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COVID-19 and racial reconciliation: The revealing of an age-old disparity

Herbie Newell
Herbie Newell is the President and Executive Director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms including (un)adopted, Crossings, Families Count and Lifeline Village. |

“COVID-19 is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in (black) communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation. This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance. … It’s because we’re not valued,” said Dr. Camara Jones, a family physician, epidemiologist and visiting fellow at Harvard University who spent 13 years at the CDC, focused on identifying, measuring, and addressing racial bias within the medical system.

The data reflects that not only are our elders, those with heart disease and diabetes, and those with high blood pressure prime targets of the novel coronavirus, but so are those whose epidermis contains beautifully rich black hues. According to new national data from the CDC, a highly disproportionate 29.5 percent of COVID-19 patients are African American, while African Americans comprise only 13 percent of the total United States population.

In New York, the hardest hit state by COVID-19 to date, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released the number of patients per 100,000 who have been infected by COVID-19, hospitalized, and who have died all segmented by race. This data revealed that the death rates among African Americans was two times higher than their Caucasian counterparts, while the hospitalization rate for Caucasians was 2.4 times higher.

These data sets lead to the obvious question, “Why?” Unfortunately, the answers have varied wildly according to political persuasion, but the truth is that for far too long the majority white culture has turned a blind eye to the health, welfare, and education of African Americans.

Pointedly, even in the Church, we have viewed race and racial reconciliation as a social issue and not a gospel issue. The truth is our bloodlines are not skin deep but run down deep into our souls. Our brothers and sisters are black, white, yellow, red and every shade in between. We are a kaleidoscope of the creativity of our Father. Christ died to redeem us as one united race under the banner of Jesus the Christ of Nazareth! Our responsibility as image bearers requires us to seek gospel driven justice through wholeness, fairness, and racial equality.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is identifying just how much of a misnomer it is that there is equal access and opportunity for all people no matter the color of their skin. Racial inequality is not a trivial problem to be swept under the rug of our political persuasion but is most definitely a sanctity of life issue we must acknowledge as we fight for the dignity and worth of all people made in the image of God. The enemy of love is not hatred, but indifference. The pervasive racial inequality exposed most clearly today during this pandemic should spur us to immediate action.

Be honest, in your city or town, where are the nicest grocery stores with the widest varieties of healthy food options? Which neighborhoods are closest to the hospitals or doctors you would want to see if you needed medical intervention? If school choice were an option, would you willingly send your child to a minority school because it would offer the best education? Call it racism, call it personal responsibility, or call it whatever you want, but it isn’t pro-life or Christ exalting to ignore the discrepancy.

Pro-life America has defined sanctity of life issues mainly as an abortion issue; however, the God of the Bible has identified the fight for life as so much more. Jesus Christ died to reconcile every people group from our nasty, filthy sin into His holy and perfect life. It’s only by His wounds and through His transformative work that we find true healing. The Lamb of God was slain so that by His blood we would be healed and made a people—a holy race. This race is one made of all skin tones, languages, nations, and tribes. In God’s pro-life agenda there is no racial superiority or prejudice.

"Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,” Revelation 5:9.

The U.S. needs healing, and we need a recalibration of our moral compass. America has forsaken her true love. Battles are being lost in the courtroom. Elections have become contests between candidates who have forgotten how to blush (Jeremiah 6:15). Americans worry more about the economy than ethics and honesty. Ultimately, we are battling each other in the streets because we have lost the truth of Imago Dei—that we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

We need to show compassion before judgment and empathy before blame as we engage in racial reconciliation. We need to slay our self-righteous pride, which places our safety, our personal security, and ourselves at the center of the world. We want to believe that racism, ethnocentrism, and superiority/privilege are a thing of the past. We neglect the feelings, hurts, and realities of our brothers and sisters who are blessed to have more pigment in their epidermis. However, the truth is we are blind to the sin in our hearts and deaf to the hurts and pains of those around us.

COVID-19 has revealed a disparity that is not new. Rather, this inequity is as old as European slave trader boats off the coast of Africa. We can’t dismiss the overwhelming vulnerability of our African American brothers and sisters as simply “life choices,” but we have to realize that our country is still segregated. Our schools and public places may not be legally segregated, yet the spirit of segregation runs rampant in our hearts and minds and becomes a living reality for the minority population.

We must fight the urge to make the sanctity of life a political issue. Let us not become caustic with our rhetoric or handcuffed on issues by allegiance to a political party. It is acceptable to align more from a policy perspective with a political party yet to disagree on those alignments when they conflict with biblical convictions; however, it is never acceptable to call good evil and evil good all for the sake of our politics.

We must condemn all forms of racism, genocide, and ethnocentrism, and call them what they are: sin. We must repent of the sin of racism and favoritism, whether big or small in our own life. The truth of the matter is, we can't point the finger at others until we point the finger at ourselves. We need to examine our own hearts and address the hatred we find there.

Laying down our pride and faux superiority, let us begin a daily fight for equity and dignity for all cultures, races, and ethnicities. We must all work together for a world where heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and COVID-19 diagnoses don't prefer a skin shade. It’s pro-life to fight for access to medical care, healthy nutrition, educational alternatives, and dignity for ALL people who are created in the image of God.

Herbie Newell (MBA, Samford University) is the President and Executive Director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms including (un)adopted, Crossings, Families Count and Lifeline Village. Under Newell’s leadership, Lifeline has significantly increased its international and statewide outreach, attained membership with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and achieved international accreditation under The Hague Treaty, begun an extensive foster care ministry, and started its (un)adopted strategic orphan care ministries in more than 10 countries. Herbie speaks nationally at conferences and events, and regularly preaches throughout the world on gospel-driven justice. He and his wife, Ashley, live in Birmingham, Alabama and are parents to a son, Caleb, and daughters Adelynn and Emily. His first book Image Bearers: Shifting from Pro-Birth to Pro-Life, released on January 21, 2019.

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