There is no question that since COVID 19 appeared at the end of 2019, there has been a great loss of lives. While the recorded number of deaths in 2021 are far fewer than in 2020, both 2020 and 2021 have experienced great losses.
Unfortunately, many of those lost lives are disproportionately people of color, with the highest death toll within the African American community. The year 2020 also saw the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others at the hands of police, in addition to more than 46,000 Black Americans from COVID-19. According to the American Public Media Research Lab, the novel coronavirus mortality rate for Black Americans is at least double that of white Americans. The disparity is profound: had Black Americans died of COVID-19 at the same rate as white Americans, more than 22,000 Black Americans would still be alive today (The Color of Coronavirus: COVID-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S., APM Research Lab, November 2020, apmresearchlab.org).
Furthermore, there have been economic losses as a result of the pandemic. Much like the loss of lives, the economic burden of the pandemic has also fallen more heavily on Black workers and Black business owners. As of October 2020, the unemployment rate for Black Americans stood at nearly 11 percent, versus 6 percent for white Americans (Employment status of the civilian population by race, sex and age, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2020, bls.gov). The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that more than 40 percent of Black-owned businesses in the United States closed between February and April 2020, versus about 17 percent of white-owned businesses (Robert Fairlie, “The Impact of COVID-19 on small business owners: Evidence of early-stage losses” from the April 2020 current population survey, U of C at Santa Cruz and National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, number 27309, June 2020, nber.org.). Over those three months, the number of Black business owners dropped by a staggering 440,000. These losses are likely to grow: In September of 2020, nearly half of Black business owners said that without federal support, they would only be able to remain in business for another six months (Alysia Snell et al, “Small business owner survey: Findings based on national survey of small business owners,” The Main Street Alliance and Color of Change, September 2020, theblackresponse.org).
Racial inequities exist in nearly every area of society—housing, politics, finance, labor, criminal justice and the evangelical Christian church.
I share these statistics with you to make the case that the events of 2020 and 2021 are emblematic of long-standing inequities and are rooted in a long history of systemic racism and discrimination. According to the Federal Reserve, the typical Black American family has eight times less wealth than a white family. The racial wealth gap has profound consequences, both for Black families and for the US economy. Despite all this—and in part because of all this—the experience of COVID 19, its variants and the awakening of racial inequities have emerged as a moment of opportunity, a possible inflection-point for addressing inequity in a profound way. The global protest following the killing of George Floyd demonstrated the growing awareness of inequity and a willingness to do something about it; even within The Salvation Army.
Racial inequities exist in nearly every area of society—housing, politics, finance, labor, criminal justice and the evangelical Christian church. Many of the recent conversations about systemic racism within the Christian church, including The Salvation Army have been vitriolic and rancorous, rather than kind and gracious. Further, there are some who are unwilling to acknowledge that racism is a problem for which the church has been complicit. So, it can be hard for a denomination like The Salvation Army to talk about racism and successfully focus on a clear strategy to address racial injustice in a way that will have a profound and sustainable impact. Yet, one thing is clear. If the church (including The Salvation Army) is unable to reach consensus or unite around this issue, I dare say that our commitment to fulfill both the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 ( “…go and make disciples of all nations…”) and the mission of The Salvation Army ( (“preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet needs in his name without discrimination”) will be severely compromised. However, as a people of faith and hope, we do not lose heart because Jesus has provided the way for overcoming racism and discrimination, both within the church and society. Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, both then and now, as found in John 17: 11 and 21-23 underscores the critical importance of unity and love, just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united. Jesus’ great desire for his disciples…the church…was that we would become “one”. He knew that our unity would be a powerful witness to the reality of God’s love for others. He also knew that our experience of “oneness” is inextricably tied to our willingness to remain in union with God.
Thus, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit with sadness that we, as Christ’s disciples, have far too often missed the mark with respect to living out the expectation of unity and harmony in the church. So, what does it mean to be one and how do we achieve what have eluded us for almost two centuries? Several passages of Scripture point to what it means to be “one”. At the center of our ability to be one is the embracing of our new identity in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Any real or perceived differences that may exist among believers (i.e., ethnicity, gender, physical or mental capacity, economic status, citizenship status, etc.) are transcended by our faith and identity in Christ. As heirs with Christ, no one is more privileged than or superior to anyone else. In fact, Ephesians 4:1-6 makes it plain that prior to our conversion, we all were dead in our sin (rich and poor, Jew or Gentile and male and female). However, because of God’s great love for us and His grace, we are made right with God and each other by accepting Christ’s sacrificial gift of salvation achieved for us by dying on a cross. Ephesians 2:14 and 15 goes on to say that it was God’s purpose all along to end the enmity and hostility between Jew and Gentile and create one common family. Christ’s death on the cross achieved this for us. However, when we take our focus off of the cross and what it sought to accomplish among mankind, we lose sight of what Christ died for…a unity that we all can enjoy.
The division in the church around the issue of systemic racism and the complicity of the church with racism reveal that we do not currently experience the oneness for which Christ died. Just as Paul reminded the church in Ephesus (Eph. 4: 1-6) that unity does not just happen, it has to be worked at. Thus, it is our hope that Salvationists and other followers of The Center for Social Justice and Urban Mission’s social media pages (Facebook and Instagram) and visitors to our website will be encouraged to live our lives “worthy of the calling [we] have received.” That we will be “completely humble and gentle…patient, bearing with one another in love” and that we will “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit though the bond of peace.” In order for this to take place, we must search our hearts to determine where we have fallen short, confess and lament our failings either through omission or commission, and seek God’s forgiveness through repentance.
We can start by asking ourselves:
- In what ways have I been silent and/or passive on the issue of systemic racism?
- Have there been a time when I was silent by not offering a contrasting perspective or a counter-narrative to sinful actions committed by other Christians either in the public or private arena?
We may find ourselves affirming a toxic point of view in society because we chose to remain silent in the face of a sinful action. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. puts it this way: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” (MLK, Letter from Birmingham Jail, 16 April 1963)
Take this moment right now to talk to God about the times when you have either sinned through silence or passive acceptance of the status quo, particularly the status quo that perpetuates the wrongdoings of others and/or the willful disobedience to the tenets of Scripture related to unity and love.