The COVID-19 health crisis amplifies the need to address racial disparities throughout our communities.
In response, the GNJ Commission on Religion and Race (CORR) has created a COVID-19 Health Disparity Toolkit for pastors to use with their congregations and community partners as they work collaboratively in communities that are suffering and hampered by inequities.
“Despite all that is going on, this toolkit helps remind people that we are still in communion with one another,” said Lan Wilson, director of worship at GNJ who contributed to the project. “We have many, many resources being made available, but the toolkit offers a focused look at ways to support people in helping to meet both their physical and spiritual needs.”
The downloadable toolkit is a go-to resource for church leaders who are committed to embracing and preserving inclusion during this difficult time and beyond. Amidst this pandemic on ongoing racial strife, the love we are called to show God and our neighbors is needed more than ever.
“Together with the GNJ CORR team, we are working on a larger implementation plan that addresses both mercy and justice. The tool kit does not address the underlying issue of structural racism, which must be addressed by changes in head and hearts, as well as, changes in policy and practice,” said Vanessa Wilson, senior pastor at Magnolia Road UMC & Saint Paul UMC and chairperson, Religion and Race GNJUMC.
She added, “Structural racism excludes African Americans and other people of color from access and equity in the established determinants of health including education; access to health care; clean water; nutritious food; neighborhood and physical environment; as well as, employment and job security. Thus, creating health equity is a complex and ongoing battle; the tool kit provides information about immediate resources and raises awareness about racial health care disparities.”
According to APM Research Lab, data compiled in May revealed deep inequities by race, most dramatically for Black Americans. The study added, “The latest overall COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times as high as the rate for Whites and 2.2 times as high as the rate for Asians and Latinos.” In New Jersey alone, their data through May 27 showed that the death rate per 100,000 by race/ethnicity was 149.6 for Blacks and 87.3 for Whites.
As this disparity continues to widen, CORR is calling for GNJ churches to provide community leadership for justice for all. There is peace for no one as the health crisis drags on.
Lisa A. Cooper, MD, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity at the Bloomberg School, was recently quoted as saying, “I think the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how interconnected and vulnerable we all are, and how much our well-being is dependent as much on what those around us do as it is on what we do ourselves. When others don’t have the opportunity to be healthy by engaging in social distancing, it puts all of us at risk.”
A health disparity is defined as a type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic and/or environmental disadvantage. These health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial and/or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.
The toolkit addresses food security, protective equipment, CDC guidelines, multicultural resources and hotlines as well as alternative ways to worship and engage with congregations safely and inclusively.
“I hope that this toolkit will equip GNJ churches to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of people from all backgrounds with equity,” said Emily Wilton, GNJ’s Breakthrough Coordinator who is a seminary student at Princeton Theological Seminary. “By providing for practical needs and worshiping faithfully and creatively, I hope churches using this toolkit will be a force for God’s mercy and justice in Greater New Jersey.”
Looking forward, Dr. Cooper added, “The pandemic could bring a shift in thinking toward valuing all people regardless of background, economics, or what’s on the surface. We know now more than ever that every member of our society is important. It may force us to come up with new ways, including technology, to connect everyone with the things they need, from food, education, and work, to worship, social connection and entertainment. COVID-19 has also pushed us to ensure that more people have their basic needs met, [because] it has now become a matter of life or death.”
You can find the Health Disparity Toolkit on GNJ’s website under “COVID-19 Resources, or COVID-19 Health Disparity Toolkit | United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey (gnjumc.org)
More information from the General Commission on Race and Religion can be found at www.gcorr.org/.
More details from the APM research can be found at www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race#reporting.
For a helpful chart: https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race#data