Why Pentecostal Churches Managed to Fight COVID-19 Better than the United Nations

Why are many American Pentecostals disobedient regarding efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19? Are Pentecostals and Charismatics in other parts of the world behaving differently? How was the strong faith in healing that characterized early Pentecostals impacted by the pandemic known as the “Spanish Flu”?

A few weeks ago, PCPJ gathered a panel of scholars and Pentecostal leaders to discuss these important questions. The panel consisted of:

Jörg Haustein, doctor of World Christianities, University of Cambridge.
Erica Ramirez, president of PCPJ, director of applied research, Auburn Seminary.
Daniel Isgrigg, director for the Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University.
Niclas Lindgren, director, PMU Interlife.
Andrea Johnson, Assistant Professor of History, California State University DH.
Micael Grenholm, pastor, editor at PCPJ.

Everybody brought interesting food for thought to the table. Isgrigg compared Pentecostal reactions to the Spanish Flu with what we see today. Ramirez spoke about what aspects of the Pentecostal faith makes it vulnerable to conspiracy theories. Haustein pointed to the nuance between different Pentecostal and Charismatic groups even in the same country. Johnson gave a historical backdrop to how American Pentecostals view politics.

In this blog post I want to especially highlight Lindgren’s contributions to the discussion. First of all he gave some fascinating details about the initiative from the World Pentecostal Fellowship earlier this year that informed millions of Pentecostals in the majority world about COVID-19.

Lindgren said that as long as the information on how to keep social distancing and keep a good hygiene only came from secular organizations like the UN, few Pentecostals took it seriously. But when the Pentecostal churches and organizations said the same thing, emphasizing that following these guidelines are not violating their faith but are in fact compassionate acts of love, people started responding!

This goes to show why secular organizations need to cooperate with and listen to churches as they promote peace and justice in the world.

Lindgren also presented some horrifying facts on how the coronavirus is destroying the lives of millions upon millions of people in the developing world. Below are some of the points he brought up:

o   New UNDP estimates for global human development – as a combined measure of the world’s education, health and living standards – is on course to decline this year for the first time since the concept was developed in 1990. The decline is expected across the majority of countries – rich and poor – in every region. The virus respects no borders, and will continue to discriminate against the most vulnerable. In many developing countries the majority work in the informal economy, and have to earn their daily income in order to survive. In Africa only 18 % of the population can rely on any kind of social security system. As many as 60 million people are expected to fall back into extreme poverty (living on less than 1,9 USD/day) as a consequence of the crisis.

o   According to Save the Children 10 million children are expected to not get back to school after the pandemic, due to deepened poverty in the family. Girls are the most vulnerable.

o   WHO and UNICEF warn coronavirus is causing widespread disruptions to global immunization programs for children. Millions of children do not get their vaccinations since health systems have had to focus on Covid-19.

o   The number of people in need of humanitarian support is expected to rise from 179 million to 400 million. The World Food Programme says 265 million people will face crisis levels of hunger unless direct action is taken. 6,7 million children suffer of malnutrition today. 1,2 million more children under the age of 5 will die this year, because of the crisis, adding to the normal numbers of child mortality. Only 28 % of the humanitarian needs are today covered financially according to the UN.

o   80 million people are refugees, a group that is growing, and is very vulnerable in the deepened crisis. 80 % of the world’s displaced are in countries or territories affected by acute food insecurity and malnutrition. 40 % are children. The coronavirus is hitting emergency responses in vulnerable communities across the globe – from refugee camps and disaster displacement sites to border crossings and conflict zones.

o   Democracy is weakened in many countries, as repressive Governments put laws in place restricting media, opposition and human rights activists, laws that might be made permanent after the crisis.  

o   There are many reports on the rise of domestic violence, due to the pandemic and the closing down of societies.

o   Assessing the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on societies, economies and vulnerable groups is fundamental to inform and tailor the responses to recover from the crisis and ensure that no one is left behind. Without urgent socio-eco­nomic responses, global suffering will escalate, jeopardizing lives and livelihoods for years to come. Immediate development responses in this crisis must be undertaken with an eye to the future. Development trajectories in the long-term will be affected by the choices made now and the support they receive.

o   The global church will be a key actor in responding to the needs.

Let us unite in prayer and action to help “the least of these” in our interconnected world!

Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author and editor for PCPJ.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

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