What Christians can do to address COVID-19 and the racial divide

May 26, 2020

Many have referred to the coronavirus as “the great equalizer,” touting phrases like “The virus doesn’t discriminate” and “We’re all in this together.”   

In some ways, this is true. The pandemic has revealed our shared humanity. No one is immune from the virus. Black or white, rich or poor—we’ve all been affected by it in some way. And in many ways, the pandemic has brought our nation and world together like never before. Communities are collaborating in creative ways to provide meals for the hungry, support those who have lost their jobs, and care for medical workers. We’re realizing how connected we really are, and how much we truly need each other.  

However, at the same time, the pandemic has exposed the great racial and ethnic division of our nation. While no one is immune from the virus, it is clear that its effects vary greatly across racial lines. Black communities are experiencing significantly higher rates of hospitalization and death, minority communities are suffering from heightened results of poverty and unemployment, and Asian communities are facing an increase in racism and discrimination during this time.  

Particularly in this time of crisis, the Church has a unique calling to care for the vulnerable and the marginalized and to elevate the strength and value of all people made in the image of God. This reality of racial injustice and the debilitating effects of the pandemic for people of color should bring us to our knees before our Heavenly Father and compel us to compassion for those in need.  

What should we know about these disparities, and how should we respond as followers of Christ?   

Contraction and death rates  

While over 1.4 million people have contracted the virus in this country, it has disproportionately affected people of color. One CDC report studied 580 COVID-19 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and found that black people accounted for 33% of these hospitalizations compared to 18% of the surrounding community, while white people accounted for 45% of hospitalizations compared to 59% of the community. In a New York City health report, the death rate for black people was 92.3 per 100,000 patients, compared to 74.3 for Hispanic/Latino patients, 45.2 for white patients, and 34.5 for Asian patients.  

These disparities have also been noted nationally. The CDC reported that as of April 17, 2020, black people accounted for 34% of total confirmed cases compared to 13% of the total population. In some states such as Wisconsin, the disparity is so great that the number of black residents who have tested positive is four times greater than their representation in the total population and the number of deaths is over six times higher.   

Data is limited for smaller minority groups such as American Indians and Pacific Islanders, though similar disparities have been noticed for Hispanic and Asian communities. And cases are generally concentrated in immigrant neighborhoods, American Indian reservations, and rural communities.  

Health risks and access to care  

One of the reasons for this disparity in rates of contraction is that people of color face health, living, and working situations which put them at a higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus.  

Communities of color experience higher rates of chronic illness. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that African American adults are 60% more likely than white adults to have diabetes and 40% more likely to have hypertension. Because the virus disproportionately affects those with underlying health conditions—the immunocompromised and those with chronic lung disease, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, it can prove fatal for communities of color.  

Disparities in social determinants of health—factors including economic stability, environmental health, and housing—also contribute to the higher rate of contraction among minority populations. Minority families are more likely to live in densely populated areas, smaller living quarters, and multigenerational households, making it more difficult to social distance and take necessary precautions against the virus. Other spaces with close living quarters and shared food services like jails, prisons, and detention centers are also high risk, spaces where the black population is overrepresented.  

In many minority and low-income neighborhoods, communities also face limited access to quality health care and to the resources with which to take preventative measures against the virus. The Census Bureau reports Hispanic adults being almost three times more likely and black adults almost twice as likely than white adults to be uninsured. Even when health care facilities are available, minority communities face additional challenges of language barriers, limited health education, distrust of health providers, and difficulty navigating health systems.  

Nevertheless, despite an increased risk of infection within their communities, many ethnic minority adults continue to work in essential jobs, making social distancing all the more difficult. Black and Hispanic workers in particular are overrepresented in industries such as agriculture, service, and nursing. Almost 25% of employed black and Hispanic workers work in the service industry compared to 16% of white workers, and Hispanic workers account for 53% of agriculture workers despite comprising only 17% of total employment.  

In many of these essential jobs, the absence of paid sick leave deters workers from staying home even when symptoms do arise, increasing exposure in the workplace. And racial and ethnic disparities are evident even in paid medical leave policies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Hispanic workers have significantly less access to paid leave than white workers, affecting their ability to care for sick family members, for their own illnesses, and for eldercare. For those in dire financial circumstances, these policies are especially critical.  

Economic impact  

While the pandemic has brought physical sickness, it has also led to shutdowns and stay-at-home orders which have increased unemployment and disproportionately affected minority populations.   

A Washington Post-Ipsos poll reveals that Hispanic adults are nearly twice as likely as white adults to have lost their jobs due to these shutdowns. 20% of Hispanic adults and 16% of black adults surveyed were laid off or furloughed, compared to only 11% of white adults and 12% of those of other races. Part of the reason for this disparity is that Hispanic and black workers were overrepresented in industries hit the hardest by the shutdowns, industries such as leisure and hospitality, retail, and construction.  

For undocumented immigrants, leaving work or getting tested could mean deportation or arrest into jails and detention centers where the virus is spreading at a much higher rate. mmigrants are particularly vulnerable.  

Racism and discrimination  

For Asian Americans, the impact of the virus extends beyond health and employment. Many of us have seen the “model minority” myth being dismantled as blame for the pandemic has shifted to the Chinese. Even before stay-at-home orders began, this fear of “yellow peril” led some Asian American businesses to experience a drop in customers as high as 80%. Reports of verbal assault, hate crimes, and discrimination against Asian Americans are increasing, leaving Asian Americans not only alienated by “perpetual foreigner syndrome,” but also fearful even to buy groceries. In March alone, Asian Americans reported almost 1,500 incidents of verbal harassment, shunning, and physical assault.   

This reality became personal for me when just last week, I was biking through my neighborhood with my family and a group of boys rode past us and commented, “Look, more Asians.” While I’ve always been aware of being different, I’d never had it pointed out so blatantly and hurtfully. And while my understanding of racism used to mostly come from news reports, I’m now hearing stories from my own friends and family about their homes being vandalized, being called racial slurs while merely sitting on their front porches, and being intentionally avoided on the bus. It’s difficult not to question every look I receive from passersby, especially when I’m wearing a face mask.  

New groups like the Asian American Christian Collaborative have begun calling out this injustice and standing for biblical reconciliation and peace during this pandemic, but as I wrote earlier, this kind of racial targeting is not a new phenomenon. Immigrants and minorities historically have faced stigmatization and discrimination during outbreakslabels of “unclean” and blame for the spread of infection. This same type of stereotyping has happened to the Jewish community today.  

How should Christians respond?  

It can be difficult to empathize with the suffering of others until we experience it firsthand, but the love of Christ compels us to look to the margins, and the Spirit of the Lord empowers us to sacrifice even our own comfort and security for the good of our neighbors.  

Here are a few ways to care for the vulnerable that you and your church might consider:  

  1. Directly share resources and support. Help ensure that marginalized communities have access to relevant and accurate health information by considering those without access to technology and those who may be distrustful of medical providers. Eric Costanzo suggests ways you can communicate with immigrant and refugee neighbors here. You might also help those experiencing food insecurity by donating to your local food bank, not buying food items with WIC labels (food earmarked for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), and helping provide meals through your public school system. Support those in the retail and service industries by buying gift cards, donating to relief funds, and asking your representatives to support small businesses. And care for those affected by crime and incarceration using the resources listed here
  2. Give to community funds or local NGOs. Pooling your resources with other donors can maximize your impact and support ongoing work. Many community foundations have created COVID-19 response funds, and you can find a community foundation near you here. Nonprofits and charities are on the frontlines of caring for the marginalized and will need increased support during this time.
  3. Examine your own heart for fear and implicit biases, and become an ally rather than a bystander. Actively listen to the stories of the marginalized, call out the sin of racism when you see it, and stand for the dignity and value of every human being made in the image of God. In situations of concern, consider moving to stand by the victim in support and/or report the incident to your local law enforcement. Consider supporting Asian American businesses that have been negatively and disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Initiate conversations with your church, families, and children about the history of ethnic minorities in this country, the reality of the ever-present sin of racism, and the God-given value of those who seem different. 

While we should lament the reality of racial injustice and the devastating effects of the pandemic, we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). We serve a sovereign Creator and loving Father who has promised to draw near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) and execute justice for the oppressed (Psalm 146:7). So let us begin by drawing near to his throne, that our hearts may be aligned with his and our eyes opened to see those who may be overlooked.  

Grace Liu

Grace Liu serves as communications assistant for the ERLC, with a special focus on editorial content and initiatives. Outside of the ERLC, Grace serves as Donor Relations and Communications Coordinator at The Field School in Chicago, Illinois. She received a B.S. in Community Leadership & Development and Violin Performance from … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24