COVID-19, Xenophobia, and a Prayerful Response

by | Mar 24, 2020

By now everyone is aware COVID-19, or coronavirus, has become an emergency of international concern—a pandemic. Fear and panic have escalated across the globe. Countries are now taking aggressive measures to contain its spread. As skeptics debate whether such reactions are legitimate, one thing is certain: something else is going viral these days—xenophobia. Racism, particularly against Asians, can be seen in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s just a handful of examples:

How should Christians respond to such prejudice? The Bible directs us with many truths. Let’s consider three and respond accordingly.

 

We are far sicker than we think we are

Xenophobia in times of public emergency is not new. Some studies even suggest that fear of infectious disease is a root of racism (i.e. one fears a disease, and so one scorns an entire people allegedly associated with it). Fears like this, of course, do not in any way excuse racism. However, the fact that people default to self-preservation mode at the expense of another’s suffering should not catch Christians by surprise. No matter where we may fall politically, socially, religiously, or ethnically—Scripture declares we are far sicker than we think we are.[1]

In such times of uncertainty, fallen human nature rears its ugly head to reveal our true state. Yet the coronavirus, or any other virus, isn’t the worst disease we face—sin is—and unlike the coronavirus it infects us all. Ecclesiastes 9:3 tells us, “the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live.”

Hence, the Christian’s response toward racism ought never forget the gospel that speaks to sin’s deepest roots and mankind’s greatest hope. Though people are made in God’s image and capable of great good, we are also far worse, and capable of far worse, than we think we are. Praise God, His grace is greater still.

 

We are far more fragile than we think we are

The coronavirus does not discriminate. Whether, Asian or American, communist or capitalist, rich or poor, young or old, no one is immune. Everyone is susceptible. This virus reminds us we are not invincible. This virus reminds us death is nearer to us all than we would like to think.

In fearful response, some feel justified to make blanket statements of blame against Asians, making no distinction between the actions of governments and the people themselves. Some act as if Asians are more susceptible or even responsible for the virus. In response to fear, people are giving an irrational, racist avenue for their sin.

Psalm 90:12 reminds us, “to number our days.” Scripture tells us not only that death is certain for us all (unless the Lord returns), but that it can come at any time. In other words, Scripture is replete with this clear warning: We are fragile.[2] Furthermore, Christians are aware that death is not the end of suffering since a greater suffering awaits those who are not in Christ.

Hence, Christians should prayerfully respond to fearful hatred with love, compassion, and hope in order to point those who are hopelessly fearful to Christ, who defeated sin and death, who offers forgiveness, mercy, and peace.

 

We ought to fear God more than we fear the coronavirus

Finally, xenophobia towards Asians should remind us we ought to fear God more than we fear the coronavirus. Fear can reveal a lot about our hearts, especially what we cling to for hope and security. Just think about the absurdity of #toiletpapergate in the midst of this current crisis.

What or who we fear determines our responses and exposes our idols. For many, one idol being exposed is safety. For others, it’s the idol of identity, whether focused on nationalism and/or skin color. When our idols are threatened, and the threat is (wrongly) projected onto a certain people group, xenophobia ensues. This is why hateful acts against Asians, such as blaming Asians for the coronavirus, telling Asians to go back to their countries, ostracizing Asians, attacking Asians, not going to Asian restaurants—for fear of catching the virus is irrational racism.

Misplaced fear causes us to feel, say, and do unjust things. We would do well to recall Matthew 10:28: “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” When rightly placed, our fears should be centered in our only certain security, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

The Christian’s response amidst irrational racism is to push back on misplaced fear and reorient our fears around Him who is in control of all things. We do this by God’s grace, through His Spirit, with boldness, confidence, and fidelity toward God and our neighbors—those in and outside our churches.

 

Moving Forward

As an Asian-American myself, I empathize with my Asian brothers and sisters who have experienced racist idiocy. Nevertheless, as Christians, let’s pray that we would love our enemies all the more through these difficult circumstances, as we are commanded in Matthew 5:43-48, in order that Christ may be magnified.

Does this mean we silently sit back, do nothing, and get trampled on while Asian-American brothers and sisters get victimized? Certainly not! We appropriately respond in righteous anger. We exercise caution and wisdom. We boldly speak up and against xenophobia. We seek safety.

Yet what we should not do, with the help of our Lord, is to meet fear with fear.

 


 


Prayer Requests:

  1. Prayers for safety and a cure: Let’s pray for safety and protection for those who may be victims of xenophobia. Furthermore, let’s pray the Lord will provide a cure for the coronavirus. Let’s pray for healing. And let’s pray many will turn to the cure, Christ, for our deepest disease.
  2. Prayers for love, compassion, and generosity: Let’s pray the Lord would grant us love and compassion toward those who genuinely fear for their lives in the midst of great uncertainty. Let’s pray we would be generous with our resources. Let’s pray our enemies will experience the Lord’s mercy, the gift of repentance, and the Lord’s comfort and peace, through His people.
  3. Prayers for God’s glory and gospel advance: Let’s pray our sovereign God will receive the glory in these disrupted times. Let’s pray hearts will soften as they ponder death and eternity. Let’s pray many will hear the gospel and will believe.
  4. Prayers for solidarity and unity: Let’s pray our unity in love for one another will testify of the gospel. Social distancing is a form of love for our neighbors, though we may space ourselves physically for this season, let’s not pull back from standing with one another corporately, as those who are united in Christ.

 

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Author

  • James Choi

    James serves as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and works as a church planting catalyst for the Baptist Convention of MD/DE and NAMB. He holds degrees from UofF, SWBTS, SBTS, and is pursuing a degree from MBTS (starting Fall 2020). He will be planting New Covenant Baptist Church in southern Montgomery County, MD in the Spring of 2020, Lord willing. He is the husband of U?WP’s content manager Jeri, and the two reside together, with their 3 young children in Maryland.

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