of this new virus has us guessing. For example, we said it does not affect children and now we say it does. On and on it goes. This is unsettling for many and some resort to charlatans while others give up trying to know what is real.

The man-in-the-street is afraid of falling sick, being unable to pay rent and to buy food and medicine. Both he (70%) and his business counterpart (92%) are afraid to use public transport—a marker for willingness to be in the public.

The New York Times (April 28) reports that there is a great risk the virus will keep reappearing each time the lockdown eases, describing the unfolding scene ahead as ‘a row of shark teeth’. Ebbs and flows will prove to be debilitating to our sense of confidence.

While our people have shown, in large measure, that they are prepared to do their part in facing the harsh reality, is this sufficient? Even with the estimated emergency spending of TT$6 billion, will this suffice if there is no capacity for strong legislative action and no sense of national unity?

Photo: A family wears masks on a visit to the Penal market for fresh fruits and vegetables on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

The consensus of those in the know is that we are facing a long dry spell ahead. Will we and our leaders buckle down to ride it out? Or are we to face the ‘who can you believe today?’ quandary which robs us of confidence in self and those around us?

To survive, we need enduring faith and resilience with a clear commitment to work together. Anything short of that is to hobble ourselves.

This is why the wry insight of Martin Daly (10 May) is chilling, putting the spotlight on our religious leaders (“Honest to God if we cannot expect holy men to be honest with God, then is it that ‘all ah we t’ief’?”).

Religious leaders are supposed to be beacons for us to follow. Archbishop Gordon, in acknowledging the role of the Church, cautioned: “The opportunity to be seized is not to re-open or re-start the economy so that we go back to the status quo pre-pandemic, but rather to begin to take steps, however small, to move our societies and economies to where we think they should be; in fact, where we now know they need to be, given the COVID-19 experience.”

How does the Church achieve this? Here are a few thoughts:

Tough times are inevitable in a broken, messy world. We should accept this reality. There is no value in damning people at this time, it is a time for loving care. Life’s struggles are not automatically due to sin.

Photo: Job talks to God during his biblical trials.

Psalm 31: 9-10 reports David’s despair which he describes as: “my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.  My life is filled with anguish…my strength fails…my bones grow weak.”

If this is the experience of David, it should caution our saints not to engage in gross condemnation.

Relationships must be elevated in a narcissistic world that believes in individualism. Some therapists believe that our ‘self-isolation’ habits or lack of commitment to enduring relationships are at the root of the depression experienced by some. There is a hidden cost of low-maintenance relationships that appears when crunch time comes.

The Church’s theology of the Body of Christ, ‘if one hurts, we all hurt’ is an antidote and has to be emphasised. This is not only about being kind, our behaviour has to be immensely practical ‘food and clothing’ and help for the ‘alien, orphans and widows’ (Deuteronomy 10: 12-22).

The Church is called to give out of what they have. 2 Corinthians 8: 2-3 speaks of giving out of ‘extreme poverty that extends into generosity’ in helping those in dire need. This leaves no room for storing up of tithes while others are hungry or spending on fancy cars and buildings. The Church’s role is to seek out and help the marginalised in our society.

At this moment in which we must find a balance between capital and workers, the Church should reinforce that money is good and needed for the society’s welfare while pointing to the grave problem of its unequal distribution and its deleterious effects.

Image: A satirical take on unemployment.

Dignity is usually the first casualty of poverty and so we must remind each other that we are all humans, created in the likeness of God. This is why we need to fix the broken systems and help all our children to succeed. We need to be reminded that oppressing the poor is a short-term gain that engenders the wrath of God (Proverbs 22: 22).

The Church should be careful to exercise good judgment in money matters, lest their good be evil spoken of. The Church should follow the example of Paul in having multiple checkpoints governing gifts (2 Cor 8: 16-21). He literally said that ‘we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the eyes of men’.

Only by doing these things, HG Wells will have his hope restored, and Daly will not have to fear errant clergymen. But more than that, the Church will be able to be the shining lighthouse it is supposed to be. Pray for us sinners.

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