Studies in World Christianity 27.1

COVID-19 and the Socially-Present World Church

By the time this issue of Studies in World Christianity goes to press, in March 2021, it will have been a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At the time of that declaration, the Director General of WHO stated that there were 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, with more than 90 per cent of the cases in China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. Even at that early stage, the danger of COVID-19 seemed remote to those living in other parts of the world. Yet soon after, regional and national governments began to close borders and implement different lockdown procedures. Certain people would be identified as ‘key workers’ as their jobs were seen as essential support for society. However, these individuals would be more readily exposed to the virus, which revealed inequalities across gendered, racial and socio-economic groupings. Furthermore, frustrations around the public health crisis resulted in forms of racial conflict. Many Western countries would see increasing reports of anti-Asian racism, as those of East Asian extract were scapegoated as causing the so-called ‘China virus’. Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, major cities throughout the United States and other parts of the world would burst out in protest against police brutality towards blacks. It appears as though humanity has become more and more ‘socially distant’.

Already Studies in World Christianity 26.3, published in November 2020, had an article reminding us that the 1918 influenza pandemic became a rallying point for prayer that resulted in the rise of the Faith Tabernacle movement in West African Pentecostalism. The issue contained articles about Christianity in Southeast Asia, which highlighted disparities which fell across urban—rural and socio-economic lines, and how Christians were both part of the problem and part of the solution. We were also introduced to ways in which Christians utilised internet technologies to transcend borders and to support one another and offer resilience to one another in the face of crises. As editors, we were struck by how Christians in the world church often prioritised being socially present in this world, in their local and regional communities, and through transregional and transnational networks supported by internet technologies.

In this second special issue which considers COVID-19 and the world church, we are reminded of the ways in which Christianity is firmly imbedded in social history. In many parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, it is impossible to fully understand human life without considering the Christian factor. Even in regions of Asia such as South Korea and Hong Kong where Christians represent a minority in the population, their public contribution to society far outweighs their numbers. These papers note how the COVID-19 world, if you will, provides a new context whereby Christians renegotiate their relationships with the broader society.

The papers found in this and the last issue of Studies in World Christianity reiterate the point that, in the midst of a global public-health crisis, the world church can and has offered a contribution to the common good, addressing questions of health and healing. The world church also operates as local communities which offer solidarity, resilience and (ultimate) hope in the face of great challenge. This is a socially-present world church.

This is an excerpt from the editorial for SWC 27.1, entitled ‘COVID-19 and the Socially-Present World Church’.

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