Editor: The Ven John Barton compares a film of a pandemic to the real thing. From the Parish Pump
Moral questions from the pandemic
You may have missed it at the time. The movie ‘Contagion’ didn’t make much of an impact when it was released for public viewing in 2011. Perhaps it was thought to be unrealistic. It was about a highly contagious, unknown virus, transmitted by an infected bat to a pig in a Chinese marketplace. From there it spread like wildfire round the world.
It was fiction then of course, but not so far-fetched as to be distant from reality, as we now know. Deadly viruses, and the plagues they cause, have been part of world history since time began. In the early days, when travel between continents was infrequent, their spread was slower and usually confined to local regions.
The way the film’s imaginary plot develops bears an uncanny resemblance to what we have experienced this year. Panic buying empties supermarkets, whole populations adopt social distancing, scientists work flat out to identify the virus and then search for a means to combat it. Meanwhile, millions are infected, and quarantines are imposed.
The story progresses far beyond the reality which is familiar to us. The irresponsible use of social media and false rumours of a cure lead to the looting of pharmacies. Emergency food supplies are ransacked, law and order break down. Troops police the streets. Then there’s a breakthrough: a vaccine is discovered. But that raises a new moral problem: who will get it first and what would be a fair distribution system?
The movie is still available via Netflix, or you can buy a DVD online. Despite the inevitable carnage of the pandemic and the suffering it portrays, it contrives to have a relatively happy ending.
In real life, we haven’t got that far yet. But, please God, we will. After all, most deadly diseases are now under control and both vaccination and immunisation are part and parcel of everyday life; old ‘uns take it for granted that their GP will summon them for an anti-flu jab each winter.
But we may face an ethical dilemma when it comes to a vaccine for Covid-19. If there’s an initial shortage, who should get it first? Should money come into it? Are Christian principles applicable?
In the news at home From the Parish Pump
Methodists launch Year of Prayer
The Methodist Church has launched a Year of Prayer online to help bring more people to faith.
The short weekly online service takes place each Tuesday lunchtime, at 12.45pm via Zoom, and is also live- streamed via Facebook. It will be led by people from across the Church.
Trey Hall, Director of Evangelism and Growth for the Methodist Church, explains:
“This Year of Prayer is a special time, a called-out time, for the whole Church. The world can feel like it’s falling apart – not only due to COVID, but also due to systemic injustice, racism, to climate change, to political instability. And if we as the Church are going to respond in any meaningful way, we need more than ever to pray, we need to call upon God for healing and renewal and wisdom.”
The Year of Prayer is considered an important step in the new strategy adopted by the Methodist Conference to be an inclusive, evangelistic, growing, justice-seeking Church. It wants to focus resources on helping people explore faith, in starting hundreds of new churches, and in serving communities experiencing marginalization.
In the news around the world From the Parish Pump
Helping Christians in Beirut after the explosion
The charity Barnabas Fund has thanked its supporters for their generous response to an emergency appeal that followed the disastrous explosion at the port in Lebanon on 4th August.
It meant that Barnabas Fund was able to send more than £85,000 to help Christians in Beirut with food and the repair of their homes.
As a spokesman for Barnabas Fund explains: “All those being assisted were already very poor and vulnerable, even before the explosion. Some of those we are helping are Muslim-background believers from nearby countries, who cannot receive other aid because coming forward would reveal the fact that they were converts from Islam, thus endangering themselves.”
Four of the five neighbourhoods worst affected are predominantly Christian. Help is still very much needed. If you would like to give, a monthly food parcel costs £27, or to help repair a home costs £380. Visit https://barnabasfund.org
Tearfund working to help Lebanon after blast
The charity Tearfund has moved fast to help people hit by the huge explosion in Lebanon on 4th August. The country was already suffering beneath the weight of an economic crisis, growing food insecurity, and widespread poverty.
Tearfund’s local partners have been distributing thousands of hot meals, as well as vouchers to enable those most in need to buy food and hygiene items. Its partner churches and faith organisations are also giving emotional support to families, and also providing shelter for those who have lost their homes.
Tearfund has been working in Lebanon since 2013, responding to the crisis caused by the conflict in Syria. Around 1.5 million refugees call Lebanon their home – 25 per cent of the whole population – many of these living in makeshift accommodation in Beirut’s slums.
If you can help, please go to: https://www.tearfund.org
Turkey turns another church into a mosque
Just a month after converting the famous Hagia Sophia into a functioning mosque, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that another historic church has been turned into a place of Islamic worship.
The historic Chora church, one of Istanbul’s most recognisable Byzantine buildings, was officially commissioned as a mosque in late August. The mediaeval church contains several 14th century Byzantine mosaics and frescoes portraying scenes from biblical stories – but, much like the Hagia Sophia, the artwork was covered up during the Muslim Ottoman takeover in 1453, before being unearthed again when the building was converted to a museum 70 years ago.
In a recent order signed by Erdogan and published in Turkey’s Official Gazette, the government announced that the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora was now officially converted to the Kariye Mosque.
It is not clear when Islamic prayers will commence at the building. Many Christians reacted with words of lament and frustration at the latest action.
Editor: An overview of what Christians face in various countries
Oppressed Christians struggling under Covid-19
Oppression and discrimination against Christians have increased during Covid, says Release International, which has launched an appeal to help Christians suffering during the pandemic.
Many Christians have been denied food and relief aid and excluded from support systems during lockdown. They have been abandoned by families because of their faith and refused relief by governments and NGOs.
At the same time, several countries have stepped up persecution against Christians. One of the worst offenders is China, where Christians have been arrested for simply holding prayer meetings online.
“The situation has got much worse for many Christians during lockdown,” says Release International CEO Paul Robinson.
“Covid-19 is having a devastating impact on the lives of many poor Christians. In places hostile to the faith Christians are experiencing increased hardship.
“Food is now in short supply. They are unable to work and can’t earn, and support is being withheld because of their faith. Their cries for help are being ignored by local charities who are distributing food packages only to families of other faiths. We can’t afford to delay. These Christians need our help.”
In several countries, lockdown has led to an increase in persecution.
Paul Robinson of Release International says: “Right now, it’s up to us in the family of faith to give them our support.” Partners of Release International are providing food parcels to impoverished Christians in Algeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey.
If you can help, go to: www.releaseinternational.org/covid