I recently had the privilege of contributing to a Grove booklet engaging the Covid-19 crisis from a Christian and theological perspective. The booklet discussed the pandemic and focussed on the environment, justice and the future.
My chapter is about the future – looking forward towards a better world. Any title with ‘COVID-19’ and ‘the future’ in it, should make us extremely tentative! Even as we progress further into the Covid-19 pandemic, there is still so much that is unclear and uncertain. History indicates pandemics can trigger major sociological shifts, but will that be the case here?
As Christians, we believe that suffering and sickness is not what God originally intended, and that we are to follow Jesus in bringing hope and healing to his world – responding to people’s needs at all levels and living in ways that allow the wider creation to flourish. We are to have a ‘holy dissatisfaction’ with how things are and a constant inner pull to be working for change and looking for a better future.
At Tearfund, we are exploring the idea of The World Rebooted. We have identified three positive shifts that have emerged during the lockdown:
- From ‘I, alone’ to ‘We, together’: We are deeply connected with one another and with the whole of creation, and our interconnectedness and our need for one another has never been clearer. the rapid spread of the disease has also demonstrated how the health and well-being of just one of us has implications for us all.
- From valuing productivity above all else to valuing life: In response to this crisis, we have seen those without homes being housed and individuals making huge sacrifices to save lives. Many have valued increased family time and a rediscovery of the natural world.
- From small tweaks to a new way of being: Many are realising that we have a chance to reshape culture and society. Fundamental renewal now feels possible.
As we look forward, there are three areas that are particularly key for us to focus on to use this opportunity to bring about long-lasting change:
1. Domestic poverty
Poverty existed in the UK before the pandemic, and COVID-19 will only increase its occurrence, with IPPR predicting 1.1 million additional people facing poverty by the end of 2020.A basic and fundamental change in the UK would be to end the five-week wait for universal credit, which has caused such hardship, and provide grants rather than loans for low-income families. Taxation is always an emotive issue, but, if the government introduced a progressive wealth tax assessed on the net worth of the top 1% of richest individuals in the UK, this would be enough to repay all the extra debt from the pandemic in ten years.
2. Global poverty
We must develop a fully-funded global health action plan that focuses on helping the poorest countries respond to the pandemic, with the WHO playing the central role as coordinator. The role of the Church and other faith communities is also vital here in building resilient communities at local level.
3. Environmental destruction, particularly climate change.
As Edward Perry, Policy Analyst for the OECD Environment Directorate, has said, “the COVID-19 response must be a holistic one that recognises the inter-connectedness of nature, human well-being, and the economy”. Central to this is ensuring that the economic stimulus package is consistent with a pathway to net-zero, to keep us within 1.5°C of warming. There are several proposals road-mapping such a net-zero emissions economic recovery (see here for example).
We may feel overwhelmed by the tragedies around us, but we refuse to give up, remembering the assurance of 1 Corinthians 15:58 that our labour in the Lord is not in vain.
The full Grove Booklet is available for purchase here. With this booklet, I had the privilege of collaborating with some remarkable people:
- The Revd Dr Timothy Howles – an Associate Research Fellow of the William Temple Foundation and a minister in the Church of England, provided the introduction and conclusion of the booklet.
- Dr Martin J Hodson – a plant scientist and Operations Director for the John Ray Initiative with over 100 research publications – wrote the first section on the origins of Covid-19.
- The Revd Margot R Hodson – an environmental theologian, Director of Theology and Education at The John Ray Initiative, and Associate Vicar of the Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice, West Oxfordshire – provided a section on ‘Environment and Justice during the COVID-19 Pandemic’.