Covid-19 is Global and So Are We: A Global Pandemic Needs a Global Response
DR. TODD M. JOHNSON
PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY AND MISSION
Our world is infected. With over 2.4 million cases (as of April 20), Covid-19 is found in nearly every country of the world. Many politicians and economists have put forth plans for tackling this pandemic, yet have overlooked the reality that defeating a global virus requires a global approach. A recent New York Times article highlighted the essential global nature of coronavirus research. While politicians lock up their borders, scientists have been creating an unprecedented global collaborative network. Researchers around the world have been sharing data, with concerns over academic credit set aside for the time being. In this context, for example, researchers like Dr. Francesco Perrone, who is leading a coronavirus clinical trial in Italy, remarked,
“‘I never hear scientists — true scientists, good quality scientists — speak in terms of nationality. My nation, your nation. My language, your language. My geographic location, your geographic location. This is something that is really distant from true top-level scientists.’” (New York Times, 14 April 2020)
This kind of a language reminds me of the interconnected nature of global Christianity. While nationalism is on the rise around the world, Christians share a primary global identity in that they belong first and foremost to a global family. This implies a special responsibility to Christian communities in the global North now that the virus is spreading in the global South (67% of all Christians live there). Most of the health and medical resources are in the global North, and poorer countries are already finding it difficult to procure PPEs and important medicines. In some cases, they have been outbid by wealthy countries. That is dangerous territory for Christians because there is no more prominent theme in the Scriptures than care for the poor. While Christians in the North should take care of their own, now is the time to anticipate its further spread in the South and to do something about it. Africa, home to 667 million Christians, is of particular concern. Ironically, the global North is serviced by large numbers of medical professionals from the global South.
“A global ‘brain drain’ of medical professionals to richer countries has left developing nations in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere without tens of thousands of highly skilled workers. Some 30 percent of doctors in the United States, and one-third of those in the United Kingdom, were foreign-born as of 2016, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.” (New York Times, 18 April 2020)
Many of these doctors are now needed back home but are unable to travel during the pandemic. And many are Christians who are now grief-stricken to be so far from friends and family at the time of their greatest need.
Another challenge is escalating conspiracy theories and cures, many touted in Christian social media circles. These range from Bill Gates creating the virus to vaccinate everyone to suggesting the ingestion of colloidal silver to cure the disease. Many Christians seem to have a disproportionate fascination with conspiracy theories and simple cures. In addition, many are drawn to nationalistic behavior such as blaming other countries for the pandemic. But all this runs against the grain of global Christian identity. We are people of the planet, not advocates for countries, languages, denominations, or any other identity. Furthermore, we have a long history of alignment with the worldwide scientific community (Christianity Today, 17 April 2020). Fortunately, reputable global news sources such as the New York Times, the Economist, the BBC, and many others have documented and debunked many of these theories. Snopes.com has been overwhelmed with thousands of requests.
Where will the global Christian community come out in this? Many people are posting references to how Christians in the Roman Empire cared for the sick and how that helped Christianity grow. (Over 50 Catholic priests died from the virus in Italy, many while serving their parishes.) Will a global pandemic receive a global response, or will Christians be at the mercy of 200 different national governments and 45,000 different Christian denominations? How Christians navigate this global crisis will say a lot about how closely we follow our global savior’s admonitions.