By Phelipe Reis

Some say that the pandemic has not sickened society, it has only placed sharpness in sick aspects long ago. In this scenario, much has been said about the new normal and that this “new” could lead people to adopt healthy habits, such as consuming less and seeking to have more contact with nature.

What is the role of the church in a sick society that may be seeking new ethical and social standards? How can pastors and leaders dialogue and respond to the longings of their communities in this post-pandemic context?

For the theologian and missiologist Timothy Carriker, in addition to ministering to the needs that affect the individual well-being of people, pastors and leaders need to pay attention to the stress to which the planet has been subjected, because this has a direct impact on the integral well-being of the population. In the words of José Marcos da Silva, pastor of the Baptist Church in Coqueiral (Recife/PE), the church can contribute deeply to society “by deepening the concept of kingdom of God and teaching that the plan of salvation consists in the redemption of all things.”

Below is a conversation with theologian Timothy Carriker and Pastor José Marcos about the socio-environmental challenges of the post-pandemic for the Brazilian church.

The pandemic may be causing people to review their drinking habits and come to adhere to the idea that “less is more”. What do you think of that? How can the church contribute to people developing a less consumerist lifestyle?

Timothy Carriker – I do not know studies to determine whether the decrease in consumption is due to the imposition of social isolation or whether it is due to a conscious and voluntary decision to consume less. However, the pandemic should lead us to a reflection on the anxieties that our planet is suffering and that have led us to global warming proven by more than 97% of the world’s climate scientists. Behind this is a habit of worldwide consumption that generates industrial production and causes the current condition. This condition modifies the delicate environment and microorganisms, and thus favors the proliferation of numerous types of disasters, including in the area of health such as the one we are going through today. In Romans 8:18-25 he reveals that these anxieties are[do planeta] linked to the redemption of mankind, and then to the mission of the church. We need to better understand how this works to disseminate Christian actions that contribute to the redemption of creation. This includes lessons and teaching resources, such as those offered by the Renew Our World movement and videos such as “The History of Things.”

José Marcos – Yes. I am relatively skeptical about the speed of changes on the road only awareness, even though I understand that this is the best road. Looking at the great changes in history, I see that they are preceded by what I call “catastrophe.” Paradigms that come accompanied by some catastrophic event. For example, the Protestant Reformation, which has been in place for four hundred years, only finds the “perfect storm” in the 16th century, thanks to an awareness process associated with the catastrophe that occurred in the Church of Rome. The catastrophe of the pandemic throws spotlights on environmental dismantling caused by our sinful lifestyle. The Church can make the key contribution to the paradigm shift by deepening the concept of the kingdom of God and teaching that the plan of salvation consists in the redemption of all things, of all god’s creation, and not just of the human soul.

Social isolation has forced people to radically change their lifestyle. Adding this to other factors, the situation also ends up causing mental health disorders of the population. How to minister and help these people?

Timothy Carriker – Obviously we need to minister to stressed people. This pastoral work develops through virtual visitation, phone calls, meetings in virtual small groups to pray to study the Bible, and through the media resources that the church can offer. My biggest concern, however, is the stress the planet is going through. It is regrettable that it does not pass through the minds of many of us Christians that this pandemic is not just our personal condition. It is a condition of the planet to which we need to address for the sake of survival and well-being of humanity. In the Christian environment, much is said about the effect of the pandemic on our well-being, and we must certainly do so. But little is said of the human causes of the pandemic through transformations of the planet caused greatly by our lifestyle.

Joseph Mark – The biblical message is filled with pearls that teach us to live in adversity, such as the brilliant text of Matthew 6:25-34, in which Jesus teaches about anxiety. An arsenal of this magnitude can and should be transformed into preaching, studies, that is, into thousand strategies to conduct their churches. In addition, the richness of the members and sympathizers with which the church counts can be used in several ways, such as the creation of voluntary groups of psychologists who can provide more qualified support to people most in need of psychic support, not only from the churches, but also from the communities around them. In the broader context, the Church can be the protagonist of a new pedagogy based no longer on the principles of our time, which confuse happiness with possessions of material goods, offering people the concept of full life as something we achieve when we live without faults and without leftovers.

In the post-pandemic, a search for a more sustainable lifestyle must grow in society, with greater contact with nature and the adoption of habits that have less impact on the environment. How can the church dialogue or respond to this demand of society?

Timothy Carriker – There are many ways, but I will stop at a critical strategy: the formation of our pastors. I am a pastor and i am a professor of theology in courses for pastors and missionaries. And I know well that pastors value the subjects and emphasis they receive in their formation. In seminary nothing is said about the Christian responsibility to take care of God’s creation. There’s no discipline about it. And it’s not part of the related disciplines. So it is not surprising that church leaders are wary of the discourse of sustainability. The situation is urgent. It is necessary to develop not only a subject that deals with the subject giving information on the best scientific discoveries, as well as how we can approach this subject from a pastoral perspective. In addition, it is very important to integrate discourse within the whole curriculum, that is, in each main discipline: theology, history and practice.

José Marcos – The Church has the tools to help society change its lifestyle radically, but unfortunately it is not ready for such a task. This incapacity occurs by the mistaken way in which the Church understands the concept of the kingdom of God and, consequently, how it produces in practice her evangelizing mission. As long as the kingdom of God is understood as a non-terreal and postmortem reality, such help will not come effectively. Therefore, the church can only help society change its lifestyle when the paradigms of the kingdom of God and mission are revisited. Kingdom of God must be seen with a concrete reality, and the plan of salvation must encompass the redemption of all spheres of life. After doing this homework, she will be able to help society change.

*Timothy Carriker is a missionary of the Independent Presbyterian Church, chaplain of A Rocha Brasil and surfer in his spare time. He is part of the Theology Working Group of the Renew Our World campaign. He is the author of “What is missional Church”, “The Missionary Vision of the Bible” and “Biblical Theology of Creation” (Free E-book), all published by ultimatum.

*José Marcos studied theology at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Northern Brazil, Psychology at UFPE, has a post-graduate degree in Faith and Politics from PUC-Rio, founder and president at the Solidare Institute and author of the book “Sorry for the disorder, we are changing the church” (Esperança publishing house).

*Phelipe Reis is a journalist and content contributor for Sepal.