Social-justice agency calls for eradicating circumstances that lead to crises such as Ebola

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society has issued a call to the denomination to respond with faith-filled determination to prevent future recurrences of crises such as that caused by Ebola.

The statement emphasizes that the underlying causes that enabled Ebola to move from a regional to a worldwide crisis must be eradicated. These include adequate medical resources, of course, but also improved infrastructure and relief on debt that burdens nations “to the detriment of being able to meet basic needs of their own citizens.”

The statement points to Ezekiel 34 as inspiration in declaring: God “calls us to become involved in the solutions to the immediate crisis, and to use all available wisdom, personal commitment and political will to address the long-standing root causes that allow infectious diseases to strike, spread quickly and threaten already fragile infrastructures.”

United Methodists are asked to pray for all affected by the Ebola crisis, to actively support and care for all persons dealing with it, and to mobilize for advocacy. “We encourage United Methodists to advocate in their national and regional governing bodies for significant funding for the fight against Ebola,” the statement says. “Such advocacy must also ensure that funding remains robust for other ongoing global health and development efforts.”

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Prime responsibility of the board is to seek implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns of the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body.

The Council of Bishops, in conjunction with the General Board of Global Ministries, released a letter Nov. 7 urging United Methodists to “offer compassion to our sisters and brothers who are suffering, and support to those who walk with them.” The letter acknowledges that fear is understandable in the face of Ebola, yet sometimes “leads to unnecessary stigmatization of any persons from or believed to be from those countries or even coming from other parts of Africa.” (You can read the letter at Responding to Ebola Crisis.)

GBCS’s statement follows:

A Call to United Methodists to Take Action

The Ebola Crisis

The magnitude of the Ebola crisis has disturbed people worldwide. United Methodists in our global connection have grieved and prayed for the nearly 14,000 people who have contracted the Ebola virus in eight countries. Almost 5,000 people have died. An estimated 5 million children are currently affected by the epidemic that has orphaned 4,000 of them.

We remain concerned that the virus continues to infect people, especially in West Africa. It has a disproportionate impact on women, both as sufferers and caregivers. The lack of accurate information and education coupled with the severity of the disease stigmatizes and increases the difficulty of response.

As we respond to this epidemic, we must consider the underlying causes that have enabled Ebola to move from a regional to a worldwide crisis. Much of the current crisis could have been prevented if medical personnel, resources and clinics had been in place to respond quickly to the first signs of an outbreak. The unjust sharing of resources has led to wanton impoverization.

Ample resources are not available to support these recovery efforts. Many Sub-Saharan African nations are under obligation to global financial institutions to allocate large portions of their national incomes to servicing their national debts. This obligation is to the detriment of meeting the basic needs of their own citizens.

In the midst of our despair, God comforts us and calls us to become involved in the solutions to the immediate crisis, and to use all available wisdom, personal commitment and political will to address the long-standing root causes that allow infectious diseases to strike, spread quickly and threaten already fragile infrastructures (Ezekiel 34).

Our Biblical and Theological Summons

Jesus Christ healed the sick (Mark 1:34), fed the hungry (Matthew 14:13), and challenged his disciples to do likewise (Matthew 10:8). Jesus rejected the belief that illness or disability was a punishment for sin, stating instead that it was an opportunity for the works of God to be made tangible (John 9:2).

Jesus healed the sick both to demonstrate his power and because the multitudes had illnesses. All illness is a claim on those who have the power to heal. Jesus fed the hungry. Hunger and poverty demand a response by those with power.

Jesus commanded his disciples to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons, not only to show that the Kingdom of God is here, but to show that the human need of God’s children is a claim on God’s kingdom.

What United Methodists Can Do

Commit to Pray. We encourage the United Methodist global connection to lift up prayers seeking God’s grace for all those affected by the Ebola crisis. Pray for those suffering, their caregivers and loved ones. Pray for the health-care persons serving on the frontlines of the fight against Ebola. Pray for the work of humanitarian, development and health-related organizations, including the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and those serving in United Methodist-related hospitals and clinics. Pray for the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and others working to develop effective treatments and determine best practices. Pray for the leaders of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the nations most affected by the crisis, and for their immediate neighbors.

Pray that Christ the who calmed the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) may fill all impacted by Ebola with courage. Pray fervently and effectually that our prayers may avail much (James 5:16).

Care for the Most Affected. United Methodist churches worldwide are called to care for the ill, the dying and those who grieve. We encourage congregations in affected areas to support health-care workers and promote science-based education about the facts of Ebola and how to prevent its spread.

We further support training health-care personnel regarding local customs and cultural sensitivity to foster understanding, trust and solidarity. We must recognize that the crisis has disrupted entire societies. In many areas normal commerce has not been possible, daily life has been turned upside down, and the capacity of nations to meet their citizens’ needs has been severely challenged. Crucial daily needs — needs that United Methodists uphold as constitutive of human dignity and rights of all people — have been severely constrained. These include food and nutrition, water and sanitation, education and employment.

Abundant grace and sufficient resources are both necessary for the mobilization of political will and the resolve to address crises such as Ebola. (Learn more about the UMCOR Ebola response and how to help at Ebola Response.

Mobilize for Advocacy. Ebola is a global crisis that knows no boundaries, and neither should our response be constrained by borders. Sub-Saharan Africa beckons with enormous need. United Methodists applaud worldwide efforts to mobilize resources, supplies and personnel. We celebrate those who have stepped forward, often risking their own safety, to serve on the frontlines in medical and humanitarian roles.

More must be done, though. The world’s nations must practice life-saving generosity. Every resource to care for the ill and prevent the virus’ spread must be made available.

We encourage United Methodists to advocate in their national and regional governing bodies for significant funding for the fight against Ebola. Such advocacy must also ensure that funding remains robust for other ongoing global health and development efforts.

This crisis dramatically underscores the need for debt relief for the world’s most impoverished nations.

We need to mobilize support for sustainable development and infrastructure that meets the needs of peoples in West Africa and beyond. These are steps toward a more just, equitable world.

The United Methodist Church must continue to join with other people of goodwill and faith to provide resources to address critical health and development challenges, and be a voice of solidarity and accompaniment. We are uniquely situated to assist in these efforts because of our global connection and worldwide presence. Our prophetic call is to ensure that our eyes are looking beyond the present to achieve a better future.

Christ reminds us that we are accountable: "Even as ye have done it to the least of these who are members of my family, you have done it to me. (Matthew 25:40). 

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Prime responsibility of the board is to seek implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns of the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.

General Board of Church & Society
The United Methodist Church
November 10, 2014

Contact Info

Wayne Rhodes
Director of Communications
General Board of Church & Society
The United Methodist Church
(202) 488-5630 / wrhodes@umc-gbcs.org