Public health and faith are on the side. When they grow distant, demagogues delight and virus clap their little hands. Good people die.
This week a man who gave his life to others every day as an EMS driver lost his life because he wasn’t vaccinated. No religion opposes vaccination, so he didn’t die because of a particular creed; rather from a mutant heresy that grew like an invasive species in the space public health and religious ethics. Some of that space was part of postmodern drift; some grew from weirdly displaced anger and some was cynically provoked. A good man died for no reason.
Normal religious practice created most of the local health departments in the US. If you go and look in the minutes of their founding meeting, you’ll see they opened in prayer with clergy on their Board. Today in Norway a very secular government funds deacons and deaconesses who practice proactive community health by tending to the neighbors with an intelligence and spirit with deep roots in the norms of Norwegian life. They are funded out of the health budget. In the US we are now seeing a rapid emergence of “community health workers” projected out of a more simplistic biomedical model with a bit of “social” sprinkled on top. But most CHW’s are just like their Norwegian peers at the intersection of public health and the religious virtues of kindness and empathy.
You could see this if you had attended even the first 30 minutes of the first meeting of the North Carolina Community Health Worker Association this past week as two Enrique Catana and June Britt, electrified the audience/congregation with their witness to the brilliance of community health work and in the process, high FaithHealth art. It is one word because in normal community there is no space between the two facets of humanity. Normal.
Thousands of public health people and practitioners will gather in Denver (virtually) to advance their science, practice and, yes, spirit. Some will gather to worship in an artful mingling of the prayers of many faiths, this year in lament for those lost to COVID. These are especially painful prayers as this profession knows how preventable so many of those deaths were.
You can pray with us and even light a candle by Zoom (details below).
This isn’t something created out of COVID emergency. It’s normal. The faith caucus has quietly been convening for about a quarter century since Dr. Cass Evans and Dr David Satcher lent their support as presidents of the APHA. Maybe we should have been less quiet.
Just before the prayers, a group of public health lawyers will be talking in another Zoom about how to counter the groups cynically using “religious freedom” as a tool to undermine the basic legal foundations of public health. The Supreme Court seems to be fishing for these aberrant cases that will leave more bodies left behind. So some people of faith are preparing “amicus briefs” to advise the highest courts in the land against falling for this most deadly failure of logic, history and faith.
I wonder if the Justices of the Supreme Court would join the interfaith worship and offer up an amicus prayer for saints of public health, those who love the whole:
God who loves every little bit of every little thing of the ragged gaggle called public,
Light our way with what both You and science see as sacred, blessed, honorable, worthy of praise and sacrifice. Thank You for the amazing array of practices, behaviors, choices that lead to life; that protect, enhance, extend and spread its blessings widely across the people.
Stop us from holding on to ourselves anything that You intend for “all.” We see that You are not done because we can see science is not done. Every day You reveal new possibilities worth doing together, as we can see how your science is a friend of humans and shows how much mercy and justice is possible.
Never let your public health servants stop talking about facts, analytics, determinants, vectors, patterns and predictors. Nurture their crazy love for the people—the public. Feed our hope for better, more and broader health. Even when those with smaller hopes take our money, put us in the dumpy offices, and cut our staff. Even when those afraid of your vision treat us badly. Do not let us quit. Keep us in our lovers quarrel with the public.
Protect us from those who have lost their love for the public. Release them to them less consequential work not played for life and death stakes. Move them someplace they will not endanger the people.
Do not make us proud of our righteousness but give us delight in being part of your messy, disappointing, ever-muddling humans called “the public.” Thank You for placing us in just the right work at just the right time.
Never let us speak out of pride; love first, last, and in between, especially in public, especially with the public, the people You so love.
The prayer is from God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening, available here.
Join the Interfaith Celebration by Zoom
Sunday October 24 at 5-6:30 p.m Mountain Time
Meeting ID: 485 508 5889 Passcode: aLbq1a