In the Summer of 2021, mission practitioners from around the world, including myself, gathered virtually for the Lausanne Diaspora Summit, to understand the impact of the pandemic on missional engagement around the world. Sam George and Bulus Galadima, who both serve as Catalysts for diaspora for the Lausanne Movement, edited the insights from that meeting into a new book called Pandemic, Migration, and Mission: Global Reflections for Christian Witness. Sam George is also serves with me at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College as the Director of the Global Diaspora Institute.
The following is the second installment in a four-piece series containing excerpts from contributing chapter called “Impact of the Pandemic on Missions in North America.” In this piece I discuss some of the significant events that impacted both North American society as well as the church during the pandemic.
Make sure to read Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4 in this series, as well.
Events Arising During the Pandemic
In addition to the direct results of the coronavirus and our precautions, several landmark events took place or were highlighted during COVID-19. The first was a series of political events. In the United States, we also had two impeachments, disputed elections, and Capitol riot—all of which made news around the world. Add to that the confusion over information about the pandemic, inconsistent leadership and response, and a host of conspiracy theories related to politics and the pandemic, and we have seen more political angst in many years.
The second event related to race in America. The murder of George Floyd made global news and brought greater awareness of racial injustice in the United States. Many Evangelical leaders joined rallies, advocated for justice, and engaged in dialogs about Christianity and racism. An evangelical African American pastor in one of Wheaton College’s programs invited me to participate in a faith leaders’ prayer march through communities that were burned in riots. We walked together through the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. I was asked to walk at the front by my African American pastor friends, holding the sign with George Floyd’s name on it alongside them. We prayed for these communities and for those who burned them in the riots. The reality of racism took North America by storm. Several Christian books about racism went off the charts, and some even became New York Times best-sellers.
Of course, not all reactions to the increasing attention to racism were the same. In the United States and Canada, Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality quickly became popular topics. While some Christians argue for their helpfulness as a tool to illuminate oppression, others believe it is entirely untrue and ultimately harmful. Some turned CRT into the boogeyman of our time, seeing it virtually every time race was mentioned; others gave it too much credit. The issue of race is far more complex and nuanced than many realize. Along with the greater awareness of issues of race, North Americans— particularly Americans—also witnessed varying degrees of backlash, from banning CRT in schools to white nationalist movements.
The third event is the continuing polarization and tribalism which creates deeper divides than we have seen in most of our lifetimes. Civil discourse has become increasingly difficult as people are more likely to embrace fidelity inside their tribe than find empathy for those outside it. This is the day of canceling, anti-immigration rhetoric and sentiments, anti-Asian violence, anti-Asian discrimination, and more have become common today.
All these tensions followed in the wake of the coronavirus in 2020 and 2021. While most of this is taking place primarily in the United States, there is a rising sense of nationalism in Canada as well, as demonstrated by the nationalistic elections in Quebec in 2018. There, too, we see a rising anti-immigrant mentality, though it is not as active as the American movement. Ironically, during this same time of COVID-19 and rising nationalism, the world is in the midst of a global refugee crisis that the coronavirus only exacerbates by border lockdowns, food and supply shortages, and more.