By Blair Forlaw
When public health disasters strike and times get tough, neighbors pull together to help neighbors. We deliver groceries, pick up prescriptions, sew masks and blankets, cook meals, provide transportation, assemble care packages, serenade, write cards and letters, check on vulnerable residents, donate resources and more. We reassure one another that our communities can and will come back even stronger than before.
Why do people give of themselves so freely when trouble comes around? When asked, they often say, “This is just what our community does” or “Helping one another is the American way.”
It is the American way, but in more respects than we might fully realize. Among the many helpers and hometown heroes are people who are putting their religious faith into action. The freedom to do so is assured us in the First Amendment.
Take a close look at the volunteer landscape and see literally hundreds of faith traditions that make America the most religiously pluralistic country on earth. Those faith traditions are represented by diverse people who step forward to do good things for others. Among the helpers also are individuals — now nearly one-quarter of all Americans — who ascribe to no organized denomination at all, but whose actions are guided by deep humanistic concerns. The religious and the humanist share not only a right, but a value.
Faith-in-action in times of trouble is nothing new in America. It is at least as old as the First Amendment that supports it. Consider these few examples, taken from our country’s history with public health epidemics.
Opportunities abound to put faith into action to support our neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic today. Information about ways to help is readily available through churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, other houses of worship and faith-based community organizations. We can connect on social media, through virtual meet-up groups, online community bulletin boards and social media channels. Also, many Americans are acting alone on their own individual sense of faithfulness in their own neighborhoods.
After weeks of stay-at-home social distancing, we are looking forward to the day when we can resume life as we knew only a few months ago. Some commentators suggest that things will not be the same when we come out of the present difficulty: The old normal has been so shaken that a new normal will necessarily take its place.
Let’s hope that we move into that new normal stronger than we were before. And let’s hold fast to our First Amendment right to put faith into action to lift one another up in any troubled times that may lie ahead.
Blair Forlaw is developing a workshop program, “Leadership in a Multi-Faith Democracy,” for the Freedom Forum’s Religious Freedom Center.