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Coronavirus and Racism: A Tale of Two Pandemics

By Maria French

            As the coronavirus pandemic swept the world earlier this year most of us never imagined that we would be facing another pandemic of even more epic and grave proportions, racism.  In a few short months all of our lives have fundamentally changed because of the Covid pandemic.  But it only took 8 minutes and 46 seconds for the world to change because of the long and deep seeded pandemic of racism.  And by change, I mean a pot boiled over in which finally enough was enough.

            Coronavirus and Racism – insidious sickness distorting all of life.  Wreaking immeasurable havoc in all aspects of life and often seemingly too powerful to stop.  Coronavirus caused churches to quickly move online.  Racism caused churches to quickly move to the streets.

            Churches scrambled to move online when the world vis-à-vis coronavirus forced exclusive digitality.  Churches rushed to mobilize toward activism in the wake of three words, ‘I can’t breathe.’

            Coronavirus and Racism: Two pandemics the church should have been ready for but wasn’t.  Now you may say, ‘Oh come on.  Be fair.  No one could have been prepared for Covid.’  And you’re partly right – but not really – And I won’t get into the politics of this right now.  But the outcome and/or next steps because of stay at home orders should have already been instigated – and that is the digital footprint and identity of the church. 

            It’s true – churches scrambled to quickly get online – but to what end?  To continue the sermon series that was already in play?  To offer different modes of spiritual engagement pulled from the past?  To stand in front of an empty sanctuary to assure the illusion of normality? 

            In the middle of a raging world ravenous and in a spin for and toward our digital future – conversations about A.I., creative reproduction, facial recognition technology that resembles the prophetic fiction of Hollywood film The Circle, microchip implants under our skin, sexbots replacing human sex workers and silicon valley’s constant need for speed – the church thinks it might be a good idea to finally go online, redo that website and get cracking on social media. 

            I know this sounds harsh – and I mean no admonition (well, maybe a little) – I simply mean to make a passionate and purposeful point.

            The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything.

            And more than becoming friends with technology it is going to be about understanding the nature – the human one and the religious one – of digitality and what it means for the present and the future if the church is to have any chance of survival. 

            And while the coronavirus did, indeed, halt life for so many, we can see it did not halt the greater and wider pandemic of racism.  Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd.  Coronavirus pandemic did not end their lives – the pandemic of racism did.   Black trauma continues to be made manifest in America and around the world.  With white silence as an accomplice, white fragility as the mediator and white supremacy as murderer.  The capitulation of American Christianity, the capitalization of white wealth and power and the complicity of white privilege that blinds us to problems that are not our own, are just a few reasons why this particular pandemic has been able to feed and seethe as long as it has. 

            Racism is tearing the world a part – and shame on me and shame on us for needing a fateful and ever haunting time stamp of 8 minutes and 46 seconds to admit it.  And we will always have to live with that.  We as white Christians will always have to live with the fact that we didn’t mobilize until it was too late.  Until there was seemingly a Black quota of lives taken that was met.

            In the work of future church there is no place for a community professing a faith of unity, redemption and radical hospitality that does not first lay siege to our racist past and present. 

            Coronavirus and Racism: A Tale of Two Pandemics.  To engage the first alone is to solely focus on the life of the church and its re-creation into the future.  To engage the second is to focus on the life of the other.  The Black other.  The Black voice.  And Black murder.

            The future is not an easy path, not least of which for the church.  Engulfed in supernaturalism, with the disfigured hope of the transcendent and the obsession with certainty. 

The foundations have crumbled. 

Illusions are being exposed.

Digitality encroaches on what it means to be human and racism shamelessly continues to trespass on humanity.

In terms of pandemic - Well, we have some big fish to fry.

Authors Note: Not trying to take some moral high ground here.  Just sharing my thoughts as someone who is deeply concerned with the future of Christianity and the church.  As a white woman I am continuing on in my own work of anti-racism and pro-reconciliation, engaging with black authors, voices, movements and businesses, striving to be(come) an ally and partnering in the work of the dismantling of white privilege and ignorance.
Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

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