It was an interesting exchange to have a telephone interview with a reporter from a major Canadian news outlet in mid-August. As the president of a university that has a distinctly Christian, I was contacted to ask if I would comment on the way in which certain religious groups – notably Christian congregations – were violating the pandemic guidelines established by the health authorities. The point was that they felt that they were above the law, somehow, and that religious freedom meant that if they wanted to worship, as per the usual, then the government did not have the right to stop them.
In my response, I insisted that Christian communities are not above the law and that it is sheer presumption – a false faith – when religious groups assume that they do not need to live by these guidelines and the line that one congregational member is said to have said: “if I get sick, it is God’s will.” I did not choose to speak to the fatalism implied in that last line, but rather to focus on the fact that as a Christian organization we viewed our faith as leading us to work closely with health authorities when it comes to how we approach the upcoming academic year.
Then the reporter asked me bluntly: “Well then, what difference does your faith make – for you personally, and for the university?”
That is, of course, a fair question. And in response, this is what I offered the reporter -- admittedly, thinking on my feet and responding in the moment [though, as I have thought about it since that telephone interview, I am not sure I would alter much of what I said]. I responded by suggesting that my faith and our faith means, at the very least, three things – for myself and for the organization I lead.
First, that we care for others. We love God as God has loved us and this is evident in the way that we care for those in our household, our workplace, our neighbourhood and the local grocery. We sustain physical distancing and wear a mask not only to protect ourselves but out of a concern for the other and their well-being. Our respect for them means that we wear a mask. And this means we are particularly attentive to those who are most vulnerable during a pandemic, either because of age or underlying health concerns.
Second, we are patient. One of the signs of a lack of faith is impatience: we want to get back to “normal” and be able to have our former life routines and patterns restored. Whether it is those who are eager to worship on Sunday morning and meet with friends at the pub on Sunday evening, if we live with a living faith it is evident, in part, that we are patient through times of uncertainty and difficulty and limitation. We learn to wait and we check our impatience and recognize it for what it is.
And third, we are ever open to new possibilities and new learnings. We do not discount the huge losses that some have and are experiencing: the death of loves ones or the inability to be present to elderly family members; unemployment and financial stress. And yet, if we are women and men of faith we are asking where there is the potential for new learning. We know on some level that coming out of this experience there will be some experience or something that we have learned or something we have come to value. We will not be going back to what it was like before. So, what have we learned? What are we learning?