Twenty members of our church crowded into our living room to pray the first week of March.
There was a mundaneness to our gathering as couches were pushed aside and everyone found a place to sit. Praying together is part of the regular rhythm of our church, but the lingering silence and the sounds of sniffles reverberating throughout the space made us acutely aware that this night was different. Each of our hearts was heavy with the reality of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and the ways that racism has ripped through our community as a result.
The events surrounding the coronavirus right now are personal for our church. Hope Community Church is a minority-led multicultural congregation. Several of our members are Asian American, and I myself am Indian American. Ever since the Trump administration declared the coronavirus a “public health emergency” in January, we’ve seen a rise in anti-Asian racism across our country with Austin, TX (where we live) being no exception. Some of our congregants have received hate-filled messages. Members of our community are financially suffering as their restaurants now sit empty. Inappropriate jokes have been directed at friends after they coughed, and much worse.
We’re not just learning facts about the coronavirus from the news. We’re experiencing its racialized threats on a day-to-day basis, and we know that there is far more that our church must do in response to this virus than simply not giving in to a spirit of fear. Instead, we’ve prioritized three things: speaking out against anti-Asian racism, creating intentional space for prayer, and supporting local Asian businesses in our communities.We’re experiencing its racialized threats on a day-to-day basis, and we know that there is far more that our church must do in response to this virus than simply not giving in to a spirit of fear. Click To Tweet
1) Speak Out Against Anti-Asian Racism
Every public health crisis threatens to dehumanize the people around us. From Ebola to the Zika virus, we’ve repeatedly seen the ways that widespread fear morphs into xenophobia and racism against other countries and ethnic groups, and this cycle is something that the church should actively be seeking to break.
God calls for those who believe in him to learn to do good, to seek justice, and to correct oppression (Is 1:17). And the ways in which the coronavirus has attacked the vulnerable and caused damaging images of Chinese peoples to reverberate throughout the world is indeed something we need to correct. In Scripture, God himself even leads by example. In Job 29:14, for example, he says, “I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice is my robe and my turban.” God repeatedly shows that he cares about those who have experienced injustice, and he sees himself as their first and foremost defender, a “father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” (Ps 68:5).
The anti-Asian racism that has resulted because of the coronavirus is an injustice. The church needs to boldly proclaim this from the pulpit, and its members need to actively fight against it in their communities throughout the week. This includes speaking out when people assume someone of East Asian descent has the virus as well as checking our own speech and possibly flippant attitudes toward the situation. It also means stepping in and correcting jokes made about Asian businesses or hate-filled comments against East Asian persons. This practice is active. It requires us to step out boldly, regardless of the cost.
Second, the church must be committed to prayer. Our church has been praying for the people affected by this virus every Sunday since it was discovered in Wuhan in December 2019. We’ve been praying for God in his mercy to spare people. God is sovereign over every cell in our bodies. He is sovereign over this virus. He can spare people and those in close proximity. In his mercy, he can also give wisdom to doctors and researchers to find a vaccine. God doesn’t always spare us, but we are still called to pray and to hope. To plead as the prophet Jeremiah did, “Heal us, Lord,” and then believe that “we shall be healed” (Jer 17:4).
We can also ask God to awaken us to our own fragility. Every time a sickness becomes a global phenomenon, we should remind ourselves that we are finite. As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:20, “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” Death is coming for us all. Epidemics such as COVID-19 remind us that life can be given and taken away at any moment. And our response to such a reality shouldn’t be fear, but confession and renewed belief. This threat should motivate us to pray that God would bring repentance—for believers and non-believers alike—and a strengthening of our faith.We can also ask God to awaken us to our own fragility. Every time a sickness becomes a global phenomenon, we should remind ourselves that we are finite. Click To Tweet
3) Support Asian Businesses
Finally, the way we prove that we as the church are not living in a spirit of fear is by choosing to support Asian businesses right now.
Asian businesses have reported a drop in sales since talks of the coronavirus began. Places that used to see lines out the doors and crowded plazas now feel desolate. And if Asian restaurants and shops continue to struggle, employees will have to be let go, and whole businesses could go under. The threats of the coronavirus have enabled discrimination against Asian enterprises in the U.S. But there is no basis for this kind of bias. The only thing we are doing is adding insult to injury, feeding into fear, and jeopardizing people’s livelihoods. That has to stop, and the world should see the church actively fighting to bring this kind of discrimination to its proper end.
In situations like this, we have to remind ourselves of Mark 12:31 and ask, “What does loving my neighbor as myself look like?” It’s a question that requires us to see life through our Asian-American neighbors’ eyes, to better understand their pains, and consider the ways in which they need love right now. For our church, this has been as easy as intentionally ordering Asian take-out for dinner or dining in at a local Asian restaurant. We don’t overly worry about crowded spaces either. We’ve also checked on our Asian friends and neighbors, asking them how they’re doing, and what can we do for them. We don’t assume. We go and ask.
The church has an opportunity right now to shine the light of Christ in a dark situation. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus as we humbly serve those around us who are hurting. And this is something we can all do together.