COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
COVID-19 Economic Crisis Challenges Religious Communities

This past week saw intensive engagement among powerful financial and economic actors during the IMF/World Bank/G7/G20 meetings (all conducted virtually). The actions that emerged, large in scale and many without precedent, attest to the enormous scale and gravity of the economic and social crises linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding some of the normal civil society engagement, religious voices in the meetings themselves were few and far between, but the topics there are of crucial concern to religious communities worldwide - reflected as an example in Pope Francis' expression of hope on Easter Sunday that "this time of danger will free us from operating on
automatic pilot, shake our sleepy consciences and allow a humanist and ecological conversion that puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the center.”

As governments grapple with extraordinary physical distancing measures and move to bolster health care, they must also deal with COVID-19's economic impacts. Rapid emergency programs are underway in virtually all countries, and these are of direct and immediate concern to religious communities that began mobilizing resources to respond to urgent needs from the outset. The announced standstill on many debt service payments by poorer countries, at least to multilateral and bilateral creditors, gives vital breathing room and echoes longstanding religious calls for action on debt burdens.

Looking to the longer term, among ideas coming from religious communities is Pope Francis' suggestion that it may be timely to take a fresh look at guaranteeing to all "a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out.” Taking on this idea, fiercely debated around the world and including during the U.S. Democratic primary, is a bold statement. That a respected religious leader notes that a universal basic wage would “ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights” is significant. Other proposals and actions include the initiative of many Muslims in Pakistan to donate zakat, the traditional Muslim charity tax, for daily wage earners who have no paid leave, health insurance, or financial safety net. Looking back to the 2008 economic crisis, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church urged communities to meet together to "discuss actions and behavioral changes that they might undertake to lower their consumption, live more simply, and share their resources more generously."

(Based on: April 1, 2020, BBC article; April 12, 2020, America Magazine article; April 13, 2020, Berkley Forum article; April 16, 2020, CNBC article; and a 2010 Presbyterian Mission brief) 
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