The Government’s Moral Compass Is Shattered. Here’s How We Get It Back.

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Photo via Unsplash/ Joshua Earle

By Bishop Idalia Negrón

April 29, 2020

Lutheran Bishop Idalia Negrón opens up about politics and how to rebuild the sense of community post-coronavirus.

As a pastor, I am perplexed by the moral compass with which the politicians of Puerto Rico and the U.S. lead their people. Rather than working for them, to aid and enrich their lives, government officials take personal benefits, and both create and perpetuate inequality and polarization—while the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

A nationwide problem, this madness has a long history in my homeland of Puerto Rico, where I have been Bishop of the Caribbean Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 2018.

In July of last year, I was greatly relieved to learn that Governor Ricardo Rosselló resigned, following an administration of mismanagement, injustice, and poor government responses to critical situations, such as Hurricane Maria.

Unfortunately, though, even under new leadership, injustice and inequality remain, as evidenced during the coronavirus crisis. That Walmart is one of the few businesses remaining open during the current lockdown is a prime example of this inequity (in other words: the multi-millionaires reap the benefits, again). Rather than looking for safe opportunities for small businesses to remain open and provide necessities for the population, polarization persists.

WATCH: How Our Moral Compass Went So Wrong

In Puerto Rico, a staggering number of 160,000 people are applying for unemployment, with only 10 technicians to process these applications. In addition, there are not nearly enough tests for the virus, hospitals don’t have ventilators, 2,000 hospital employees are about to lose their jobs, and people are dying in their homes.

Clearly, the government wasn’t prepared for a crisis of this scale. Evaluating the dire state of affairs, it comes as little alarm that the suicide rate for those between the ages of 25 and 35 is increasing rapidly. Now, more than ever, the church is a central place for direct social action. We need to work with the community, but we cannot be together until we learn to deal with the coronavirus.

Churches and pastors of my diocese are struggling. I predict that at least ten parishes will not survive the impact of this pandemic. With failing government leadership, continuous coronavirus infections and deaths, escalating suicide rates, economic decline, and swelling fear, pastoral and spiritual care is not just helpful: it is essential.

Yet, upon society’s return to some semblance of life as it existed before coronavirus, the churches will be the last to open—at a time when they are needed more than ever.

The Church is not being prioritized nor being given a voice. The current governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez, has never invited me to speak on behalf of the ELCA concerning the global pandemic. Although my diocese has written to various newspapers, nothing is ever published. If you don’t agree with the government, then you are not invited to the conversation.

What Will Church Look Like in This Newly Developing Era, Post-crisis?

This is a question I ceaselessly find myself deliberating. This pandemic has changed our minds about what we have to do. And we know that Church is not going to be the same after this. Thankful for the accessibility of digital platforms and technology at large, I believe there are both benefits and drawbacks of digital services.

Undoubtedly, thanks to these services and virtual communal experiences, members can still receive pastoral care, feelings of isolation are pacified, and they continue to be strengthened and guided by God’s welcoming love.

Additionally, I am pleased that more people than ever are hearing the good word, as attendance to services has greatly increased. Even Bible school attendance has tripled at a given session.

My trepidation lies in the convenience of a digital church. Will congregants get used to it? Will many no longer come once they have to attend a service at a physical church again? Will busy schedules become obstacles?

Going forward means maintaining the physical gatherings of the past and adding the virtual services of our present, because there are people participating in these virtual services, and now they are interested in the Church. Planning for the future of faith is not unlike the very history of the Lutheran Church. Five hundred years ago, we underwent a complete reformation in our relationship with scripture and with God.

Perhaps we are now at another junction, where we are called to reimagine our relationship with God, the Bible, our faith leaders, and fellow Lutherans, and decide how to best include and uphold all members of our community with the light of the Holy Spirit. We must, after all, remain current while maintaining our faith.

What Hope and Freedom Look Like in the Thick of the Crisis

With regard to maintaining faith and the health of body and spirit in the thick of this crisis, I would like to share with you my own self-care routine and perspective.

My meditations, from the beginning of this year, have been about HOPE. I write daily, read daily, pray daily, and meditate daily on hope. Easter, after all, is a time of resurrection, and this time of resurrection is hopeful. My hope is in Christ. My hope is in the promise that God made for all of us.

Further, I would like to offer all of you a positive reflection as we traverse these troubling times toward a brighter tomorrow: Let us remember our Baptism every time we wash our face, because we are alive again, and while we are alive, we have something to do. We have to say thanks; we have to pray for the neighbor; we have to work with the neighbor; we have to be in connection with our being, in order to be free.

We are in freedom to serve; we are in freedom to live; we are in freedom to share. My hope is in Christ. Perhaps, we must remember our baptism each time we wash our hands, as well. By continually reminding ourselves of the precious gift of life that has been bestowed upon us, and the responsibility that accompanies that gift, we can create a new world for everyone, in church and in faith, by taking care of our brothers, sisters, and siblings around us.      

RELATED: It’s Not the “Wrath of God.” A Priest Debunks the Spiritual Meaning of the Pandemic.                                             

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