Warning: what follows could probably be categorized as a rant.
By Water and the Spirit, the United Methodist Church’s official statement on baptism states:
“The Christian Gospel is a message of death and resurrection, that of Christ and our own. Baptism signifies our dying and rising with Christ.”
The early Christians took this dying and rising with Christ in baptism seriously. They bravely faced persecution and death because they believed that in their baptism they had already passed into a new life in Jesus Christ. A new life that would not end when their physical bodies perished. (In fact, the early church had to forbid Christians from actively seeking martyrdom.)
The bubonic and pneumonic plagues of the Middle Ages were highly contagious. The plagues were incomprehensible to the state of medical knowledge of the time (which, depending on the subject and the practitioner was either very minimal or misguided), but everyone recognized the plague as a brutally effective killer and the lack of knowledge fed a sense of panic. Nonetheless, devout Christians tended to the sick and dying at great risk to themselves because they trusted that this physical life was not the be all and end all of human existence.
Fast forward to 2014 and we find United Methodists in at least one of the affected parts of West Africa are doing the same thing. They are trusting God and following Christ’s example to help the sick and dying as best they can. They are taking what limited precautions they can in the face of very real danger, but they are not letting fear get in the way of doing God’s work. (Read more here.)
But here in the U.S. we find a great many people, many, if not most of them, professed Christians, panicking over Ebola, a contagion that is very difficult to contract. Those who are brave enough to tend to the sick and dying are welcomed back not as heroes who have loved their neighbor as they love themselves, but as threats who must be quarantined. At Blackwell Elementary School in Oklahoma, parents are so upset at the thought of a teacher returning to class from a November mission trip to Rwanda (a country where there have been no cases of Ebola that is much further away from West Africa than Oklahoma is from Texas) that she has been forced to promise that she will “voluntarily” quarantine herself when she returns.
What is wrong with us? Have we no faith? Ebola is not a threat to those of us here in the United States with its advanced medical system. But even if it were, we should be reacting with compassionate faith, not suffocating fear. What would those early and medieval Christians who faced death so bravely think of us, their modern day brothers and sisters? May Christ have mercy upon us and may the Holy Spirit give us the strength and courage to do better. I know in my heart that we can.
I wrote this post to ask you not to be afraid; to shut off the sources of fear and open yourselves up to Jesus Christ the source of faith and love. I would also ask you to pray and to speak a calming word to those who are panicking. If you would like to make a contribution to the work that UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) is doing to confront Ebola in West Africa, you can simply write “UMCOR-Ebola” on your check or offering envelope.