The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to both the healthcare system and communities of faith. While some assume that science and faith are in opposition to one another, nurses of the Christian faith are uniquely qualified to understand science as a gift from God that can be used to serve God, love God’s people, and help to bring about the work of healing. When science and faith appear to collide, how can Christian nurses respond?
Acting on the Truth
I am a nurse practitioner and the chief operating officer of an urban nonprofit clinic and see patients with COVID-19 most days of the week. I also serve on my church’s COVID Task Force. My faith has never been more important to my work as a source of resiliency and hope. My work has never more essential in living my belief that God loves creation deeply. In this country, we have seen over 168,000 people lose their lives to COVID-19 (CDC, 2020).
Severe racial disparities persist with black Americans dying of COVID-19 at 2.5 times the rate of white Americans (The COVID Tracking Project, 2020). This grieves the heart of God and should grieve the church as well. Yet, I watch Christians argue that keeping churches closed and wearing masks is giving in to fear. My N95 is my lifeline right now, so how do I respond?
First, Christian nurses have a unique perspective on fear. Fear protects us, helping us identify situations that could harm us. As nurses, we have delivered terrible diagnoses to patients and seen fear in their eyes. We have prayed with families who have watched their loved ones enter surgery, wondering if they’ll see them again. We know this fear is real.
For me, I am not acting in fear when I put on a mask and turn down social events; I am acting in fear when I work as if God is not sovereign. Faith does not invalidate fear but provides a path by which we can act despite it. We can trust that God is with us and use the tools and knowledge of our profession to protect our patients. Christian nurses can help frame the discussion around fear, focusing on a vision of caring for God’s creation using the most current knowledge of COVID-19 transmission.
Christian nurses also can help guide their faith communities in safely meeting the needs of congregants. The work of the church is essential right now, from providing social support, comfort in times of loss, meeting the physical needs of members experiencing hardships, and providing tools for coping, meditation, and prayer. At the same time, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, churches have been sources of significant communicable disease outbreaks (Zepeda-Lopez et al., 2010). Nurses can evaluate data on regional COVID-19 cases and risk factors within their church bodies and assist church leadership is developing structures to safely continue the work of the church. Just has the work of the church is not defined by the physical walls of the church, the work of nurses does not start and end inside the clinic or hospital.
Finally, as Christian nurses we can model rest. As the pandemic stretches over months with no end in sight, resting in God’s provision and strength is essential to continuing our work in a way that is compassionate, centered, and safe. Nurses, along with other health professionals, must establish limits and create space for self-healing. We must trust that the work of saving lives and healing bodies is not ours alone. We can bear this together as communities and as a nation as we draw strength from God and one another.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020 August 16). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19). Cases in the U.S. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html
The COVID Tracking Project. (2020). The COVID racial tracker. The Atlantic. https://covidtracking.com/race
Zepeda-Lopez, H., et al. (2010). Inside the Outbreak of the 2009 Influenza A (H1N1)v Virus in Mexico. Plos one. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0013256
Breanna Lathrop, DNP, MPH, FNP-BC, serves patients at Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Her article on how nurses of faith can influence social determinants of health will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Christian Nursing. Breanna also is the co-author, with Veronica Squires, of How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick: Restoring Health and Wellness to our Communities (IVP, 2019).