Covid and Shalom

Our collective wholeness includes health equity

Shalom is a Hebrew word often translated to the English word: peace. But according to Dr. Al Tizon, in his book Transformation after Lausanne: Radical Evangelical Mission in Global-Local Perspective, “Only a shallow translation of the Hebrew word shalom would limit its definition to the idea of the absence of conflict and peace. Although it certainly includes peace, shalom also conveys the justice and righteousness that produces that peace (Jer. 6:13, 28). Shalom denotes a state wherein God rules, resulting in a harmonious relationship between God and humankind.”

He continues to say that from that harmonious relationship between God and humankind, there is a wholeness that flows: the wholeness of persons, the wholeness of human interactions, and wholeness of the relationship between humankind and the rest of creation. As someone who has studied the definition of shalom in depth, this is the essence of what God is about, and speaks directly to the Luke 4 passage of why Christ came.

Because shalom “conveys the justice and righteousness that produces peace,” shalom has everything to do with equity, including health equity. And therefore, as Christians, we must contend with the health disparities Covid has exposed to so many of us who haven’t been paying attention. Because if God desires shalom, God desires it in all areas of our humanity.

Racism has been negatively affecting wholeness since its inception and continues to do so both inside and outside of the Church today. The wholeness of persons, as Dr. Tizon sees it includes “physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional well-being.” Therefore, mental and physical health must be a part of these discussions. When we speak of systemic racism, we must include the systemic racism within our healthcare systems.

According to Disparities in Health and Health Care: 5 Key Questions and Answers written by Nambi Ndugga and Samantha Artiga:

Data consistently show that American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN), Black, and Hispanic people have experienced disproportionate rates of illness and death due to COVID-19 (Figure 4). Analysis further finds that AIAN, Black, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI), and Hispanic people had over three times premature excess deaths per 100,000 people in the US in 2020 than the rate among White or Asian people. The higher rates of illness and death among people of color reflect increased risk of exposure to the virus due to living, working, and transportation situations, increased risk of experiencing serious illness if infected due to higher rates of underlying health conditions, and increased barriers to testing and treatment due to existing disparities in access to health care.

What should this mean for us as Christians? It means we cannot leave out the arena of healthcare in our pursuit of justice. It means we need to recognize that white privilege, economic privilege, and healthcare privileges are all real and have very tangible effects on who lives and who dies, on who has access to proper healthcare and who doesn’t, on who receives good health insurance and who doesn’t. According to Ndugga and Artiga, “Addressing disparities in health and health care is important not only from and social justice and equity standpoint, but also for improving the nation’s overall health and economic prosperity.” And this should be what we understand as well. That being aware, addressing, and naming health disparities both in insurance coverage, access, and choice of doctors, is not only important for our justice causes, but important for the shalom of our neighborhoods, our churches, our country.

Theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff said that “shalom is an ethical community that is wounded when justice is absent,” so it is not simply that we need to pay attention to those people over there. If shalom is an ethical community, then we who are a part of this ethical community must tend to our own wounds: address our racist bones, minds, and hearts, and our racist religious systems and racist healthcare systems and racist education systems, and work toward the wholeness of the whole community.

Covid has opened the curtain for many of us, we can no longer plead our ignorance.


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