[Photo Courtesy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists]
Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Nicole Dominguez

Living through a historic event is traumatic. Most days we wish we could pack up these “unprecedented times” in a box and shove it away. Unfortunately, nearly three years into the pandemic, we are no closer to returning to the glory days of “normal”. If anything, the symptoms of our trauma and its effects on society both inside and outside the church have grown stronger. This episode of ANN InDepth sees Dr. Peter Landless, the director of Health Ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, and Dr. Torben Bergland, the associate director of Health Ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist World Church discussing the relational breakdown caused by Covid.

Covid-19 brings many symptoms. Even those who have never had it are experiencing deeper, much more problematic symptoms such as touch starvation, depression, loneliness, unemployment, shortages, and the constant obstacles in daily life. The deepest root of many of these issues is isolation. This isolation has caused many of the problems listed yet an unlikely result has been the acceleration of polarization. Physical Isolation has led to emotional and spiritual isolation. In our attempt to derive some comfort, we have embedded ourselves in our ideologies. Having a group or sphere of like minded people can offer immense relief during a time when we have had to physically detach from the world around us. On the other side, there could be the pack mentality of our ideals. When the group becomes the source of identity, “us and them” mindsets will run rampant. Rather than allowing our Adventism to calcify into an esoteric structure that vilifies those outside the sphere, we must return to Christ’s principles. When we isolate, minors become majors, molehills become mountains, every hill is cavalry, and any person who does not agree 100% is a villain lost for eternity. In short, we have forgotten our humanity.

We must break the cycle. The only way that can be accomplished is to understand the motivation behind such polarization. Landless states that humanity is suffering from “COVID Fatigue” and “Compassion Fatigue”. He elaborates by stating that “There's a huge amount of fear. There's fear of the future, it’s fear of the unknown”, this must be taken into account when encountering someone with an argumentative spirit. At the end of the day, we are all tired. Stymiest offers, “I'm wondering how much of this argumentative spirit that seems to be getting worse is just because as a world we're just so tired.” Both Bergland and Landless implore those who encounter or have and argumentative spirit to remember that there is a person on the other side of the argument and to, as Bergland adds, “just remind ourselves this person also is created in the image of God this person also is loved by God whether they are right or wrong they're still loved by God and we ought to do what God does.” Most of all, Landless begs for people to remember that “in order to forgive we must first be forgiven. We must experience forgiveness on a much deeper level before I learn to really say, “well now I can do that for

others too.”” 

Such decisions like vaccination are a dictate of conscience. The choice of vaccination is between you and your medical provider. There will always be polarization on issues such as this. Many individuals will condemn the church if we are silent, and others will curse the church for speaking on issues that many classify as political. At the end of the day, we as a church must acknowledge the world around us according to a biblical perspective. For the choice of vaccination, it is just that, a choice. God created us with free will. If medical circumstances prevent you from taking the vaccination with confidence, then so be it. The same can be said for the choice to vaccinate. The issue is not the choice. The issue arises when we expect the church to tell us what to do during a global health crisis, removing the need for personal research and consideration. Yet the biggest issue of all is when our inability to respect another person's choices. Vilifying another individual for their refusal to abide by our personal standards is a failure to uphold the Christian standard we are called to live. 

Bergland states “We forget about relationships, that there actually are real people in the

other end.” He elaborates by saying that placing intense emotional investment on a topic can cause us to form a defense which dehumanizes our “opponents''. As a result, we are caring more about our ideologies than other humans. This isolation can cause an entrenchment in beliefs that can become toxic. This increasingly radical response is heightened by the use of digital platforms which lowers inhibitions, and the investment in these ideologies as the sum of our identities. If we forget Galatians 3:28, we are denying the innate complexity within others and ourselves. The world has often looked to other forms of identification because they lacked the liberation of their identity being found in Christ. However, even we as a church have fallen victim to such victrol. In such a time of polarization, we have a greater responsibility as Christ followers to be bridging the gap, fostering conversations given without agenda or judgment. In this time, we must remember to listen and stand apart as a peculiar people in our choice to break out of isolation and respect those on the other side.