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Christian resignation in the face of a pandemic?

Wednesday, 27 January 2021  | Charles Ringma

I write this reflection as a challenge to myself, rather than as a directed criticism of the church, of which I am a part anyway. Thus, the stance in this reflection is not as one who stands outside the church with a high and mighty and self-righteous critical attitude.

The tenor is more one of grief.

But some things do need to be said, and observations do need to be made.

So then, let’s ask the question: how has the church fared in Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic?

I am not talking about what individual Christians may have done or not done. I have no way of knowing this, although I have talked about this matter with some of my Christian friends.

I assume that individual Christians will have done the best they could in the changing circumstances in which they found themselves, and this may well have included loss of regular employment, loss of wider family contact, loss of emotional and physical well-being, and possibly loss of loved ones.

I assume that they would have prayed about the pandemic, and if in health-care they would have gone out of their way to assist those who were suffering. If in the medical science field they would have worked hard to find a vaccine. And, more generally, they would have been attentive to neighbours and others needing help and encouragement.

And in the provision of aged-care services, education and welfare services, where many Christians give of their daily best, one would expect that in this difficult time they would have gone the second mile.

But none of this is my focus. I have both the local church and the denominations in view. And while I cannot generalise about a particular local church, I can make some broad observations about the Christian denominations.

What is most obvious is that the churches in this country complied with the government health regulations. And many went to Zoom services.

What is also abundantly clear is that the voices of denominational leaders were generally not heard in the public sphere. Did they really have little to say in one of the biggest crises to hit this country or has the church become so marginalised in society that the voice of the church is simply ignored?

But to probe further: Is it really the case that the church in a time of crisis has nothing distinctive to offer? Does it really have no voice now in the public arena?

But what of the distinctives the church can offer? What of the major biblical themes of healing, reconciliation, community, care for the poor, the work of justice and prophetic witness?

What of the church being salt, leaven and light in society? And what of the church helping people to face suffering, loss and death?

Was none of this relevant in this pandemic? Or has the church become a ‘tired’ institution in society? Or is the church afraid to raise its voice?

I would hope not.

And so, I asking readers to share what they were able to see and do in this difficult time. Maybe the church is really an underground movement, doing good when no one sees?


Charles Ringma is Emeritus Professor at Regent College, Vancouver, and Honorary Associate Professor at The University of Queensland, Brisbane.


Images: Covid vaccine centre at Salisbury Cathedral


Ken Rolph
January 27, 2021, 5:16PM
I must say that until I read this I had not noticed the silence the church (formal). Which probably says a lot.

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