What Is COVID Doing to Our Hearts?

ASK THE EXPERT

The disease may damage cardiac muscle even in those who never displayed symptoms.

Black and white portrait of Nisha Parikh.
Nisha Parikh, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Medicine

Cardiologist Nisha Parikh, MD, MPH, discusses what we know so far about COVID-19’s impact on the body’s cardiovascular system, from affecting the heart’s rhythm to impairing its ability to pump blood throughout the body.

We used to think of COVID-19 as just a lung disease. What were the first signs that this view wasn’t quite accurate?

One of the first indications that this virus affected the cardiovascular system was an early report about how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, enters a cell using the receptor involved in the system that regulates the body’s blood pressure and level of water and salts, which is known as the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. That article definitely got my attention and the attention of my colleagues. This receptor is called the ACE2 receptor, and its involvement might be behind why people with obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure tend to get more severe forms of COVID-19.

Although we haven’t quite unravelled that story, I think we are going to learn more.

What do we know so far about how COVID-19 affects the heart in the short term?

There are many ways COVID-19 can affect the heart during the initial period when someone gets the infection, particularly in the first few weeks. These effects can include new or worsened problems pumping blood effectively, inflammation of the heart muscle, and inflammation of the membrane around the heart. It should be noted that other viruses also can cause these conditions.

We determined this based on deaths from COVID-19 that we know about. But there’s also been a spike in deaths occurring outside the hospital nationwide since this spring, including people being found dead at home from unknown causes. It makes you wonder how many of these out-of-hospital deaths were really COVID-19-related cardiovascular deaths.

It makes you wonder how many of these out-of-hospital deaths were really COVID-19-related cardiovascular deaths.”

NISHA PARIKH, MD

Finally, we are also seeing effects from COVID-19 that may not be directly due to the virus but are related to people not obtaining appropriate medical treatment for a heart problem, often because they have delayed seeking medical care for hours, days, or even weeks after potential heart attack symptoms began. This has led to some really serious complications we hadn’t seen in some time because we now have such good treatments for heart attacks that are detected early enough. These issues include potentially deadly problems such as holes in the heart muscle and tears in the heart valves.

The other thing my colleagues and I have seen when caring for patients admitted to the hospital is a higher incidence of a condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which is heart dysfunction that occurs when someone is under tremendous stress. These days, that stress might be from social isolation, from having loved ones fall ill, or from having lost loved ones. But that trend is anecdotal; we don’t really know the scope of the problem yet.

What symptoms are you seeing among people who had COVID-19 in the past?

We are starting to see more patients with cardiovascular symptoms ranging from chest pain to palpitations to presyncope or syncope – which is feeling lightheaded, like you’re going to faint – that are often accompanied by neurologic symptoms such as brain fogginess, headaches, numbness, or other sensations in various parts of the body. These are part of a constellation of symptoms that folks in this so-called COVID-19 long-hauler category are experiencing.

Many of the symptoms seem to be tied to the nervous system and in many ways may share similarities with cardiovascular diseases we have known about for some time, such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. POTS, as it’s known, is characterized by an abnormal increase in heart rate when standing up and can lead to dizziness, fainting, and other debilitating symptoms. We would like to look further into whether this collection of COVID symptoms we are seeing is POTS.

Are signs of heart problems showing up in people of all ages?

Yes, we have seen young, middle-aged, and older adults develop heart issues. Of the two main studies of heart function among patients who’d had COVID-19 – including infections that were asymptomatic – the average age of participants in one was 49 years old; the other was a study of competitive college athletes who were an average of 19.5 years old. Everyone working to answer questions related to heart function and COVID-19 agrees that we should be taking these studies as preliminary and certainly not definitive; more work needs to be done.

What initial testing do you perform on patients whose hearts may have been harmed?

The tests I start with are an ultrasound of the heart, known as an echocardiogram, as well as some sort of heart rhythm monitoring to look for concerning rhythm issues, especially if a patient is experiencing palpitations or lightheadedness. What we are looking for on the heart ultrasound is whether the heart’s pumping function has been damaged. One of the things we noticed early in the pandemic was the presence of inflammation of the heart muscle, which could even progress to problems with the heart muscle’s function, so we keep an eye out for those types of issues. We are also looking for any evidence of an abnormality of the right side of the heart, which can happen if you have a lung injury or a blood clot in the lungs, both of which people with COVID-19 often have.

What have these tests revealed?

Many of the echocardiograms – the heart ultrasounds – have been normal, but some have shown that the heart is having problems pumping blood to the rest of the body, compared to what a normal heart can do. Studies have shown a decreased degree of what is called global longitudinal strain, which can be an early warning sign of an impending issue with the heart’s pumping ability.

Another concerning thing we have noticed in many patients who have recovered from the infection is inflammation or scarring in the heart muscle. A recent study, for example, showed that patients who had recently recovered from COVID-19 – even if it was an infection without symptoms – were significantly more likely to have evidence of heart muscle damage than people who hadn’t had COVID-19.

How does COVID-19 cause long-term effects on the heart?

Two images of heart muscle cell: Healthy heart muscle (left) created from adult stem cells have long fibers which allow them to contract. SARS-CoV-2 infection causes these fibers to break apart into small pieces (right), which can cut off the cells ability to beat and may explain lasting cardiac defects in COVID-19 patients.
Healthy heart muscle (left) created from adult stem cells has long fibers that allow them to contract. SARS-CoV-2 infection causes these fibers to break apart into small pieces (right), which can cut off the cells’ ability to beat and may explain lasting cardiac defects in COVID-19 patients. Image: Gladstone Institutes

COVID-19 probably directly or indirectly affects heart muscle cells and other heart tissue, even among patients who did not have signs or symptoms of COVID-19. What that means over the long term is not clear. These effects may continue to be subtle – maybe they’ll never lead to symptoms or problems – or they could lead to a change in the way the heart muscle functions.

A recent study from the Gladstone Institutes, one of UCSF’s partners, showed that infecting heart cells with COVID-19 caused the building blocks of muscles to appear splayed every which way, rather than arranged in an organized line as they are in healthy muscle. These findings could explain some of the issues we are seeing in the heart long after a person recovers from COVID-19. But it’s important to note that one would have to translate those results into a human model, since the study was in cell culture.

What has emerged about how COVID-19 might attack the body’s circulatory system beyond the heart?

It seems the virus directly infects the lining of blood vessels, known as the endothelium, which may be why there are really high rates of clots, such as in the lungs and legs, among patients hospitalized with COVID-19. It’s not clear what physiologic process is driving the clots – whether it’s a direct effect of the virus or whether being sick and immobilized contributes to it as well. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere are studying how to prevent blood clots among patients with COVID-19.

What should we do next to learn more about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart?

There is pretty compelling evidence that we should be conducting studies to systematically follow patients who have had COVID-19. Unfortunately, we will likely have plenty of potential research subjects.

DEAR ETHIOPIAN CHRISTIANS, OUR FAITH DOES NOT CONDONE GENOCIDE

BY TEMESGEN KAHSAY

The news from Ethiopia’s Tigray region is bleak. Despite the communication blackout the Ethiopian government imposed, refugee testimonies and video evidence smuggled from the region describe atrocity and barbarism against civilians.

On Nov. 4, while much of the world was focused on the U.S. presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led a “law enforcement operation” against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a regional party that governs Tigray and its leadership. Ethiopia’s law enforcement operation was prompted by TPLF’s attacking a regional military base that TPLF official, Sekoutoure Getachew, said were preemptive strikes in self-defence. For the past seven months, the Ethiopian National Defence Force, the Eritrean Forces, and the Amhara Forces have unified to eliminate both the TPLF and carry out a genocidal campaign against the Tigrayan people.

If you’re not familiar with recent Ethiopian politics, here’s a quick overview: The TPLF was one of the four ethnic-based parties within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, which dominated Ethiopian politics for the last three decades. EPRDF’s record in government is a mixed bag. The EPRDF helped usher in a decade of GDP growth and increased access to education and health. But they also exerted tight control over politics, severely limited freedom of speech, and committed human rights violations. While representing just 6 percent of the population, TPLF’s outsized influence and control over key political and economic sectors were grievances that galvanized a popular movement that eventually led to the downfall of the EPRDF coalition.

With this background in mind, two truths come into view: It is fair for Ethiopians to want the bad actors in the TPLF to be held accountable for their political failures. But the Tigrayan people as a whole should not be held responsible for those failures; there is no justification for indiscriminate violence. Revenge is not the answer.

Enablers and bystanders

The war is made possible by both the armed actors who are actively engaging in ethnic cleansing, rape and destruction, the war is made possible by enablers who give the campaign ideological and religious justification and refuse to condemn these atrocities. Sadly, many of these enablers and bystanders are Christians.

Ethiopia is a religiously diverse country with close to 63 percent Christians (44 percent Orthodox and 19 percent Protestants) and 34 percent Suni Muslims. Roman Catholics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and practitioners of indigenous religions together make up less than 5 percent of the population.

In the course of the current war in Tigray, Ethiopian Christians — evangelicals and Orthodox alike — continue to play an active role in framing the war as God’s judgment, providing religious justification and garnering popular support for the army. Many actively engage in the denial of the Axum Massacre, despite the Ethiopian government labelling the massacre “credible” and independent, international media outlets such as the Associated Press verifying the tragedy.

For example, six weeks into the war, in a Facebook post, Paulos Fekadu, an evangelical theologian, author, and preacher with more than 20,000 followers, wrote that “what is happening in north Ethiopia (Tigray) is the judgment of God” (author’s translation from Amharic).

Daniel Kibret, who is not only an advisor to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed according to local Ethiopian news outlets but also a deacon and scholar in the Ethiopian Orthodox church, legitimized the war saying, “It is wrong to claim that the war is against Tigray or Tigrayans. There are 5 to 6 million Tigrayans, it may be around 1 million of them that are involved in betrayal and treason” (author’s translation from Amharic).

As a Tigrayan and a Christian, I want to know why my fellow Christians who claim to worship the Prince of Peace have engaged in legitimizing violence and death. How do you start with the theology of the gospels — which teaches us to love our enemies, to be peacemakers and to suffer with those who suffer — and end up with a theology that endorses a war, rejoices in massacres and destruction, and brands critics as sub-human? Tigrayans are created in the image of God. So, how can Christians remain silent when God’s image-bearers are described as “daytime hyenas,” raped and maimed, and then silenced from speaking out?

Transformation of Jesus

Growing up, I learned tolerance, persistence, and faith in God from my Orthodox parents. And the evangelical churches I joined at a younger age taught me that Jesus was a compassionate shepherd who is Lord and saviour of all. Above everything, I was taught Christian unity transcends the ethnic, political, or cultural divisions that currently define Ethiopia.

But the Jesus I see many Christians in Ethiopia following looks different. The Jesus they follow apparently never said “blessed are the peacemakers,” or “love thy enemies.” The Jesus of many Ethiopian leaders looks more like a thief who came to “steal, kill, and destroy” rather than the good shepherd who came to give eternal life (Matthew 5; John 10:10-11).

It is hubris to claim to have the perfect image of Jesus — we all tend to create Jesus in our own image and our context shapes our image of Jesus. However, when Christians portray Jesus in a way that departs from the witness of scripture, we fail the God who sent Jesus as the saviour of the world.

Since the start of the war, thousands of Tigrayan believers both at home and far-off have seen death, displacement, and grief engulfing their loved ones. With the total communication blackout, the government imposed on the region, many thousands of us do not know about the fate of our families and relatives who remain in the region. This has imposed a heavy spiritual and emotional toll on Tigrayan believers. We are also reckoning with feelings of deep betrayal from our fellow Christians in Ethiopia who have been silent or complicit.

How does one resist a theology of genocide? How do we build a theology of resistance that neither mirrors the theology of genocide nor condemns Tigrayans to passively accept our fate?

Theology done in the face of genocide and humanitarian crisis is always incomplete. However, this theology of resistance always begins and ends with Jesus who came to serve and love, moving with compassion in the midst of those who had been marginalized and subjected to violence by ruling powers. It is impossible to imagine this Jesus as a bystander to the suffering of millions. He identifies with those who suffer, with those who are displaced, the orphans and the women whose dignity is violated, the families who lost their children. If Ethiopian Christians start following that Jesus, there will be no more war.

Temesgen Kahsay

Temesgen Kahsay is an assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Leadership and Theology. He is originally from Tigray, but is now based in Norway where he teaches and researches comparative religions, missiology, religion, and society.

The antidote to individualism

By Patrick Schmadeke

Streaming through the American subconscious is the deeply rooted ideal of the stalwart individual — the tried and tested hero who beat the odds. This motif makes regular appearances on the silver screen and stories of such people circulate online. We have done a great deal of myth-making in order to invent and ensconce this ostensibly valuable ideal in our culture.

Schmadeke

From the entrepreneur determined to go it alone and strike it rich, the youth in the Juvenile Justice Center who says “I don’t need anybody else to get on the right track,” the naive college graduate thinking he has all the solutions to make the world a better place, to the voter who thinks that one politician will solve all the problems, many have bought into the myths individualism produces.

We know that individualism has been on the rise for some time now. This route is corrosive to the community in the way it atomizes and isolates people and it is antithetical to the Gospel. It degrades authentic anthropology into a worldview that tolerates treating people merely as means to an end instead of ends in themselves. It is an inevitable source of injustice.

Since observing injustice from a distance is not an option Christ gives us, we are obliged to transform the inertia of individualism into the vision of community that Jesus has for us (John 17:11). Shifting the tides of culture has never been a project which can be completed overnight, and one cannot accurately predict how any substantive change might unfold. Yet, I can’t help but suspect that the antidote to the infection of individualism is this: a robust articulation of the common good.

So, why is this the solution? If we cannot articulate the kind of community we wish to become then our energies will be without a rudder. If we lack clarity of vision, then we’re simply never going to move in the direction of the common good.

So, how do we achieve this articulation? This is a difficult task because every historical moment is unique. We cannot simply duplicate efforts and structures of the past for our present time but we can discern common threads through history. What patterns reoccur in the lives of the saints? What themes continually crop up in ecclesial documents? What example did Jesus repeatedly set?

One particular expression of the common good from Laudato Si #19 serves as a summary response to all three of these questions: “Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”

This is penetrating language. It reflects the clarity of Christ in the Judgment of the Nations (Matthew 25:31-46) where Jesus says that the way of our salvation is through our kinship with the marginalized. It mirrors the lives of saints such as Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi who lived in solidarity with those who suffered. And it echoes previous ecclesial documents in their call for communion between all persons (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis #39, Deus Caritas Est #22, Evangelii Gaudium #67).

This passage from Laudato Si is worth serious prayer and is the basis of a reflection exercise I nearly assigned my students last semester called “Where are your feet?” It goes something like this: (A) write down the people, causes and things you care about most; (B) write a list of what Jesus says we are supposed to care about; (C) take a week-long inventory of the places where you spend your time and who you are with (literally, record where your feet are); (D) write a reflection paper on what stands out when you compare these lists and offer incremental steps you can take to conform yourself to Christ.

Christ offers the purest expression of the common good; he shifts the burdens of others onto his own shoulders. We ought to do the same. Only then will we begin to transition from individualism towards a vision of the common good.

Aren’t I a Human?

By B. Julie Johnson

Many have said a society’s measure is how it treats the poor, or the “least of these,” or the marginalized. The prophets measured ancient Israel by how it treated the widows and orphans and foreign residents (often translated as “aliens”’ Exodus 22:21). The emphasis is given to justice, or what we today call social justice, in our Old Testament brings to the surface a core biblical value. Israel’s emphasis contrasts, at times dramatically, with other ancient Near Eastern cultures.

Compassion, which translates a Greek term that describes the visceral, emotional response to a person in need, characterizes Jesus. Here are examples in Matthew:

Matt. 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matt. 14:14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

Matt. 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”

Matt. 18:27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

Matt. 20:34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

The term describes the following complex: a person in need is seen, the visceral response by Jesus is noticed by those around him, Jesus does something to relieve the person from pain. Feeling their pain is not enough: until the visceral response turns into action it is not compassion.

Compassion for the needy requires compassion for survivors of sexual and power abuse. There are many in our churches today who are wounded, survivors. Some are sitting silently in their pain; some are participating without anyone knowing their pain; some are engaged in efforts for other survivors; they are all sensitive to survivors. Some have been wounded because they shared their wounds.

We are called to follow Jesus into care for survivors and to being survivor-sensitive communities of faith that provide safety and healing for survivors. Here are some texts for us to consider today, and these texts from the New Testament can provoke us to deeper concern and care for the survivors in our midst.

I begin with a programmatic statement about the core mission of Jesus:

Matt. 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Here the ones for whom Jesus shows compassion and care are suffering alone, they have been mistreated by the “shepherds of Israel,” and they are described like abandoned sheep who are bloodied, bruised, and broken.

These verses follow the sketch of Jesus’ mission we find in Matthew 4:23-25 and 9:35, which describe the core mission of Jesus: teaching, preaching, and healing. He does the first two in the Sermon on the Mount (chps. 5-7) and healing is found in ten episodes in chps. 8-9. Jesus’ mission shapes itself toward healing the survivors of pastoral abuse. Chapter ten records the mission of the twelve, which is described as extending the very mission of Jesus. Find the “lost sheep” he tells his apostles.

They too are to care for the survivors and wounded. This is what we find in that magical parable called the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Sounding like a prophet of Israel, like Amos, Jesus tells his listeners that the final judgment will be based on how they treated the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, those without sufficient clothing, the sick, and the imprisoned (25:35-36). In other words survivors of various forms of injustices and persecutions and misfortunes. Think about it: the final judgment analyzes how you and I responded to the survivors of our world.

Jesus told a parable that digs its heels into our hearts, the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). It begins with a variant of what I call the “Jesus Creed.” A canon lawyer (scribe) probes Jesus about the right religion. How do I gain eternal life? Jesus responded by asking what the Torah teaches. The canon lawyer says “love God, love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus says “A plus answer.” Then the canon lawyer opens the door to his corrupted heart because solid theology and good hearts aren’t necessary correlations. He wants to know now but one thing: “who is my neighbour?” He’s asking about exceptions. (By the way, get someone else to ask your questions of Jesus.)

Jesus answers with the parable. The core idea of the parable is the priests and assistant priests – go ahead and explore your ecclesial offices: popes and cardinals and archbishops and bishops and priests, pastors and deacons and elders and professors — … to resume, the core idea is that the knowledgeable crowd knows what the Torah teaches so well they find a reason to walk around and right by a wounded survivor on the path. They legitimated their lack of compassion, their inaction, their non-compassion by their exegetical and canonical expertise.

So Jesus takes a Nobody (in the priests’ eyeballs), a Samaritan – socially excluded, religiously inferior, degraded from the perspective of temple categories – and shows up the priest and assistant priest. The Samaritan did what Jesus did: he showed compassion for the wounded survivor, he tended to him, he cared for him, he absorbed resources for him – that is, he extended the mission of Jesus to the survivors he met along his path. There are always Samaritans around showing up the religious authorities.

This is why Jesus’ younger brother said,

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:26-27).

Take those words to heart: “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” is the kind that shows compassion for survivors.

This is why his older brother then said, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Even today.

Jesus and Our Wounded Survivors

By SCOT MCKNIGHT

Many have said a society’s measure is how it treats the poor, or the “least of these,” or the marginalized. The prophets measured ancient Israel by how it treated the widows and orphans and foreign residents (often translated as “aliens”’ Exodus 22:21). The emphasis is given to justice, or what we today call social justice, in our Old Testament brings to the surface a core biblical value. Israel’s emphasis contrasts, at times dramatically, with other ancient Near Eastern cultures.

Compassion, which translates a Greek term that describes the visceral, emotional response to a person in need, characterizes Jesus. Here are examples in Matthew:

Matt. 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matt. 14:14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

Matt. 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”

Matt. 18:27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

Matt. 20:34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

The term describes the following complex: a person in need is seen, the visceral response by Jesus is noticed by those around him, Jesus does something to relieve the person from pain. Feeling their pain is not enough: until the visceral response turns into action it is not compassion.

Compassion for the needy requires compassion for survivors of sexual and power abuse. There are many in our churches today who are wounded, survivors. Some are sitting silently in their pain; some are participating without anyone knowing their pain; some are engaged in efforts for other survivors; they are all sensitive to survivors. Some have been wounded because they shared their wounds.

We are called to follow Jesus into care for survivors and to being survivor-sensitive communities of faith that provide safety and healing for survivors. Here are some texts for us to consider today, and these texts from the New Testament can provoke us to deeper concern and care for the survivors in our midst.

I begin with a programmatic statement about the core mission of Jesus:

Matt. 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Here the ones for whom Jesus shows compassion and care are suffering alone, they have been mistreated by the “shepherds of Israel,” and they are described like abandoned sheep who are bloodied, bruised, and broken.

These verses follow the sketch of Jesus’ mission we find in Matthew 4:23-25 and 9:35, which describe the core mission of Jesus: teaching, preaching, and healing. He does the first two in the Sermon on the Mount (chps. 5-7) and healing is found in ten episodes in chps. 8-9. Jesus’ mission shapes itself toward healing the survivors of pastoral abuse. Chapter ten records the mission of the twelve, which is described as extending the very mission of Jesus. Find the “lost sheep” he tells his apostles.

They too are to care for the survivors and wounded. This is what we find in that magical parable called the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Sounding like a prophet of Israel, like Amos, Jesus tells his listeners that the final judgment will be based on how they treated the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, those without sufficient clothing, the sick, and the imprisoned (25:35-36). In other words survivors of various forms of injustices and persecutions and misfortunes. Think about it: the final judgment analyzes how you and I responded to the survivors of our world.

Jesus told a parable that digs its heels into our hearts, the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). It begins with a variant of what I call the “Jesus Creed.” A canon lawyer (scribe) probes Jesus about the right religion. How do I gain eternal life? Jesus responded by asking what the Torah teaches. The canon lawyer says “love God, love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus says “A plus answer.” Then the canon lawyer opens the door to his corrupted heart because solid theology and good hearts aren’t necessary correlations. He wants to know now but one thing: “who is my neighbour?” He’s asking about exceptions. (By the way, get someone else to ask your questions of Jesus.)

Jesus answers with the parable. The core idea of the parable is the priests and assistant priests – go ahead and explore your ecclesial offices: popes and cardinals and archbishops and bishops and priests, pastors and deacons and elders and professors — … to resume, the core idea is that the knowledgeable crowd knows what the Torah teaches so well they find a reason to walk around and right by a wounded survivor on the path. They legitimated their lack of compassion, their inaction, their non-compassion by their exegetical and canonical expertise.

So Jesus takes a Nobody (in the priests’ eyeballs), a Samaritan – socially excluded, religiously inferior, degraded from the perspective of temple categories – and shows up the priest and assistant priest. The Samaritan did what Jesus did: he showed compassion for the wounded survivor, he tended to him, he cared for him, he absorbed resources for him – that is, he extended the mission of Jesus to the survivors he met along his path. There are always Samaritans around showing up the religious authorities.

This is why Jesus’ younger brother said,

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:26-27).

Take those words to heart: “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” is the kind that shows compassion for survivors.

This is why his older brother then said, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Even today.

Money Can’t Buy You Love…or Anything Else that Matters

By Dr Tony Evans

Most people think money is the secret to satisfaction. They think that happiness equates to how much money you’ve got at your disposal. But happiness has nothing to do with money. Money isn’t about solving your problems. In fact, sometimes our problems escalate as our money increases—not the other way around.

Money isn’t about to solve your problems.

That’s why Paul wrote: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10)

There are so many things money can’t buy. Money can’t buy health. It can’t buy relational harmony. It can’t buy respect, honour, character or esteem. When things go south in any of those areas, if money is all you’ve got working for you, you’ll discover the actual value of money. You’ll learn that money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s so much that matters more than how much money you have in your wallet or your bank account. But it’s very easy to forget that.

All the stuff in the world doesn’t amount to much if you are so broken, empty or alone that you cannot enjoy it, and you don’t have anyone with whom to share it.

As a result, people frequently spend their energy praying for stuff when God wants to give them more than stuff. He wants to give significance, strength, stability and identity. All the stuff in the world doesn’t amount to much if you are so broken, empty or alone that you cannot enjoy it, and you don’t have anyone with whom to share it. Stuff never made anyone smile the way that satisfaction, purpose and even service can. Our world focuses on stuff, while Jesus reminds us what matters most.

Our world focuses on stuff, while Jesus reminds us what matters most.

Tony Evans

Dr Tony Evans is the founder and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, founder and president of The Urban Alternative and author of over 100 books, booklets and Bible studies. The first African American to earn a doctorate of theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, he has been named one of the 12 Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World by Baylor University. Dr Evans holds the honour of writing and publishing the first full-Bible commentary and study Bible by an African American. His radio broadcast, The Alternative with Dr Tony Evans, can be heard on over 1,400 radio outlets daily and in more than 130 countries. Dr Evans’ sermons are also streamed and downloaded over 20,000,000 times annually.

DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE OF A POLIO-FREE WORLD — FOR GOOD

BY RACHEL BRIDGES 

Within five years the world has the chance to make polio a thing of the past, only the second disease in human history to be eradicated. The partnership tasked with finishing the job, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has a new, innovative strategy that builds on community-centred approaches, integrated services, and new technology to not only achieve the milestone of a polio-free world but also help build strong resilient health systems.

Walking through twisting and turning pathways, I follow a team of three community health workers through a neighbourhood in Kano, Nigeria. It’s sticky and hot as the afternoon sun beats down, dust clouds the air, and the sounds of goats and motor scooters fill the surroundings. There are no street signs to guide us — only knowledgeable and trusted women from this community who know the way.

We turn a corner and come to a cement facade with a piece of fabric in the doorway. The team lead calls through the curtain and asks if we can come in. A woman sits on the floor just past the entry with a 5-month-old baby while her other children run around the courtyard. The team pulls out the health checkup card for the mother and baby and gets to work.

Kano, Nigeria
Children under five are the most vulnerable to polio. Once infected, there is no cure. Photo: Andrew Esiebo/UN Foundation

These community health workers are responsible for going house to house to check on families, looking for signs of fever or acute paralysis, an indication that a child may have poliovirus. They also are critical messengers of health, ensuring that families are up to date on their routine immunizations, providing breastfeeding or other nutritional support, and also monitoring for any emerging illnesses that need to be tracked.

A NEW STRATEGY TO ERADICATE POLIO

It may seem small scale, but these community health workers that I met on a pre-pandemic trip in 2019 are a vital part of achieving the goal of eradicating polio around the world, and they are central to the new strategy of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). They have made the difference in countries where wiping out polio was once thought impossible — places like Nigeria, which was just certified wild polio-free in August 2020.

Now, wild polio remains in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s been hard to make progress in the last two polio-endemic countries, while also maintaining polio-free status in countries that are at high risk for outbreaks. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more difficult to reach eradication goals and sustain progress as health systems have been increasingly strained. In fact, 90% of countries say their essential health systems have been disrupted because of the pandemic. That means that millions of children have missed out on polio immunizations, and other essential health services since the pandemic began.

During the recent World Health Assembly, Member States acknowledged disruptions to polio operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic and expressed growing enthusiasm for redoubling efforts and recalibrating the global strategy to fight polio.

Building on this momentum and commitment to achieve global eradication, GPEI just launched a new strategy to circumvent obstacles related to COVID-19 and to overcome previous challenges that have made eradicating polio challenging to date.https://www.youtube.com/embed/j7vxKdy7NDs?feature=oembed

“The world has come so far in the fight to end polio, and we cannot afford to lose momentum now,” Mike McGovern, Chair of Rotary International’s PolioPlus Program, said during the strategy launch event on June 10.

The new strategy outlines what it will take to get us across the finish line to deliver on the promise of a polio-free world by 2026. It reinforces successful models like the use of trusted community health workers and social mobilizers, while also taking an innovative approach to employing new technology in immunization and more integrated and inclusive health services.

GPEI recently developed a next-generation version of the existing oral polio vaccine, known as nOPV2, which has been found to be safe, effective, and more genetically stable. This new technology is expected to play a vital role in stopping wild polio infections from happening while also reducing the cases of what’s known as circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus, cases of polio that are picked up from waste in the environment in communities where the rate of immunizations is lower than it should be. The nOPV2 vaccine has already received Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organization — preliminary authorization to deploy a novel test, treatment, or vaccine in cases of urgent public health emergencies — and is being used in a few countries with promising results so far. This new tool will be groundbreaking in the campaign to end polio.

INTEGRATING POLIO AND OTHER HEALTH SERVICES

It’s clear that doing business as usual won’t get the job done. That’s why GPEI has focused on enhanced integration of polio and other health services as a foundation of the new strategy. This includes integration of monitoring and surveillance with other health programs and partners like Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, integrating ownership of health services and vaccine delivery into local communities. The programs also incorporate nutrition, education, hygiene, water, sanitation, and other critical services to more holistically address the basic needs of many populations in Afghanistan and Pakistan where possible.

For example, in high-risk districts of Pakistan, a new initiative to integrate additional services into polio vaccination campaigns helped reduce missed children and increased polio vaccine uptake. In one area of Quetta, a city in western Pakistan, vaccine refusals declined from over 700 families to just 19.

The strategy also includes ways to support countries in addressing gender-related barriers to polio vaccination and ensures that women are represented at all levels of operational and strategic decision-making. Taking a gender-responsive approach will help ensure that more communities will be reached and more children will receive vital immunizations.

Reducing the number of zero-dose children will be imperative if we want to see an end to polio once and for all. GPEI’s new road map offers a clear view of the path forward, keeping communities’ needs at their centre. With this strategy, and concerted financing to achieve it, we have the ability to eradicate only the second disease in human history behind smallpox. What’s more, this new integrated approach will help create strong, resilient, and sustainable health systems that will be imperative to not only achieve and sustain a polio-free world but also to prevent future health emergencies and deliver on the promise of health for all.

UN Foundation Global Health Fellow Logan Nesson contributed to this post.

Feature photo: Christine McNab/UN Foundation

HOW CHRISTIAN MIGRANTS IN SOUTH AFRICA BATTLE COVID, XENOPHOBIA

BY PATRICK EGWU

Azubuike Muodum, a Nigerian migrant living in Johannesburg, South Africa has not had his worst COVID-19 fears realized.

“When the [pandemic] started, I thought it was a disease that is going to kill everyone, more like an end-time plague,” Muodum told Sojourners in May.

Still, the last two years have had challenges. Muodum runs a small-scale restaurant in the central business district of Johannesburg, South Africa; he says the pandemic and subsequent lockdown created a “huge burden” for him and his restaurant. While countries like the United States begin returning to post-pandemic life, Muodum and others who emigrated to South Africa are facing the challenges of a still-spreading COVID-19.

In addition, non-locals like Muodum face xenophobia from the locals as they seek to survive in a foreign country. In September last year, amid the COVID-19 disruptions, thousands of South Africans marched across major streets and cities, calling for people who have emigrated from Nigeria and Zimbabwe to leave South Africa.

According to the International Organization for Migration, migrants worldwide are more vulnerable than others because of personal, social, situational, and structural factors. The IOM also says these vulnerabilities may be exacerbated in crisis situations like the pandemic.

While Muodum said he has never personally been a victim of xenophobic violence, he has seen mobs destroy property and attack people because of their nationality.

Polite Chitagu moved to South Africa as a migrant from her home country, Zimbabwe, in 2015. Since then, she has been living in the country with her two kids. She owns a convenience store in Hillbrow, a popular migrant community in Johannesburg.

After the South African government imposed a 21-day lockdown on March 26, 2020, Chiragu closed her shop. Chitagu said the store is her main source of income, and she is not yet recouped from the pandemic’s disruptions.

“We have all been affected and the problem is still here,” she said. “And we can’t go back to our country because people there are suffering economic hardship too and it’s becoming worse by the day.”

Chitagu said the lockdown was “the most difficult period for them,” as they were stuck in a one-room apartment and could only go out to buy groceries.

“… people were spending the little they earned before the lockdown,” she said. “Relief supplies were not available and the government’s intervention was in short supply.”

Keeping faith alive amid the pandemic

For Christians who have emigrated like Muodum and Chitagu, faith has been a source of hope throughout the pandemic. Muodum is a parishioner at St. John’s Catholic Church in North Riding, Johannesburg. Before the lockdown, Muodum attended Sunday and weekday services.

As COVID-19 cases increased, Muodum’s parish announced it was shutting its doors and beginning virtual services.

“Nobody could go to church because everywhere was closed, so we had to live indoors with our faith,” he said. “I [went] online to join [service] during prayers and also read my Bible with my family at home.”

In June 2020, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, relaxed the lockdown and allowed places of worship in the country to reopen under strict conditions. For Muodum, the ability to attend physical communion services was a big relief.

The South African Catholic Bishops Conference said that services would be held with precautionary measures, limiting the number of worshippers to 50 people, and mandating face masks and social distancing.

Associations like the South African Council of Churches have been working with the government and other religious groups to raise awareness about the pandemic and how worshippers can keep safe while attending church.

Churches in the country have also been providing relief supplies and financial aid to Christians affected by the pandemic.

“We are called to support each other in time of need,” Rev. Wilfrid Napier, Metropolitan Archbishop of Durban, South Africa and head of the Inter-Religious Council told Sojourners. “[COVID-19] has affected not only our fellow Christians, but everyone around the world, and that is why we need to help during these difficult times.”

In April 2020, Napier and other Christian associations donated $74,000 for COVID-19 relief efforts.

“This is the time for sacrifice,” he said. “Anyone who is able to support should join hands in helping for the sake of humanity.”

Xenophobic attacks and political tensions

While aggression has heightened in the pandemic, South Africa has a history of xenophobic attacks toward non-locals in South Africa — often aimed at those from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Lesotho, or Malawi.

In 2008, locals attacked foreigners, killing more than 60 migrants, according to reports from Reuters. Hundreds were injured, and businesses and properties were either looted or destroyed.

Locals have accused non-native inhabitants of coming to their country to commit crimes or to take away locals’ jobs. South Africa’s last census, conducted in 2011, said there were 2.2 million foreigners living in the country. Anti-migrant xenophobic attacks have been reported in the coastal city of Durban in March of this year.

“It’s a shame that this was happening when people are still suffering the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on their lives and livelihood,” Muodum said. “Whenever [violence] starts happening, I pray it does not come to our side or affect our friends and fellow migrants here.”

During the latest attacks two months ago, church leaders and activists gathered in support of the victims and called on the government to take serious action to end xenophobic attacks on migrants and prosecute culprits.

Rev. Robert Munekani, the pastor at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, said that it was “always wrong” to tell others to “go back [to their own country].”

“We should always learn to live as one, as a community in Christ,” he told Sojourners. “Everyone needs to stand up and condemn this no matter your beliefs.”

There are also growing concerns over what is known as “medical xenophobia” — discrimination in healthcare access, especially among undocumented migrants.

Yemi Fobajo, a Nigerian migrant living in the Eastern Cape, said his wife was poorly treated in 2019 when she visited a local hospital in their area for the birth of their child.

“She was asked for her hospital card and registration, she provided them but she was left unattended for more than two hours until she launched a complaint,” he said. “The discrimination is glaring, especially when the services are based in the rural areas.”

When his wife was nearing the time for delivery, Fabajo said they went to another hospital that was “more acceptable and receptive.”

South Africa has logged over 2 million cases and 62,000 deaths. The country has fully vaccinated just under 480,000 people, less than one percent of the population. As the country moves toward vaccinating the general public, migrants like Muodum and Chitagu are concerned about xenophobia affecting their chances of receiving a shot.

Government officials have given conflicting statements regarding whether migrants would receive the vaccine in an equitable manner. President Ramphosa said that the government would seek to make the vaccine available to all adults in South Africa, but Health Minister Dr Zwelini Mkhize said only registered South African citizens would receive the vaccine.

“Everything is in God’s hands,” Muodum said. “There is nothing you can do without his protection, and I know this pandemic will also come to an end so that we all have our lives back like before.”

Patrick Egwu

Patrick Egwu is a Nigerian freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg, where he is an Open Society Foundation Fellow at the University of Witwatersrand. His works have been published by African Arguments, Ozy, National Catholic Reporter, Global Sisters Report and other platforms.

Five South African human rights organizations you should be knowledgeable of

As the country commemorates Human Rights Day on 21 March, access to justice remains an important theme for human rights NGOs and all efforts are directed towards helping individuals and groups from poor communities.

As a result, a significant amount of financial and human resources are channelled to establishing and supporting community-based paralegal advice offices that provide people with wide-ranging legal and social advice.

Human rights NGOs in South Africa are concerned with protecting civil rights to ensure the effective functioning of the country’s democracy. A fair number of organisations that provide legal and social services to disadvantaged communities are based in academic institutions around the country. They combine academic and applied research to lobby for social and economic justice.

Moreover, within the context of a developing country, a significant group is emerging which argues that poverty is the manifestation of unfulfilled rights. Thus, a significant proportion of South African NGOs integrate human rights into broader development issues by advocating for a rights-based approach to development.

In essence, this involves engaging in upstream strategies to promote social change. NGOs promoting a rights-based approach to development are commonly advocacy orientated, mobilising communities around various social justice campaigns.

Here is an overview of some of the more prominent human rights NGOs in South Africa:

Art for Humanity

Art for Humanity (AFH) promotes human rights awareness through the mobilising of artists, writers and poets, both nationally and internationally, in creating artwork for social justice education and advocacy.

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In addition to producing and curating books, multimedia artworks, exhibits and school workshops to encourage art as a means to communicate the human rights message, the organisation also works in partnerships with corporate entities, other non-governmental organisations and the government in developing community-based human rights events and discussions, and bridging the gap between the arts and the sector’s duty to speak for the human spirit.

Dullah Omah Institute for Human Rights

Initially called the Community Law Centre, it was founded in 1990 by renowned human rights lawyer and former government minister Dullah Omar. The NGO was a continuation of his work during the anti-apartheid struggle to put the human rights of ordinary citizens at the forefront of the developing new democracy in South Africa.

Before 1994, the centre played a major role in the negotiations between the National Party government and the democratic parties, and in determining the country’s first democratic constitution, of which human rights is one of its most prominent pillars. The organisation included prominent activists, including Bulelani Ngcuka, Dr Zola Skweyiya, and Brigitte Mabandla.

100 Greatest S A’s confirmed by public vote 76. Dullah Omar, politician pic.twitter.com/SN5hJ2L0QS
— Levessor (@Levessor) September 17, 2014

The organisation has continued to be a major contributor to policy formulation for South Africa’s constitutional order, while also advising on constitutional and human rights matters across the rest of Africa.

Renamed in 2015 to honour its founder, who died in 2004, the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights produces more than 50 articles, books and research reports and hosts more than 20 workshops, conferences and seminars annually, focused on children’s rights, socio-economic rights, multilevel government, criminal justice reform and women’s rights.

Operating under the University of the Western Cape’s Faculty of Law, the institute comprises 30 National Research Foundation-accredited doctoral and post-doctoral researchers, headed by accomplished legal and constitutional academic Professor Jaap de Visser.


Gladys Mukundi@mukundigladys
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Prof. de Visser Director of Dullah Omar Institute,

#CLC25#DullahOmar @UWC_CLC @UWConline@NaylorNikki@donalddeya

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Lawyers for Human Rights


Lawyers for Human Rights@LHR_SA
LHR is at the People’s March against Xenophobia in Johannesburg #NoToXenophobia

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Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) is an independent human rights organisation with over 35 years of human rights activism and public interest litigation in South Africa. The organisation uses the law as a positive instrument for change and to deepen the democratisation of South African society. It provides free legal services to vulnerable, marginalised and indigent individuals and communities, both non-national and South African victims of unlawful infringements of their constitutional rights.

Lawyers for Human Rights@LHR_SALHR’s client received his passport after 5 year struggle for recognition of his #citizenship#iBelong#stateless

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Operating since 1979, LHR achieved a proud record and formidable reputation for fighting oppression and abuse of human rights under apartheid. The organisation later assisted in the transition to democracy, particularly through voter education and election monitoring during the 1994 elections. Today, LHR is recognised as being the vanguard of South African civil society in its ever-evolving democracy.

While the LHR recognises that NGOs need to enter into joint ventures with state institutions to promote human rights objectives, the organisation remains vigilant in its role as ombudsman and advocates for human rights causes.

Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

Established by the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Law in 1986, the Centre for Human Rights is both an academic department and a non-governmental organisation focused on human rights education throughout Africa. It has developed wide-ranging and influential academic literature on a variety of human rights themes, including creating greater awareness of human rights in Africa and the improvement of the rights of women, people living with HIV, indigenous peoples, sexual minorities and other disadvantaged or marginalised persons or groups across the continent.

Nationally, the centre was one of the few internal institutions to speak out against human rights violations in South Africa during the apartheid years. Members of the centre participated in discussions with the liberation movements outside the borders of South Africa, organised conferences and were outspoken in efforts to promote human rights in South Africa.

After 1994, it served as a technical adviser to the interim and final constitution writing processes.

Today, the centre has realigned its focus on the continent, positioning itself as a primary mover in a network of practising and academic lawyers, national and international civil servants and human rights practitioners in Africa, specifically on the development of human rights law.

In 2006, the Centre for Human Rights was awarded the Unesco Prize for Human Rights Education for its advancement and strengthening of human rights and democracy, particularly for the African Human Rights Moot Court Simulation Competition and its pioneering LLM postgraduate law degree in human rights and democratisation in Africa.

Legal Resources Centre

Established in 1979 by a group of prominent South African lawyers, including Arthur Chaskalson and Felicia Kentridge, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) uses the law as an instrument of justice for vulnerable and marginalised communities.

Other LRC alumni include some of the most prominent players in the country’s legal system, including Chief Justice and Constitutional Court judge Sandile Ngcobo, veteran human rights advocate George Bizos and retired High Court judge Chris Nicholson, who during his time at the LRC in the 1980s undertook challenges to apartheid-era pass laws and detention without trial causes.

Enshrined in the belief that the Constitution is transformative and should continually be a living and relevant document that addresses the contemporary human rights needs of all South Africans, the LRC strives for effective and innovative solutions to law reform. The organisation focuses on land and housing rights, as well as environmental law and continental outreach.

Its Working Paper series oversees academic writing publication, on topics in the public interest on local, continental and global levels.

Source: NGO Pulse

A Conversation with Dr Stephen Morris on Faith and Democracy, and Bridging the Two

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hope is something that I struggle to maintain, especially as a Black woman living within the many intersections of oppression in America.

I have watched police execute men, women, and children that looked like me. I have watched an overtly racist and xenophobic President win an election and catalyze a country into a comfort with hate speech.

I have watched Americans become so comfortable and encouraged by their hate that they stormed and took siege of the United States capital. It is this present reality that has often robbed me of my hope in America, in this system.

And then I met Dr. Stephen Morris. Dr. Morris has spent 20 years in public education, working his way up from a teacher all the way to becoming a superintendent, in charter, public, and private schools. He served as the Vice President for World Impact, Inc. and co-founded a private school in South Central Los Angeles that centered the experiences of under-resourced urban children. Dr. Morris is Co-Founder/CEO of the Civic Education Center, Inc.

As we chatted, my defenses came down. Dr. Morris was a gentle and kind presence. With ease and confidence, he spent an hour conveying to me the ways in which democracy can evoke justice and thus, holiness. He shared historical facts and personal stories with me. We exchanged laughs and listened deeply. As a proponent of intergenerational work in order to create a more just and inclusive society, I can absolutely say that this was my richest intergenerational conversation yet. Enjoy the below conversation.

—–

Bethany: I’d love to hear you articulate who you are.

Dr. Morris: I describe myself as someone on a journey to discover and understand God’s love in the context of who I am. My heritage, ethnicity, class, and status as a father and grandfather and as a husband. I try to put together those pieces and live in a way that honors those unique intersections of who I am in the midst of knowing that God accepts all of them—the pieces and the total.

Bethany: Let’s get into the work that you’re doing. When did you start?

Dr. Morris: It started when I worked as a missionary in urban America after I graduated from a Mennonite college and an Anabaptist background. I had a chance to play pro football or go into the ministry as a missionary. I was weighing it back and forth. At that time, there was a crazy book out called Meat on the Hookthat looked at professional players like a side of beef. The book included the injuries [from] that lifestyle.

Back then, football was still operating under this fake science that Black people can endure more injuries and that their bodies are tougher. Well, I became a missionary in As a missionary in South Central LA, working with gang bangers and prostitutes and drug dealers. There was not one person who did not want a better life for their children.

We found common ground with their children. What hope do you have for your child? How do you want them to be different? What do you want the world to be like for them so they can be more successful? That was across the board, so I helped create some Christian schools that focused on that and we tried to expand the model into Philadelphia and Newark, N.J. We wanted to take people where they were at and not judge them.

When I moved to Fresno, I ended up retiring from the ministry and getting into public schools and doing the same thing. I became a 6th grade teacher and loved it. Again, it allowed me to reinforce people where they were at. I became a vice principal, a principal ,and then a superintendent.

Bethany: That must’ve been very different from mission work. What did you see in that work?

Dr. Morris: When I got my Doctorate and wrote my dissertation, I was really looking at educational structures and segregation and how we build the whole child in the midst of that. It changed my outlook. What could I talk about in public schools? I could talk about America and about the government. But what about those things would bring a connection to someone, their spirit or their being, and to make that person want to change? That mission became my calling.

The center was created in 2016 with the intention of providing training for educators working with students to identify community problems, engage with American civic values and ideals, conduct research to understand causes and potential solutions, and implement a civic service project.

Bethany: This is a very interesting conversation for me because I am a rebellious millennial who doesn’t believe in institutions and who is constantly frustrated with America. It’s so interesting to hear you talk about America from a very hopeful place. How do you keep hope alive in this present climate?

Dr. Morris: I think I do this because my generation fought for stuff. I couldn’t swim in a public pool until I was 12 years old. We swam in creeks and ponds, and the first time that President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill we went to the “All White” pool. The White people got out because they were afraid of contamination. But we didn’t care! We stayed in the pool all day and there was nothing they could do about it!

So within a week, the White people were getting in the pool with us one at a time and they saw that nothing happened. Their skin didn’t change color and they didn’t get some weird disease. So more of them started getting in the pool with us! We fought to be able to get into a public swimming pool, to go to a school that was fully equipped, to go into a movie theater, and not to have to sit in the balcony. We fought to not just be locked into one area to live but to have access to everywhere.

And we saw some changes happen! Those changes weren’t always as internal as you would hope, but that came later. But there was change!

Bethany: What do you hope younger generations get to see and experience in this democracy and from your work?

Dr. Morris: The hope we have is the very thing that your generation (Millennials) will fight for. As bombastic as Trump is, we have a way of getting him out of office! Now, unfortunately, it got crazy because his supporters stormed the Capitol.

That’s not what it’s supposed to be. I mean they claim democracy, but they’re in there waving Confederate flags and attacking. No, you don’t really understand democracy. What you understand is something that continues to support your privileged lifestyle. And that’s what we continue to fight.

Many of today’s democratic societies are driven by self-protectionism, not the “invisible hand,” as proscribed by Adam Smith, the father of Western economic and social growth. Smith believed that human beings are driven by passion, reason, and empathy for others. In my opinion, this empathy for others becomes the invisible that allows individuals and free societies to prosper and ensures the goodwill or the common good of all.

From my perspective, American Democracy is limited by a ten percent mentality, implying that once the ten percent margin is reached, further responsibility to society or our fellow human beings is no longer necessary. We see so much selfishness in American Democracy, so much so that we fail to acknowledge the Devine. The invisible hand drives Christianity, that of an Omnipotent gracious God who gave abundantly more than ten percent to redeem us.

I do not believe God favors one form of government or another, but I do believe that in a democratic society characterized by individual freedom and responsibility, we are afforded greater opportunity to live in a manner that goes beyond the ten percent. We can move beyond privileged lifestyles and class-structured societies to ensure all access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or contentment.

Bethany: So what is democracy to you? How can it work together with faith? 

Dr. Morris: Democracy is the opportunity to ensure government reflects the values of our God, who created all to possess an inherited worth. In the story of Creation, human beings come to life when God breathes the breath of life into our lungs.

Democracy means ”people rule”; therefore, we have a moral, if not a sacred, responsibility to all to ensure all live in a society where all may have the opportunity to live out our faith in such a manner that honors our responsibility to one another.

Bethany: What do you want students to learn from you?

Dr. Morris: I want them to come away knowing that we all have a responsibility, a shared role, and those shared roles are based on values that are greater than mankind—or any individual. I want people to understand that those values are greater than all of us, and that’s what gives us common ground to perfect the Union, to talk about gender identity, to talk about poverty, to talk about immigration.

If we start from the point of view that everyone is born in the image of God, then we want everyone to be maximized in the image of God.

Bethany Stewart is an HBCU graduate living in what she describes as the perfect city, Philadelphia, PA. She works as an Education and Employment Specialist for formerly homeless young adults while also working as a community organizer focused on ending mass incarceration. She enjoys the beauty of God’s creation in nature and has been known to set it off if one begins making up “house rules” during a game of Uno.