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COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
Global to Local: Ricocheting Impacts of COVID-19

Last week saw our team focusing on the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Berkley Center and WFDD hosted a North American consultation for the G20 Interfaith Forum that will take place in October. The impact of the pandemic was a central theme, notably highlighted in remarks presented by Dr. Olivia Wilkinson (JLI) in the opening and closing sessions. Apart from obvious issues that the G20 is mandated to address, in this case leadership on health policies and financial responses, next steps in developing, testing, and distributing the hoped-for vaccine is a leading issue. With their diverse and central roles, religious institutions are needed at policy forums like the G20.
Alongside the global focus on the G20 are numerous and diverse reports from different parts of the world. Handling restrictions on gatherings and their repercussions is a topic in different settings (see this report from Kenya, where one issue is the age set for restrictions to apply). The dilemmas involved in reopening educational institutions are of wide concern, particularly for vulnerable groups such as indigenous children in Bangladesh. The emotional impact of the pandemic, especially on children, is another growing concern. A Theos report speculates on how the pandemic may result in shifts in religious practice in the long term. On an immediate and practical point, a Devex report argues that faith leaders play vital roles, with hymns that promote important WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) messaging.
While the stories of religious opposition to public health are a focus in many news reports, surveys indicate that large majorities both of leaders and religious adherents both favor and respect public health guidelines. There are interesting distinctions: a Pew Research Center survey found that in the United States, Republicans are more open to in-person worship than Democrats, but most oppose religious exemptions from COVID restrictions. During an election season marked by deep polarizations in the United States, wearing masks has become political garb.
Reports come in on vulnerable groups suffering disproportionate harm. A blog centered on “the girl child” highlights another global pandemic, gendercide, the extreme violence directed against women. The pandemic is affecting different regions very differently, with reports querying why Buddhist Asia has been largely spared (with reports of new infections in South Korea the jubilation may be premature). The Tablighi Jamat movement is once more in the news, with reports of individuals being detained in India.
The imperatives of restrictive measures that apply to religious institutions as part of overall shutdowns have put government/religious relationships in the spotlight in different countries. The meaning and limits of religious freedom are in the spotlight in a surprisingly wide range of situations. South Korea, with churches in the eye of the storm from the start, reports continuing tensions around restrictions.

There is a hunger for data from policymakers especially, but many reports both of those involved and those affected by them highlight the importance of story in a crisis. The New Yorker magazine’s lengthy report about a renegade priest dedicated to supporting immigrants, many of them undocumented, offers an important window into the pandemic’s impact, both the pain of suffering and noble responses. This Global Sisters Report highlights the caring work of humanitarian workers on the front lines.
Upcoming Event
September 10, 10:00 a.m. EDT
Dueling Pandemics: Faith, HIV, and COVID-19

The webinar will explore challenges and hopes, first engaging a proposed strategy that is the product of a broad-based reflection launched in September 2019 at the Berkley Center as a challenge to faith communities, and then taking stock of the impact of the COVID-19 emergency. The discussion will focus on two issues: Given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, how should the religious response to HIV change so that progress towards ending the HIV pandemic by 2030 is sustained? What are the most effective strategies for religious communities to battle HIV and COVID-19 at the same time?

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