Resilience and Responsibility in the Time of the Corona Virus

By IFLC Vice Chairman Robert Bruttell

I have been struck these last six months or so by the electron microscope image of the Corona Virus that causes COVID 19. I would say that bluish image with its red spikes projecting around the sphere, those crowns that give it its name, is pretty, almost beautiful. It is hard to think of that lovely image as the death star that is wreaking keening and grief throughout the world as those of us privileged enough, isolate ourselves at home.

Metropolitan Detroit has not been spared. Communities of Faith have not been spared. And it is a plague of biblical proportions for the African American community.

All faith groups share some version of the requirement to care for the stranger and love our neighbor. In the Christian scriptures, Jesus PBUH is asked who is my neighbor and he tells the story of the man who is robbed and beaten and left for dead on the Jericho Road. It is the story of the good Samaritan who stops and cares for this bloodied Jew taking him to safe lodging where he pays for his continued care. Today, we who hear this story, miss its intensity. Jews and Samaritans hated one another. They had rival concepts of who God is and how God is present in the world. Each was aware that Jews and Samaritans had desecrated each other’s temples and so were actively hostile to one another. And so Jesus turns the table on them and says your enemy, the Samaritan in this story, knows who his neighbor is. Your neighbor is anyone who needs your care.

It almost seems like a contradiction in terms for faith communities to be isolated in their homes. Freedom of Assembly found in the First Amendment of the Constitution was instituted as much for religious as for political reasons. Faith communities have not been allowed for good reasons to gather in places of worship for a couple of months now. It is in that gathering that people of faith gain strength and reinforce the faith of others. It is in those settings where people of faith hear their respective scriptures and gain the courage to live the difficult ethics that are prescribed. Nevertheless, something new is required of us. We must be resilient and find an even deeper version of the faiths we profess.

All of our faith traditions have similar teachings. Our neighbor is anyone who needs our care. Our neighbor is not just the people we know and love. Our neighbor is the stranger who comes into our midst. Our neighbor is even the one whom we think of as our enemy.

During our worship rituals, we have been saying that we love all mankind. Yet our past performance as people of faith is being examined now and what is being revealed to us is not pretty. Despite our self-congratulatory rhetoric, we have segregated ourselves. We have not cared for the stranger. Resources, public goods like good education, job opportunities and health care, even safe, affordable water, have gone to certain groups while ignoring those left battered and lying in the ditch. As a result people of color, black people, brown people, red people, are dying in the thousands leaving a trail of tears. Our moral standing as people of faith is in question.

Additionally, some are selfishly considering “re-opening” our communities. There are even some cocky individuals in our communities, who are brandishing intimidating weapons and epic selfishness to claim it is their right to open now because they want their freedom while ignoring how threatening and demonstrably dangerous this is for those who have been left most vulnerable.

Governor Whitmer has created a task force to look into the devastatingly deleterious effects of this pandemic on people of color. Like 1968 when the President of the United States created the Kerner Commission to study why civil unrest had rocked cities nationwide, we do not need to wait for all the details. We know that we have created two Americas, one white and one black and brown. We know and have known that segregation is toxic.

The question is:

Do we have sufficient faith to recognize our individual and social responsibility? Are we resilient enough to renew our faith and do something about it now?

We welcome to open this conversation with you. Please leave your comments and opinions in the comment section below.