Mario A. Russo
 on March 24, 2020

Surviving Civilization: Being the Church in the time of Coronavirus

Mario gives a pastoral perspective on how we can best be the church for our neighbors when we can't congregate as a church together.

man sitting alone in an empty church

Before You Read

Dear reader,

We’ll get right to it: Young people today are departing the faith in historic numbers as the church is either unwilling or unable to address their questions on science and faith. BioLogos is hosting those tough conversations. Not with anger, but with grace. Not with a simplistic position to earn credibility on the left or the right, but a message that is informed, faithful, and hopeful.

Although voices on both sides are loud and extreme, we are breaking through. But as a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of donors like you to continue this challenging work. Your tax deductible gift today will help us continue to counter the polarizing narratives of today with a message that is informed, hopeful, and faithful.

In the NIV Couples Devotional Bible, professor Wayne Brouwer tells an interesting story. “…Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones. But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.”

As we face the coronavirus pandemic, we need to ask ourselves, how do we as a civilization survive and thrive? How do we make it through safely and healthily? There are a lot of fears, suspicions, and questions out there. How do we help each other through this difficulty?

Trust the Science

I’m an American, but I live in Germany. I have a lot of American friends and acquaintances who have messaged me, “Is the coronavirus really as bad as the media says it is?” Their question comes from a place of skepticism. They want to know if things really are as bad in Germany and Italy as they have heard. There is a long answer to that question, but my short answer is, yes. Things really are bad. I’m not trying to spread fear. I’m trying to spread trust in the science behind the coronavirus.

Usually, those of us from the evolutionary creation perspective are writing about trusting the science behind evolutionary theory. But the same is true here, too. The numbers that are being reported by medical establishments, and the contagiousness that is being reported by scientists, must be trusted. There is no conspiracy theory here. We must trust the science behind the coronavirus. Failing to do so carries a heavy price tag. The consequences not only affect those distrusting the science, but the entire community.

What does trusting the coronavirus science look like? It means following the scientific and medical suggestions. Wash hands and avoid face-to-face contact. Limit or completely stop contact with friends and neighbors. Sneeze and cough into your elbow. These measures have been shown to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. People who follow these measures are not only less like to contract it, but they are less likely to transmit it to other people. So trust the science and follow the guidelines. People’s lives are literally counting on it.

Exercise Your Faith

“People are afraid. They are scared,” my friend Roger (a pastor in South Carolina) said to me with a shaky voice as he and I talked over Skype last week. “It feels like some people are in denial, some people are just skeptical, and some people are genuinely freaking out. We are doing the best we can to care for people. Since you are in Germany and ahead of the US in terms of your experience of the coronavirus, can you tell me what the church there is doing to care for people?” I love this question. And what a wise question!  There is actually quite a lot the church here in Europe (not just Germany) is doing.

hands washing with bar of soap

First of all, We Pray Together.

We schedule regular times on Skype or other video conferencing apps for times of prayer together. As I think about the book of Acts and the early church, one feature that stands out to me is how often the church gathered together to pray for each other. While we are all quarantined in our homes, technology makes it possible for us to “gather” together virtually to encourage each other and pray for each other, our community, and the world.

Secondly, We Encourage Each Other.

Again, technology has been most helpful here. We’ve moved sermons and church services online. I’ve seen many churches in the US already doing this. We want to stay as connected as possible, while removing the risk that comes from in-person meetings. We also send encouraging notes, texts, Scripture verses, and prayer requests to each other. One of the German pastors I work with makes a short YouTube video every day and sends it to the entire congregation. It’s short and encouraging and helps us keep our hearts focused in the right place. Encouragement doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple.

Thirdly, We Serve Each Other.

There are volunteer services here where you can sign up to shop, purchase, and deliver groceries to the elderly or sick. Christians serving each other and the community is a tradition that dates back to Jesus himself. But my favorite example comes not long after that.

In the middle of the third century, a deadly plague spread across civilization. It is known as the Plague of Cyprian. Historians estimate as many as 5,000 people a day were dying. In the north African city of Carthage, people lived in such fear of the illness they would not even attend to sick family members. Many were left to suffer in isolation without care. The local church acted. Christians in Carthage cared for the sick and buried the dead without regard for their own personal safety. Stories of such Christlike actions reached the ears of Emperor Constantine and influenced him to issue the “Edict of Toleration” for Christianity. For centuries, the church has set the standard of compassionate care for the sick and dying. During this coronavirus pandemic, we must uphold that tradition.

I’m not saying that we must all get out and volunteer in hospitals and care for the sick. One way we can serve others (especially the elderly and vulnerable) is by practicing good social distancing. Sometimes, the best way to serve others is to stay home and not expose others to potential transmission. Just because you don’t have any symptoms, doesn’t mean you aren’t carrying the coronavirus. You could be unwittingly carrying the virus and infecting others. So, we need to carefully consider the best way to love our neighbors. That is, after all, the starting point of civilization.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” I can think of no better fitting verse at the moment. Let us not have a spirit of fear. Instead, let’s use a sound mind to trust the science and the medical community. Let’s use the power of the Holy Spirit to love and serve each other. Let’s pray for each other. Let’s keep our distance from each other. Let’s make it through this time together, and emerge from this pandemic as a stronger, wiser, healthier, and more faith filled civilization.

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About the author

Mario A. Russo

Mario A. Russo is a PhD in Theology (Science and Religion) candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and Director Emeritus of the Dortmund Center for Science and Faith in Dortmund, Germany. He is an ordained pastor who holds several degrees in both Christian theology and the biological sciences including a Doctor of Ministry from Erskine College and Seminary, as well as an Interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Psychology from the University of South Carolina. He has written and spoken on various platforms about issues related to science and faith for over 15 years. He lives in Greenville, South Carolina along with his wife and 2 children.