Keeping the Faith in Times of Crisis Means Holding Our Leaders Accountable
Throughout history, particularly during times of great despair and uncertainty, religious leaders have encouraged us to hold on to our faith, keep hope alive, and resist the power of fear to swallow our conviction. Spirituals and slave narratives authored by enslaved and emancipated Africans reveal that the dogged strength to survive the brutalities and unspeakable horrors of chattel slavery is attributed to the hope of freedom and a God of liberation. Letters, diaries, and books authored by Jews who suffered through Nazi Germany concentration camps illustrate faith that the God of their ancestors would be merciful. The theology of civil rights activists during the 1960s was rooted in the faith that if they kept fighting, protesting, and shining a light on the systemic injustices of a country that had not yet repented for the sins of chattel slavery and genocide, then one day the unalienable natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would be recognizable in and to all Americans.
We are now faced with a new moment of great despair and uncertainty as COVID-19 has not only claimed the lives of close to 100,000 Americans and left millions jobless in a matter of months, but this pandemic has altered the way in which we live and interact with each other. COVID-19 does not discriminate against race, class, gender, religion, and other stratifications; and leaders worldwide — both secular and religious — have urged us to stay strong, keep the faith, and believe that we will make it through this pandemic. But it’s understandably difficult to keep faith when responses from those elected to serve have been delayed and inadequate. Mayors, governors, and even the President of the United States have ignored the research and warnings from scientists and medical professionals deeming such vital information as fake and fabricated. These responses have cost people their lives.
The facts surrounding the virus may paint a bleak picture for what is ahead, but we must understand that while this pandemic has created a new set of challenges, we have been faced with crises of great proportions before. Still, many ask: what do we do? Though fear is a natural emotion felt by many as we brave this crisis, now is the time to lean into the lessons taught by our faiths. These lessons show that faith has not only given our ancestors the will to survive — as the Christian hymn says — many dangerous toils and snares — but also the boldness to speak truth to corrupted and unjust power. Scriptural and recent human history show us that faith is not simply the belief in things unseen. Faith is confidence and assurance that an invisible God gives us the authority to stand firmly and push back against the rulers, authorities, and powers of this world who would rather profit financially from COVID-19 than implement common-sense measures to save lives.
Faith is confidence and assurance that an invisible God gives us the authority to stand firmly and push back against the rulers, authorities, and powers of this world who would rather profit financially from COVID-19 than implement common-sense measures to save lives.
While faith is not unique or exclusive to organized religion and spiritualities, and no one owns the word or the idea, various faith traditions offer inspiration to see through this current crisis that has rendered many hopeless. We see these messages in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. According to the Torah, it was faith in a God of liberation that empowered Moses to lead a rebellion, face the Pharaoh, and demand that he let the Hebrews go free from the shackles of slavery. Although the Hebrews were unsure of what life looked like on the other side of slavery, it was faith that pushed them to pursue freedom. The inextricable link between faith and freedom is expressed further in Judeo-Christian exilic literature as the example of Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego protesting the imperial worship of King Nebuchadnezzar was used to bolster the faith of Jews suffering under the violent reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.
The Christian tradition teaches that faith in Jesus signals an understanding in who and what Jesus was — a political revolutionary, executed by the Roman Empire — who called for change in individual hearts while demanding sweeping and comprehensive transformation in the political, social, and economic structures of colonized Israel. And captured in Quranic literature is sacred memory — the recalling of our history and the belief that God has intervened in human history. The Quran teaches that our faith grows when we remember God. When we recall God, we are reminded that through the years, God has given us the fortitude to see the other side of tragedy.
Although Psalm 146 warns, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save,” we can still believe that the Maker of heaven and earth will uphold the cause of the oppressed, give food to the hungry, set the prisoners free, give sight to the blind, lift up those who are down, and love the righteous while also holding our world leaders and elected officials accountable.
We need leaders who are strong, informed, and who treat our lives and needs as holy, and those who currently occupy public office have betrayed us. But there is still time to do the right thing, and people of faith cannot let the fact that the doors of our worship spaces are closed keep us from doing what our faith calls us to do.
We need leaders who are strong, informed, and who treat our lives and needs as holy, and those who currently occupy public office have betrayed us. But there is still time to do the right thing, and people of faith cannot let the fact that the doors of our worship spaces are closed keep us from doing what our faith calls us to do. We must stand in the prophetic tradition of our faith and demand that our leaders do not rest until they have lived out the word that will ultimately be our salvation. It is as Saint Augustine has counseled us: “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.”