Responding to COVID-19 and Racism: Learning From Faith Communities

Thursday, July 30, 2020
REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst

Senior Rabbi, Temple Sholom

Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church

Director, The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers


Canon to the Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church

Rabbi Shoshanah Conover, senior rabbi at Temple Sholom of Chicago, Bishop Michael Curry, the twenty-seventh presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, and Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, executive director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, discuss how faith communities have responded to the crises of COVID-19 and racial unrest, and what we can learn from their experiences. Dr. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, moderates.

This webinar is part of the Religion and Foreign Policy Program's Social Justice and Foreign Policy series, which explores the relationship between religion and social justice. 

Learn more about CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Program.

FASKIANOS:  Good afternoon and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy webinar series. I am Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today's webinar is the third in our Social Justice and  Foreign Policy series, which explores the relationship between religion and social justice. As a reminder, the webinar is on the record and the audio video and training script will be made available on our website cfr.org and on our iTunes podcast channel Religion and Foreign Policy Program. To turn today's conversation over to my colleague and friend, Dr. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church, and he will introduce our speakers and moderate the discussion, and then we will turn to all of you for questions and comments and the latter half of this hour. So Dr. Robertson, over to you.

ROBERTSON: Thank you, Irina, very much so. It is wonderful to have all of you on this call today. We welcome you to this special presentation on responding to COVID-19 and racism, and having a view from various panelists from the different faith communities. I am honored and delighted to be able to introduce to you Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, who is executive director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, a global network that builds bridges between grassroots peacemakers and the global players. Prior to this position, Dr. Elsanousi, was director of the interfaith and government relations for the Islamic Society of North America, and also recently was selected to join the NGO Working Group on the UN Security Council. Welcome Dr. Elsanousi. I am also pleased to welcome Rabbi Shoshanah Conover of Temple Sholom in Chicago, senior rabbinic fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute. She serves on the executive committee of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, is a leader of the pioneering work of the Illinois Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and sits on the board of the Midwest Anti-Defamation League. It is wonderful to have you with us, Rabbi.

CONOVER: Thank you.

ROBERTSON: And finally, the most Reverend Michael Curry, who is presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, having previously served for over 15 years as Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina. Well known to many for his sermon at the Royal Wedding in 2018, Bishop Curry also is an author with a new book coming out, Love Is the Way: Finding Hope in Troubling Times, appropriate for this conversation here. Welcome Bishop Curry.

CURRY: Thank you very much.

ROBERTSON: Now as we get started, before we turn to our listeners and let them have part of this conversation with us, I'd like to get this conversation started by thinking about this unprecedented time which we find ourselves. We've seen how COVID-19 has impacted every area of American society and indeed, across the globe. With past crises of various types, religion and religious institutions have been able to provide some kind of communal support needed to weather the storms around us. But in some ways, faith communities have been hit particularly hard, particularly because of social distancing, and the need not to be close together. I'd like to see how this has played out from each of your perspectives, how have you seen this going in your various traditions? And why don't we start with you, Rabbi, if you could start us off and then just go from there?

CONOVER: Sure, and I'll say that, that firstly, it's an honor to be here. And as I look at the world around us right now, how appropriate that we're having this conversation today, when we are as a Jewish people marking Tisha B'Av, which is a commemoration of the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem, we mark that on this day, the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, and I'll say to this is that when we look around, one of the things that we always make sure to chant is from Eicha, from Lamentations, where we say, Eicha yash-va badad ha'ir rabati am, alas, lonely since the city once great with people, and I will say that those words resonate so deeply in this time, because we actually pile on top of the destruction of the temple, so many layers of loneliness and pain. And this notion of looking around, especially in the city of Chicago and around the world, how we sometimes are feeling so lonely in these moment. I'll say that in our congregation, we reach out to so many people, we've reached out, volunteers have reached out to everyone in our community, to have phone calls, to set up weekly calls, to go grocery shopping, to get them up on technology. And there is a loneliness that is pervasive. Some can't remember the last hug that they felt, or the last conversation they had face to face with someone. But I'll also say that, even as we lament the not being able to gather in person and on this day, lamenting the destruction of the temples. We also remember the transformation that can happen even in this time. And that we know that we have wisdom to draw on. In the Talmud, the sages actually quote a verse from Ezekiel, where they're trying to figure out is God with us, even when there are these destructive patterns, even when not only were there once this great temple, but also there were large other places of worship that are open no longer. They quoted Ezekiel, who said “vayehi lahem l'mikdash m'at b'artzot asher ba-usham,” that saying that, even when there are these destructions, I will then be with them as a little sanctuary, wherever they may go in any area they may go, and the sages say that that means in smaller synagogues and study halls. But we also realize that this means that it's happening in people's homes. And I don't know about you, Bishop Curry, or you, Dr. Elsanousi, if you've noticed that what happens when we are able to see into each other's homes. There's an intimacy that's there, that when we see each other and how we are situated in our homes, we do feel like these are smaller sanctuaries, where holiness still resides. And even though it's not the same as being able to be in person and feel that warm embrace, that somehow we're able to still relate so deeply to one another. And thank God I think that that is still being able to carry us through this very difficult time.

ROBERTSON: Dr. Elsanousi, Bishop Curry, would you like to either one of you jumped in?

ELSANOUSI: I will let Bishop Curry begin because just in the order of the revelations, so we had the Judaism, next and then the final one is Islam.

ROBERTSON: What a wonderful idea. Thank you.

CURRY: Well said, well said my brother. None of us have been through anything quite like this. There are a few survivors of 1918. But where virtually, if not the whole world, the vast majority of it has been confined to quarters, if you will, by an invisible adversary, who is an equal opportunity employer in the damage that it does. And this has been this has been profound and the impact on human beings on us and human society is we don't know what it will be. It has unveiled wide disparities between rich and poor. Those who have access to effective medical treatment and those who do not. It has been a revelation, of the wide disparities between how just people just here in the United States live that for many, the notion of social distancing is virtually impossible because you have extended families living in small quarters. I mean, and many of us like me, I have a home and it's just me and my wife and her two cats, and our children are grown and they're on their own and they're in their homes. But many people don't have that kind of opportunity and option. It's revealed, deep anxieties that are undergirding and fueling divisions that were already there. It is revealing some of our discontinuity and profound and justices and wrongs that have been there all along, which is why this pandemic is not only biological, but it is sociological, and it is deeply spiritual. It has, from my faith, it has challenged our faith tradition, in some deep ways, almost like the Hebrew psalm, "How should we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?" And we've had to try to figure out, how do you do that? And even when some churches are able, at places are able to regather in small numbers, the notion of even singing is dangerous for the spread of the virus. So how should we sing the Lord's song in a strange land when we can't even sing it? I'm not sure of anything globally that has quite impacted us this way. And just talking to friends from around the world. It's even more profound. When you travel around the world where healthcare, and access to clean water, and access to clean food is really problematic. This is, as the rabbi said, how lonely sits the city that was once full of people. This is a moment of lamentation. And I'll stop there. But that may be where our deepest religious resources may be able to help us to navigate when the city is lonely, and you can't sing the Lord's song. And yet, somehow, you must taste and see that the Lord is good. Hmm. That that's a profound challenge for all of us.

ROBERTSON: Thank you, Bishop, Dr. Elsanousi. What would you add to that?

ELSANOUSI: Well, thank you. Thank you so much. Dr. Robertson I'm really honored to be here and thank you, Irina as well for having us, just delighted to be among friends here. There is no doubt we're definitely living in an unprecedented time and with COVID-19 and also other issues of social justice, here. It is completely different. Tomorrow, I will be celebrating Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice here at home alone with the family. And this is true for Muslim communities in the United States and around the world as well. And this is for the second day that we are celebrating at home because we cannot gather and we have to observe the social distancing. And also today, we lament on more than 150,000 American lives that passed away because of COVID-19. And almost more than half a million lives from around the world. And there are millions of people who are sick as well. So really, this is an unprecedented time and it has impacted our life in all aspects of life as Bishop just mentioned. But also as a community, it also brought us together in terms of connecting to our families, as well as one of the things that in our communities people say that instead of having 3,000 Muslim imams in the United States, now probably we have hundreds of thousands of imams because we do the collective prayers at home, and, and one person leads that prayer. So basically, that person is an imam. So we have hundreds of thousands of imams. So that's may be the positive aspect of this challenge that we're facing. But around the world also, as we speak right now, the pilgrims in Makkah, it's an unprecedented time, they are now leaving the Mount of Arafat heading to Makkah after basically completing the Hajj. And this is the first time you have only 10,000 pilgrims in Makkah, last year 2.5 million of them. So this pandemic basically impacted our spiritual life, our social life, and all aspects of our lives here and around the world. But here in the United States, the Muslim communities also brought us together in the sense that the Muslim community come together and they created a task force just to respond to COVID-19.  How to provide guidance to communities in terms of worship and practices, in term of social justice, in terms of solidarity with our most vulnerable people in our communities, as well as how to strengthen our inter-religious and interfaith relationships, also. So we're trying to do our best so that we can overcome this hard situation that we're going through.

ROBERTSON: Yes, the implications for everyone, including for us in the faith communities is indeed fascinating. I'd like to note by the way that a future issue of the Journal of Religion and Health, which is to be released this fall, is going to have a special section devoted just to what has this meant, this disease in relation to religion, and it's going to be a compilation of articles edited by Curtis Hart and Harold Koenig, it sounds fascinating. I think there are so many implications. But that's not the only problems we're facing right now. All of you alluded to this, and Bishop Curry, in other times, I've heard you quoted as speaking of the twin pandemics that we are facing, not only COVID-19, but also a resurgence of racism, and racialized violence, as we've seen in the tragic deaths of persons of color in Minnesota, Kentucky, Georgia, all over, not to mention anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes occurring. How have these parallel crises intersected? And what role do you all see faith communities playing to help make a difference? Bishop, why don't we start with you on that?

CURRY: I thought we're going to go in the order of revelation, but okay. Now, the virus was here a long time before we knew it. And we don't know how far back whether December, November or even before we don't know, nobody really knows. But the virus was circulating invisibly, certainly in January in February. And then we became fully aware by March. We didn't know the fullness of its impact. I remember when I was doing planning with our staff, and we were planning for more intense meetings, we planned through the end of April because we figured, well, it will probably be over about then, and then we can go back to normal. We didn't know, we really didn't know that the reality of the pandemic exposed itself later and we saw it. But there was something the virus was there when we didn't know it or didn't acknowledge it. The virus of racism, the virus of anti-Semitism, the virus of bigotry, the virus of hatred, the virus, if you will, of turning on Asian-Americans, just because the virus came from China, similar to calling this flu of 1918 the Spanish Flu when it had nothing to do with Spain, or nothing to do with anybody Spanish, that's a deep virus that reflects a deep fissure that at least in the context of America, has been here since the founding of this republic that I deeply love. But it was conceived in sin, conceived in inequity, conceived in injustice, the forced removal and slaughter of native peoples, of indigenous people, the enslavement of African peoples, and then the prejudice against waves of immigrants coming to this country, the story of Asian Americans, of Japanese Americans. In turn I was just talking to one of our bishops yesterday. He's a bishop of the Episcopal Church, his parents were in an internment camp here in the United States of America. The reactions to Muslims in our communities, attacks on people because of their faith in America. Now, I know America is better than that. I know those ideals are real and strong. I believe it. I know Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite, but the ideals he wrote about, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men that all folk are created equal," those ideals were true, even if the one who wrote them was a liar. This has been at the heart and soul of America. And indeed, the heart is deceitful above all things as the Prophet. The truth is, it is part of our human dilemma. And so this virus has exposed a deep fissure that was there that is taking many manifestations now. It is the human tendency to divide, to hate, to conquer, to dominate. And that tendency is a self-destructive tendency. Dr. King taught us a long time ago, "We shall either learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools." The choice is ours, chaos or community. This virus, this pandemic, is now causing us to figure out, will we live as community wearing facemasks, staying six feet apart from each other, listening to the public health officials? Will we choose community and learn to live by loving our neighbor as ourselves? Or will we submit to the chaos in which nobody is going to win? Our religious faith, all of our faith, say we must choose community.

ROBERTSON: Rabbi, Dr. Elsanousi, either jump in.

ELSANOUSI: Absolutely. I really agree with Bishop Curry here and, and the pandemic of COVID-19. That's where we're where it is and, and this has been going on for the last, you know, hundreds of years and I think this is something that definitely, we need to look into. And the coronavirus, exposed that and exposed our weaknesses. And we see that,  in our faith communities in our non-faith communities. But to address those issues, we have to have a whole of society approach. This is a time that we need to have a whole of society approach. This is not an issue that could be addressed by a single community, whether it is a religious community or secular communities, or other communities, we need to have a unity of purpose to address the pandemic of COVID-19 and the pandemic of racism. Because all of us, we go back to Adam and Eve, all of us, regardless of our color, or race or language, or any kind of orientation, we go back to Adam and Eve. So if we believe in that, then we are able to address these man-made crises that we're facing today. So that's really that's the bottom line of it, but we need to have the willingness, and the intention, and the sincerity to address that issue. Because all of our scripture, they're talking about this clearly, they're talking about, all men are created equal. All of the scriptures are talking about this, there is no superiority of an Arab above a non-Arab, or a block above a white. And that's the last message that the Prophet of Islam Muhammad, peace be upon him, actually said before he passed. He left it at that. There is no superiority all of us created equal. So what we are facing today is something that could be addressed by all of us, and not only here at home, but it's around the world. It's around the world. Also, we see this aspect of racism. We see human trafficking, we see new slavery going on in the world. So that needs to be addressed.

CONOVER: Thank you so much. And I'll say this Dr. Elsanousi, I love that you brought us back to Adam and Eve and this notion of being created, as I would say it, B'tzelem Elohim, all of us created in the image of God. And so and I want to bring us back to that, that in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and this notion of what kinds of questions do we need to be asking ourselves in this moment? So we started off, I shared that we read Eicha, which is from Lamentations on this day, eicha, that word means how, and I think getting to how, also we ask a question that was asked of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which is just a little bit of a changing of that word from eicha to ayekka. The same letters, but just with putting the vowels just so, ayekka which means where. God asks Adam and Eve, just after they had eaten from the forbidden tree, where are you? And here's the question that I think we need to be asking ourselves right now. How is this still happening? And where are we? Where are we as a community? Bishop Curry, I so appreciated what you raised as far as we need to see ourselves as a whole community. And as we see ourselves as a whole community, then we show up for each other. And we are there for each other, as you said, with face masks, social distance, but we're there. We're showing up for one another because we see ourselves as one community. And I'll say something that gives me great hope, is seeing our youth involved across all differences involved in these movements today. That gives me great hope. And I'll say that the word hope, kav, comes from, in Hebrew the word tikvah, it comes from the word kav, which means thread. And I see that actually what we could see ourselves as a whole community is that we are threaded together. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in this shared garment of a shared destiny, that we then are part of this garment all threaded together. And so God willing, what we're seeing today is how we continue to ask ourselves, where are we? Where are we needed, so that we can make sure that we continue the hope in the future of shifting what have been the ills to something where there is great equity and justice for all of us.

ELSANOUSI:  I'm glad, Dr. Robertson, I'm glad that you know, Rabbi Conover brought up the critical role of youth. This morning, we hosted youth from Southeast Asia, on Zoom, from the Philippines, from Thailand, from Myanmar, and from Indonesia, talking about COVID, religion, and conflict. And one of the things that the youth have said, they said the COVID crisis provided the opportunity for an intergeneration kind of collaboration within the houses of worship, because the youth are more savvy in terms of technology, and unfortunately, our worship and religious institutions are dominated by, basically, I would say senior citizens or basically, kind of non-youth leadership. So, but this provided an opportunity. So, she was saying that this is now they're coming to help. And that created a level of collaboration, will help also in the transition of leadership. So this point of view is quite critical.

ROBERTSON: Indeed, we're going to come to, we're getting ready to take questions from our listeners. But right before we do, let me just ask you to briefly comment. This is a Council on Foreign Relations discussion. I'm curious as to what is the role of religious institutions at this time in terms of international advocacy, international assistance? What is our role to play in these in this area? If I just have a quick something from y'all and then we'll dive into our, our listeners’ questions.

CURRY:  I'd like to jump in quickly, please. Because of the pandemic, obviously and some other climactic issues, the United Nations has identified the fact that the danger of global starvation, which will particularly impact children, is now maybe the next pandemic itself. That some of the many of the advances that we made in the Millennium Development Goals and the various strategic initiatives, UN and other governments, may be rolled back, and hunger among children is going to be pandemic. If there's not swift intervention by the international community, I mean, that is a fact. That's just apparently a fact that's right at our door. And there are there going to be other realities like that, that are going to be impacted by this. That's going to increase migrations of people, and issues of immigration, and migration that are not only true here in this country, in the United States, but are true around the world, are going to become more intense, and the need for religious voices to be moral voices of human compassion, and decency and caring for one another, not as I mean, the days of thinking these are soft values, are over. These are hard-headed values that will save that human community. That compassion, and love, and justice are the ways that we as a human community can navigate this. Anyway, that's going to come more to the fore for all of us. I'll stop there.

ROBERTSON: Anything you all would like to add about our role within these areas, especially in advocacy?

CONOVER: I just want to amplify what Bishop Curry just raised and that is just that if we as people of faith, are not listening to the prophetic call for justice, we're not listening with the right ears, that that is our role. And then we need to work with government officials the world over to make sure that they are enacting what the values are so that people can live better lives. And so I would say that we're called on this sacred partnership, that's not always easy, but it has to be a sacred partnership, so that we can be that moral voice, that prophetic voice that listens to the people who are most hurting. And then we can make sure that we're working carefully with elected officials the world over to make sure that we enact fair laws and then execute them well for justice.

ELSANOUSI: There is no doubt the religious institutions really do have an important role to play in terms of advocacy, and. also partnerships with governments, and we have seen that. And unfortunately, Bishop, you mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unfortunately now were almost, 10 years from the SDGs. And when you look into the review, most of the countries are behind in terms of meeting the SDGs. So we are also facing a number of challenges. You remember the Secretary General of the UN called for ceasefire during this COVID to provide an opportunity for communities to address issues that you raised, particularly in the conflict areas. But we had to wait three months to have the UN Security Council to issue a resolution agreeing with it with the Secretary General and we did a lot of work on that. We had religious leaders actually wrote to the Security Council, there were letters wrote and signed so that we encourage the Security Council to really, rise above the politics between countries and issue resolution for ceasefire supporting the Secretary General so that we can support those who are the most vulnerable people. So really the religious community, they have a role to play. Just last week, the Muslim World League and the Forum for Promoting Peace, they had a conference in the Muslim world called the Jurisprudence of Emergency because of COVID-19. And how all the 57 Muslim countries can provide directions and collaboration and also with governments. We know religious institutions in the Muslim world are controlled by government. But yet the voices of religious actors and leaders is very important. Because COVID-19 broad challenges, we have to examine our fundamental or pillars of the religion itself, how it could be basically adapted to war with the kind of situation.

ROBERTSON: Absolutely, especially since we've heard Dr. King quoted a couple times today, think about his role and the role that religious players played in the Civil Rights Movement. And earlier today, I was on the phone with folks from the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation, and remembering the role that Archbishop Desmond Tutu played in ending apartheid there. So indeed, we have we have both a role and I think a challenge to take up that role and figure out how to be those profits. Now I believe we're going to turn to our callers. I've been grateful to see what some people have been writing in the chat room. But we'll now get a chance to hear from some of them as well. Irina?


FASKIANOS: Yes. So everybody, if you're on a computer, click on the participants’ icon, and raise your hand. And if you're on a tablet, click on the more button and you can raise your hand there. And we already have several questions in queue questions and comments. So the first one will go to Salam Al-Marayati. Thank you.

AL-MARAYATI: Thank you. It's good to be with you. And good, great panel and really appreciate the conversation.

ROBERTSON: Tell us who you're affiliated with as well before you give us your question.

AL-MARAYATI: Oh, sure. Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and Eid Mubarak to Dr. Elsanousi, and it's good to be with all the panelists as well. My question is related to foreign policy and that is we hear a lot about displacement of populations. And we hear about the problem of human trafficking and sex trafficking and, war and refugees. And we kind of look at it as well, that's just part of it collateral damage of the way the world is. And how can we as religious voices change the paradigm in foreign policymaking to make that a priority in our national security agenda? We spend so much money in hardware and surveillance and military, we don't spend enough on human capital. And so how can we as religious voices work towards that and make that a real priority in our policy and not just, well, we'll do it if we have extra money and we end up just getting the crumbs from the budget to deal with these very, very serious issues. And I just wanted to get a response from the panelists. Thank you. Thank you.

ROBERTSON: Thank you for that very good question. Who would like to, to dive into that?

CURRY: I'll take a quick dive and then let Dr. and Rabbi come in. One of the things that we can do as religious communities, as people of faith, is to advocate with public officials, those who have authority in matters of foreign affairs, but in true in all matters, to make our values valuable. That we must put at the top of the agenda, the maintenance and preservation of human rights and human decency. Those values that are there, if you can bullet underneath those broad categories, which our religious traditions share, and many people who are in public policy, whether foreign or domestic, at least claim to be religious. So, if you claim to be religious, then let us call you to the high calling of your religious faith, whatever it happens to be. And there are values about human brother and sisterhood, about human community, about justice and truth and compassion, and love of neighbor. I mean, we actually share more than we disagree about, and those are the core things and foreign policy must be centered and grounded on the values that we in this country claim are what has made this country great. So if that is the case, then let us make our values valuable by actually living them out in the policies that we execute. Both in terms of budget priorities, and in terms of foreign policy, and how this country acts in the rest of the world.

CONOVER: I love that just a few years ago, we had a panel on restorative justice at our synagogue. So on our pulpit on our bema, we had a number of different elected officials, one of whom was State Attorney General Kim Foxx, who said that a budget is a moral document. And I think if we are not reminding people that that is, that where they spend their money actually says worlds, that actually says who we are as a people as a society, if we're not reminding them of that, and then holding them accountable to that because that was another piece that she mentioned, hold me accountable. If we are not holding our elected officials the world over accountable for how we act in this world and how we fund different projects in this world that help the cause of justice. Well, if we're not doing that, again, we are letting ourselves down there by letting down all of those issues that Salam, you mentioned so articulately and thank you for raising those issues.

ELSANOUSI: Well, thank you so much Salam, Eid Mubarak to you as well. It's wonderful to hear your voice and the work that you do Salam at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, it's very clear demonstration to the very question that you raised. The better engagement as a religious institutions, that religious leaders we need to have a better engagement with our elected officials and with our branches of government, so that we can really put forward these values that Bishop Curry just mentioned and our own religious virtues. But unfortunately, we see what is happening is that our foreign policy actually guided by interest. That's why we compromise our values. When we are basically talking to global leaders or trying to advance foreign policy, we compromise these values, whether they are religious values, or our own American fundamental values that sometimes we compromise them because of a political interest. So I think we have to have a better engagement for religious leaders, a religious act, or religious institutions, with our elected officials, and from grassroots because really, politics starts local. So we need to encourage our churches and synagogues and mosques, to engage with our elected officials to address these very issues. So our values should come first.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let's go next to Barbara McGraw.

MCGRAW: Hello, thank you for taking my question. I'm the director of the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism at St. Mary's College of California. And I want to say, first of all, that I am inspired by the beautiful theological vision that all of you are putting forth about, as Bishop Curry said, that we must choose community. Some of you have talked about compassion, love, and justice, and the prophetic voice and so forth. And I want to put what I think is maybe a hard question because I'm hearing this dichotomy religious voices with values and so forth and so on, and our elected officials, and how do we bring this together? I want to ask a question, a theological question, I think. How can you help to oppose those religious forces who interpret COVID-19 through the lens of the battle of good and evil, while they go on to other, other people? And I think it's an important question because this negative theological thread has raised its ugly head throughout history in times of stress, including other pandemics, and its presence in many religious traditions. And so there's a lot of work that needs to be done to bring the rest, that part of the world or that kind of thinking or that kind of theological vision, into the home of the inspirational vision you are all talking about, and how might you help people around the world come in your direction?

ROBERTSON: Barbara, an excellent theological question, who would like to to respond first to this?

ELSANOUSI: Probably Bishop, the most theologian in the panel.

CURRY: But the order of revelation is usually helpful. (Laughs).

ROBERTSON: There's also a question though, because we've seen it especially other times we saw with the AIDS crisis in this country. And we saw there a very - it was an immediate and easy jump to the prejudice and hatred that many folks had against gay and lesbian persons in this country. It was an amazing, easy jump that people were making. But we've seen that many ways. And we've seen it, as we already heard, with even now with kind of a tendency towards racism, but there is, you're right, how do we combat that? How do we combat poor theology? With good solid theology?

CURRY: Well, I'll take a jump at it. I think we must refuse to swim on the shallows of our faith traditions, and we must go down to the depth of those traditions. Literally as we are sitting here, I think I haven't seen the TV, but I assume the funeral of John Lewis is happening. Part of the reason he is iconic, is that he refused to swim on the shallows of the faith tradition of Christianity, where segregationists long swam - at my grammar is off, but we're swimming, where folks have been swimming and done all sorts of devilment and wrong against all sorts of folk on the face of the earth, and sometimes done it in the name of Christianity. That is the surface but if you go deep into the faith, what are the core values of that faith? If you do the same in Islam, do the same in Judaism, do the same in all of our faith traditions, you will find those values that we're talking about. And we must therefore, I think, challenge in love, challenge, religious and theological voices that are swimming on the surface and will not go down into the depths of the very heart of God.


CONOVER: Beautiful. So if you will come with me into a scriptural verse that I think is at the very beginning of creation. But I want to try to swim in those depths, if you would have me do that Bishop Curry, that's just a beautiful way of opening. And that is this notion of when God created the first human being, male and female, God created them, and that they were made, Betzelem Elohim, they were made in the image of God. Now, it didn't make sense that a single human being then is referred to them. What does that mean? And so we have Midrash we have commentary that actually says that the first human being was made male and female together back to back. And that actually God passed a deep sleep on that first human being, and then together, then separated them, so that they could actually be in relationship, they could see one another. And that that is actually how creation of humanity happened. And it's all but Betzelem Elohim, in the image of God, that there actually is a plurality in the oneness of God. And the only way for us to conceive of that as human beings is to be in deep relationship with one another to truly see one another. So if we're leaving out a group of people from that essential vision created by God, well, then we're missing something fundamental about not only what it means to be human, but what it means to actually see that each of us is a reflection of the Divinity. And then in treating each other, that's the fundamental that we work from, if we are treating any one group with hate, or saying that God is punishing that people, we're missing the first and most fundamental teaching of our faith.

ELSANOUSI: And that is exactly true if we're talking about Islamic scripture. God created every human being in His own image. And just to add here, this situation and the discussion on good and evil. It requires us as religious leaders and religious institutions to have our own interfaith discussion. We have to have a discussion in our own denominations of this question. Because if you don't have that kind of understanding that God is the God of mercy and compassion, so we need to have that. I God's not punishing people because they have done X, Y and Z. But God is always compassionate, always merciful. So we need to have that internal discussion among ourselves to have that kind of an understanding so that we can take it to our people as well.

ROBERTSON: So Barbara, I appreciate your original question but I really appreciate what you just wrote in the chat room. And I think that's a question not so much just for our panelists. But I think that's a question for all of the folks who are listening in right now. How can we help spread what we're just hearing right now, what you all are talking about? How do we find a way to spread that to the world and connect it to foreign policy and advocate for this way of understanding and appreciate other human beings and our connectedness and interconnectors? I would rather than make - I don't know if we have an easy answer to that one. But I think that is a question that truly is not simply for the panelists, but really is a question for all who are listening.

CONOVER: And also ask that everyone who's listening I'll quote the Hamilton the musical which is, "get us in the room where it happens." Get that, get these voices, not just us but get these religious voices that see this notion of unity, beloved community that get those get us in the room to be able to have these conversations and help to guide policy.

ELSANOUSI: And that may be the next theme for the CFR Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop in 2021 pandemic permit.

FASKIANOS: God willing. God willing, we'll be able to reconvene by then. Let's, let's keep praying. Let's go next to Steven Gutow.

ROBERTSON: Hello, Steve.

GUTOW: Hi, it's fascinating to hear five such wonderful people and to realize that I know four of the five and the only person I've never met is you, Rabbi.

CONOVER: Pleasure to meet you now.

GUTOW: As a rabbi, I just found that funny. I want to take you to where you're going. And then I want you to carry forward this question, why not take this this beautiful moral universe that we're talking about this movement from the best of who we are, and take the world of politics and actually create this new idea, this new world. We can't devote ourselves, just to our theology, and we can't divorce ourselves just to say we shouldn't do it or just the people here should do it. The five of you, and I include you in it because I know you will, should help bring together something we actually - this is a terrible time in the world. We're all living in a trauma. This is a time when we could do something big, something huge, but we have to have our willingness to sit down and decide what that is and then bring faith together from the Philippines to Mauritania. I mean, we have to do something big. And this is a moment and I think that you all are people that could help move in that direction, not just something good, but something good and large an universal. That's my question.

ROBERTSON: Wonderful question. It is wonderful to hear your voice, Steve, very much so. Anyone want to respond to the rabbi's question?

ELSANOUSI: Rabbi, wonderful to hear your voice just to bring such a pleasure here. But I completely agree we need to find that mechanism that you are calling for, to achieve just what you have said. And I think and that's something that is I know that we gather once a year under the CFR and other places and all of that, but I think it requires us to come up with kind of a very specific solid roadmap, implementable kind of outcomes so that we can try to achieve in our lifetime. And then we'll leave legacy for those who can continue. But it's an important question and important kind of way to find the mechanism to carry that out.

ROBERTSON: And forgive me for jumping in here. But I do want to make note of and highlight the really good work that is thankfully going on, behind the scenes. Most of our faith traditions, most of our groups do have offices of government relations, whatever they call them, working on advocacy, some, many of them have UN advocacy arms, and also many of us have even our work with immigration or especially with refugee work. Many of us have refugee resettlement organizations who work, all these working together behind the scenes on a regular basis and advocacy for which we are all very grateful. But I think that you raise the question, how do we how do we use this moment to do something on a large and visible scale? So I appreciate that Rabbi, Bishop, do either of you want to follow in responding to that?

CURRY: I think the rabbi's onto something. I'm sitting here and moving on. Yeah, you're right. How? Rabbi Conover earlier said, "How?" There's that word, "how" again. That's worth pondering even as we leave this.

ROBERTSON: So Steve, that might be you might have given us something that we need to now work on. So thank you very much so.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let's go to Barbara McBee.

ROBERTSON: Barbara, please say your affiliation.

MCBEE: I'm Barbara McBee, Soka Gakkai. We're Japanese Buddhists. And I see for the first time there are two other women here from my tradition. Nice to meet you.


MCBEE: Thank you. I've been here for quite some time. Hi, Irina. But it's the first time that I've seen the other two here. I'm in Chicago. I don't know where they are. Thank you, Dr. Elsanousi, Bishop Curry. Rabbi, I'm in your home. Thank you for what you said about Kim Foxx. And I just had this talk last night with a friend about how all of our great religions, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, there's a lot of prose and poetry in our writings and the beauty and the commonality between all of us is, at its depth, that we all wish the very best for each other. However, we know that the shallow is upon us. And so there's two parts to my question. I'm noticing in the media there is a new wave to polarize us at the heart of what we're all trying to do is to maintain unity, whatever our faith tradition is, so that we can support so how do we individually collectively battle the polarization of ethnicity, the “otherizing” of Jews and people of color, which is all garbage? Part one of the question. And we know to Bishop Curry's mention, that it's our youth that are out in the streets now. And it's extraordinary how are we encouraging and supporting them to stay out there and keep this up till we make some changes. Thank you.

ROBERTSON: Rabbi? Do you want to dive into that one? I think it was you were raising some of those points earlier?

CONOVER: Sure. Well, I'll start with the second part of the question. And then maybe I'll let the rest of our panelists take the first part. But as far as supporting our youth, I think part of supporting our youth is understanding that they might go in directions that we have yet to see. Meaning that the future that they can envision is going to be bigger and broader and better, God willing, than we can even envision at this point. And so that I feel like for us, I'll say, you know, specifically with our, with our own community, where we hear that when we started to have some conversations around racial justice several years ago when we started this work with more depth in our community, our youth wanted to be part of it. And so then they were helping us to find where do we have community partners? How can we get proximate? How can we go out into communities? And then build deep relationships? And how can we support them in doing things where they are bringing us to where we need to go, instead of us saying to them, we're going to lead you where we want you to go. And so by being able to empower the youth to take us in new directions and into new places and new territories, I think we're going to get a better world. However, I also believe, I think that Dr. Elsanousi, you had mentioned about this is a time that is so perfect for intergenerational work, that there is wisdom that we can glean from our youth and that they can also glean from us. And I think by being able to let them lead and we follow and yet as we follow them, we give them the wisdom that we've learned throughout our lives and it is a mutual way of being able to go out into the world where we're most needed. Well, then I think we have the right combination.

ROBERTSON: Also, I want to give thanks for not just our panelists out there, but also I've seen some comments. Jane Redmont, who wrote in a comment, said a wonderful word about how long this must happen on the local level. That while even while we do advocacy, and even do we do work on the level we're talking about here, that the difference we can make it and I can't help but think about a meeting I was in a few years ago at Chatham House over in London, where they included religious leaders, they said because we have such reach throughout the globe, but our reach is always local. We are global and we are global because we are local. We get into villages, towns, and cities. Right there we're folks. And so I appreciate the comments I saw by Jane and, and also one by Margaret Rose. My dear friend and colleague, Margaret Rose, who talked about also the need for us to lift up figures like John Lewis, who are figures in our midst that we can support and lift up so that we could just both do things on the local level. But also, who are those elected officials that we can encourage and support without getting into all the craziness of, not endorsement or anything, but how are there ways that we can support folks who are making a difference? So I appreciate all the comments are going and I hope everyone's looking at that section as well. Is there anything you all would like to add, though, before we take, do we have time for a couple more questions?

FASKIANOS: Yes, we're going to 2:15 so we have a few more in queue. And I would just add on that in your communities too, you should also maybe be reaching out to the local journalists for them to be covering because the local journalists are in crisis now, but they are the ones who are covering what's going on in the community. So that is another area to deepen connections. So, you raised Jane's great comments and she has actually raised her hand so I'm going to  go next to her.

ROBERTSON: Great, Jane, welcome. Say your affiliation for everyone.

REDMONT: Thank you so much. I'm Jane Redmont. I serve the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts as a congregational consultant and also as, here's a mouthful, co-chair of the Bishops' Commission for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Relations. And I served the Diocese of North Carolina when Bishop Curry was there, as head of the Commission for Racial Justice and Reconciliation. Thank you to all. The question I wanted to raise is about how to think about the micro dimension, even as not instead of, what we, how we think about the macro dimension which you're doing, building coalitions is absolutely crucial on the macro level. But part of our job as religious leaders, local and regional especially, is to help people build not just wisdom from our deep tradition, but practices and habits. And some of that, like all practices takes practice and introduction. So that's the first thing I wanted to say is that this is the thing that is often learned first at the local level. What Rabbi Conover said still applies because the youth are leading us I know in Massachusetts, our youth are pointing the way, and pointing the way inter-generationally. The other thing is that this relates very much to issues of racial justice as well, too. The majority, white folks will say, well how can we bring people of color into etc.? That is not the point. The point is how do we listen to those of us who are majority folk, listen to and go to and follow the leadership of already existing efforts that are often quite politically, and religiously, and spiritually astute from those communities that have in various ways, not been on the side of power?

ROBERTSON: Excellent, excellent. Bishop, do you want to start? Or Dr. Elsanousi, were you looking to say something?

ELSANOUSI: Yeah, I just want to really build on what is already being said. And these are the issues that I mentioned earlier. We have to have that whole of society approach. I'm really delighted to see the youth are leading at the local level. But we need to bring everyone on board. I mean, no one should be left behind in our efforts to address this systematic racism. The whole of society approach is very critical here. And do this locally. If we're able to do these changes at the local level, it definitely could reflect at the national level as well. So that aspect is very important, and also Jane mentioned a very important word, and that's how we can build coalitions. You know, building coalitions is quite critical as well. Inter-religious coalitions and people of faith or people of no faith. Anyone that can contribute to this should be at the table, no one should be left behind here. So that's really the critical part of it. And we're blessed to have religious institutions that are there, as you mentioned, Dr. Robertson, our religious institutions are there. When you see around the world today, whether the situation in Libya or in Syria, and all of this, or in Africa, you will find when government fails, religious institutions are there doing their jobs. So that is very important role that the religious institutions have played. So that's why there is a capacity to change what is going on.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let's go next to Thomas Uthup.

ROBERTSON: Thomas, tell us who you're affiliated with.

UTHUP: Yes, I'm with Friends of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Two very specific questions, but before I do that, I just want to mention that the Berkley Center and our Twitter account @friendsunaoc and Religions for Peace, they are doing work trying to spread the good news of religious organizations and interfaith groups working on both COVID-19 and racism. My first question is specifically to Rabbi Conover and Bishop Curry. And that is the impact, sorry to be very crass, but what is the impact of COVID-19 on faith communities' revenue, on contributions because that is a sizable part of the revenue. And if you don't have revenue, you can't really carry out services, whether it's in your congregation, or whether it's  to serve the larger public to work at food bank or contributions. Have there been studies done on impact and has technology helped? I know in my church I attend technology has been significant in addressing this because people just kind of contribute automatically. So whether they're actually passing out envelopes, it doesn't matter if you're not showing up. So my first question is about the impact of COVID-19 on contributions and whether it's been mitigated by technology. My second question is about the segregation, the continued segregation of faith communities by race. We all recall that the Reverend King said that 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America. It's probably very similar in synagogues, and mosques, whether on Friday or Saturday. So what is the role of clergy in education to address racism and prejudice, particularly using religious texts? Their homilies, sermons. I think that this is an example of something that at a local level, could really be helpful in changing people's minds about bigotry, prejudice, etc.

ROBERTSON: Thomas, thank you for both questions. I'm not sure how much we will have to hit both of them. But let's at least to the first question far from press, it's a very practical one. And also it's a value question, as we heard. So Rabbi, would you like to go first on that one?

CONOVER: Sure. Sure. Well, I'll just say that at this point, we are you know, we've made a budget for this year thinking that our revenues are going to be less. And I'll also say that as we've done so we've also put out materials to really ask on people who have a little bit more this year, to give a little bit more in order to be able to help those in need in our community. And so because for us where we are, we want to be able to support the needs of our community. Lots of different ways. And we know that there are some people who have the means still to do so. And I'll say that some people are now calling on us, calling us saying, how can we give more we want to be able to help in this in this way. But we also know that right now we're on the tip of this, right, that we've not even going into see how this will - how COVID-19 and the effect on the economy, how that will affect all of us. I think we really are just on the tip of this, even though some people are feeling it so much even in this moment, I'll also say that as far as electronically, and whether that's helped, I think you're onto something here because I do also find the same we just we you know again, this is feels like these are some small details within the larger conversation. But I will say that we just switched over to another, a new way of being able to have a platform for how we communicate with our congregation electronically, and it really has been helpful, but I think that there are other communities that are a little further along than we are in this. And so we're trying to learn our best from all of them. And again, it is an avenue. So say electronically, computer, those things, it's an avenue to get the word out for the good work that can be done in in communities of faith. So I see that as a means to an end. And the more effective we can be in those means, the more effective we can be in our end.


CURRY: Yeah, I think Rabbi Conover really kind of gave you a good picture, I think on the revenue landscape, as far as we know it, but it's early to tell, we're still at the beginning of this. And churches, synagogues, mosques, religious communities are going to reflect the economy. But one slight difference is religious people will probably dig deeper and many are, those who have the capacity to do so. Which will balance it but it's going to reflect it. I think on the other question, I can just say quickly, I really do believe that one of the things that we as religious communities can do is to foster the work of bringing people together across differences for real human relationship. I mean, real human relationship, spending time together, sharing and work together, not just talking, but actually bringing people together across differences, not only of religion, but of ethnicity across racial differences. Here's the dangerous one across political differences. We have got to nurture relationships between people, red and blue and whatever, whatever other colors are on that rainbow. Because the truth is, that will be how we begin to knit together, this democracy and this world and learn to live together.

CONOVER: How appropriate that you say that wearing a purple shirt.

ROBERTSON: Dr. Elsanousi, since we're coming towards the end here, do you want to add something in that one?

ELSANOUSI: Just really quickly,  this is again the time for solidarity in our own Muslim communities in the United States, I have seen Muslim organizations that they get together and to find a way to coordinate their fundraising efforts. So that how we can keep our institutions. We also have seen that, as Bishop Curry was saying, in some communities that revenue actually increased. Sometimes people tend to give more at the time of crisis and things like that. So we have seen that as well. So but it's a coordination. And this brings me to a very important point which is also connected to the issue of segregation that was mentioned by Thomas again. This is another - we have to look into our communities. In the American Muslim community now we are looking into how we can build a stronger relationship between indigenous African American Muslim communities and immigrant communities. Some scholars, they call it between suburban Islam and inner-city Islam, how we can bring and build that bridge between these two communities. So I think that the crisis bring a lot of issues in our community, as we said earlier, and it's an opportunity to address those issues.

ROBERTSON: Thank you. Thank you, Thomas. And thank you also for alluding to the good work of Religions for Peace and what they've been doing during this time as well. And a reminder to all of us as we wrap up here, that one great sign of solidarity and of respect and care for one another is indeed the thing we've mentioned several times. That mask is both practical and an incredible symbol of care for one another. Thank you all for being a part of this discussion. Thank you to our panelists, remarkable individuals and friends all. Irina, thank you and certainly to all those who have been listening in. Final words from you Irina.

FASKIANOS: I just want to echo your note of thanks, this has been a really rich and insightful conversation. There are many, many thanks in the chatroom there so we appreciate it and again we're here to serve all of you please send us an email with ideas and suggestions for future webinars.

ROBERTSON: In closing, Irina, is it also fair to say that that for those who want to make use of this and share this with others, this was on-the-record and so this will be available online and through the podcast, correct?

FASKIANOS: Absolutely. And we will be sending, as soon as we post the video and the transcript, we will be sharing out the link and you should feel free to disseminate it in your communities and I know, I for one I'm going to go back and read some of the beautiful words that you all said and the thoughts and how what we all need to do in our own communities to advance.

ROBERTSON: Again, thank you to all very much.

ELSANOUSI: Thank you so much.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Thank you.

CONOVER: Thank you.

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