PANDEMICS AND THE CHURCH AND STATE IN HISTORY
It is helpful to hear from a Christian scholar from Nigeria as we often get caught up in our individual nation’s politics and lose sight of our global Christian witness, purpose and history. Here Dr. Bernard B. Fyanka, Redeemer’s University Ede, Osun State Nigeria, provides an insightful analysis of the church and state as both encounter a pandemic.
The conclusion to his analysis states:
” In my opinion, the central agitation of the church with regards to this pandemic and possible pandemics in the future should have been over the designation of the churches as entities providing essential and emergency services. This characterization should be based on the original basis of the relationship between the church and state in which the church is viewed as a charitable organization providing medical, social and spiritual relief to communities.The emphasis of the church should not have been on rights to congregate but rights to work inparallel status with doctors, nurses, police, and other emergency services in providing much-needed relief. Finally, as opined by the catholic church, ‘the Church has direct authority fromGod Himself over the exercise of religion and the meaning of faith and morals. But this authority does not preclude cooperation with legitimate governmental entities in fostering the common good, which in fact is required by the Church’s own moral teaching.”
Free Methodist Bishop Emeritus David Kendall notes: “Dr. Fyanka’s point, as I understand it, is that the church is not called to protect and advocate for its own rights, but to offer its life and energies for the blessing of the world. Like the promise made originally to Abram, to become a source of blessing for all the world’s families; like the Son of God whose Epiphany captures our imaginations and illumines our hearts these days—the manifestation was for the sake of those both near and far; and like the faithful through the centuries whatever the particulars of their circumstances. Looking to the future this is a good word from a Nigerian brother/scholar about the vocation of Jesus’ church in the world. Whether the government actually offers this designation to churches, still what a difference it would make if churches understood themselves in such terms. What a difference if our members became agitated and provoked by limitations to their ability to offer ministry to the needy and prayed for creative ways to function in pandemic conditions, rather than over perceived or real denial of rights.”
Dr. Fyanka begins his work explaining:
“The ban on religious activities during the Covid-19 Pandemic was perceived by many within the church as a resurgence of the age-old tussle over power and authority between the church and state. The history of the church and state dichotomy is worthy of a brief review in the light of the prevailing circumstances for the purpose of pragmatic application. Historically the appearance of religion among ancient social constructs had predated state polities. However, it is important to observe that the humanistic nature of both endeavours had ensured the cohabitation and consistent Intertwining of their mutual interests over the centuries.”
To read this short analysis in its entirety click here.