Dr. Munib A. Younan is Bishop Emeritus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the Former President of the Lutheran World Federation. He is the honorary President of the Middle East Council of Churches, and a founder and member of the core group of Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land. Bishop Dr. Munib Younan was educated in both Palestine and Finland, and was granted the Niwano Peace Prize in 2017 for his extensive work in interfaith dialogue.
What is the ministry like in your context right now?
I have been following instructions and staying at home and every now and then following social media on various comments and analyses on the COVID-19 crisis. For some, thesis an eschatological crisis, a sign of the end of times. For some, it is part of the conspiracy theory. Some are using religious traditions to try and remove the virus from their town and villages. Some see it as punishment from God. And for many, the virus is simply a source of great fear and panic.
We have been stressing and emphasising in our ministry that “God is love” (1John 4:8). It is written: “For God so loved the world that He sent His Only Son, that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Christians do not see God revealed in a virus or a catastrophe, but in the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Isaiah expresses it: “Surely He has seen our iniquities and carried our diseases (including this pandemic) yet we accounted Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, struck down for our iniquities, upon Him was the punishment Raheb made us whole, and by His bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). God in Christ loves humanity and wants to save us from this pandemic too.
God is never the God of the punishment but the God of love. This is the message we carried to our people in Palestine, Israel, and Jordan. For more than three months our churches, as well as other mosques and synagogues, were closed and services were transmitted over the internet. So technology has worked here to praise the Lord. Now, our Churches are open but only 20 worshippers can attend, provided that they follow the instructions of safety that the ministry of health delivers
What relationships or partnerships are being formed across denominations or faith groups?
There have been several Zoom prayers either with the various Christian denominations or with Muslims and Jews. This has proven to us that we have one humanity that is living in fear and is in need of prayers and fasting.
What are the lessons you have learned about faith and your people that will outlast this pandemic?
The blessing we have learned is that we are more interdependent than we think. We are sharing our fears and our panics but together we are raising our hands to the One God asking Him for healing and delivery. We have learned to pray together with other faiths. In normal times, we have found this to be so difficult it is almost impossible.
We have learned that we cannot only speak in a globalised way but also in a local way. COVID-19 does not change based on a person’s religion or social status or ethnicity; it is a common threat for all.
We have learned to pray together for those who have contracted the virus, from all religions and denominations. We prayed for the healing of the sick. We prayed that God may give strength to the medical staff and researchers to find the remedy and the vaccination. There have been some extremist religious people who have attacked such common services, and some even claimed that their religious community is immune from COVID-19. But our common humanity, created by God and saved by His Holy blood, is together and praying for help from God.
What has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed about global realities, particularly for the most vulnerable populations?
It has revealed, both in developed countries and developing countries, that we were not prepared to deal with such pandemic. We have noticed that the pandemic does not recognise human made borders. We have seen that different countries had different strategies. We have observed that those vulnerable groups such as immigrants, refugees, some religious groups, and the poor were not given the enough attention, care, and treatment or access to the protective masks and sanitisers. This is a shame for our human systems and this is contrary to Christ’s model that we should care for the downtrodden and marginalised people in our societies.
How can we shape the post-pandemic future to look more like God’s kingdom for those people?
The UN Secretary General, Mr. Guitterez, asked for a ceasefire in all conflicts between nations, so that world leaders can concentrate all efforts on working together to combat the COVID-19.
I think this crisis teaches us to work together for the benefit of the dignity of every human being regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious, or political affiliation. It is a time that we work together for peace based on justice especially for those countries that are yearning for freedom.
But the COVID-19 is a time of deep reflection and prayer for the whole world. It is a time of repentance. It is a time to make God’s love known to the world. But we also need to have time for reflection and soul searching. Have we built a new tower of Babel and forgotten the God of love and mercy? Have we been worshipping other gods? Perhaps the gods of weaponry, power, oppressions, economy, extremism, hegemony, discrimination, demonisation of the other and lies and others.
Perhaps we have believed in the truth of our power instead of the power of the truth. It is the time for the church to do some soul searching, to advance the kingdom of harmony, equality, love, freedom, justice, peace, and reconciliation for the strong and the weak, for those who hold power and those who do not have it. It is time to assist those vulnerable nations for equal access to health and medical services, for comprehensive development. It is a time to pray for equality and equal opportunities to all as we are created in God’s image.