You cannot escape it even if you try. The Ebola outbreak dominates the news cycle day-after-day right now. So long as this virus impacts even one American millions of Americans will keep on watching this endless reporting. Once it dies down, at least in terms of being a threat to the US, then we will soon forget about it. Meanwhile West Africans will die by the thousands. I am not cynical about this at all. I simply think that this is the way news goes on day-by-day inside the bubble of life here in the US.
If you’ve ever traveled abroad you will soon realize just how America-centric we are in terms of what interests us. News of the world fills one page in most daily newspapers in the US. It only makes the TV news if it impacts Americans directly. (The one exception happens when a great tragedy strikes some part of the globe and then it will be mentioned once or twice and forgotten.) In Europe the news reporting covers a bit of local interest, the world at large and then America. We have this almost in reverse and now cable news makes it even more obvious.
It has been estimated, and this number rises daily, that $430 million is needed to fight Ebola. (The estimate is from the World Health Organization.) Our president tried to get America interested in this crisis a few weeks ago as a humanitarian issue. It only became a cause for real alarm when an African came into this country and died from Ebola. Then a Dallas health care worker treating him got the virus. At this point the news got huge play in America. Now it is the lead in almost every news hour. (I do not watch cable reporting at all but I cannot escape the story just because I move around, checking the Internet and seeing newspapers, TIME magazine, etc.)
Did you know that Ebola is not a guaranteed death sentence? Do you know that it can be stopped in Africa if we really wanted to stop it?
On August 21 Dr. Kent Brantly, a Samaritan’s Purse heath care worker in Africa, addressed reporters by saying, “Today is a miraculous day. I am thrilled to be alive . . . God saved my life.” Brantly was discharged that day from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Only days before Nancy Writebol, a fellow American who was infected in Liberia, was also released after dealing with the Ebola virus. Both are virus-free and thus they are likely immune to the virus. There is no vaccine or cure for the Ebola virus but both patients received a drug that is in the early stages of development. Emory physicians say they learned a great deal by treating these two Americans and this can help us fight the virus in West Africa.
The problem is that most Americans are not deeply concerned about West Africa. We are caught up with fears for ourselves and America. I suppose that makes sense, at least on one level, but it reflects what is so wrong with how we hear the news and respond to global pandemics and the great trials of our neighbors on the other hand.
Now the Ebola crisis has taken an entirely new turn. It has been politicized. And just in time for the elections. Listen to the reporting. Read the columns. Pay attention to our political leaders, at least some of them. You’d think President Obama was the cause of this danger if you believe some of them. (This makes no sense at all but one former GOP presidential candidate used the crisis to blame the President in particular.) Some have linked this crisis to Benghazi and one popular Christian talker on TV and radio says there may be a medical conspiracy in all this. (Are you kidding? I wish I was.) And still another popular talker said that the president may see this virus as punishment for how we treated the slaves. This, he tells his audience, is why he will not lead us to ban all travel to West Africa, both in or out.
Some elected leaders have even suggested we quarantine entire countries. I heard a great deal of this on the radio yesterday because I was in my car for several hours while driving to Wisconsin. A quarantine sounds sensible, for about thirty seconds. If you work the idea out logically it is down right silly. Just think about this – a quarantine would prohibit American health care workers, nurses, soldiers and Christian missionaries from doing what they can do to actually stop the virus at its source. If this ban happens the epidemic will only grow and spread whether we like it or not. Any solution that does not solve the problem inside of Africa is simply ridiculous. It also lacks any sense of responsibility for our neighbors, both near and far. I think Christians should know better.
I have two thoughts about all of this. First, Christians serving in West Africa, along with other health care workers of any or of no faith, are the real heroes. Let us pray for them and help them reach the dying and stop this virus. Stop the political stuff and work to save lives, period! Second, I have little doubt that if this crisis came from Germany or Belgium the conversation would be very different. Because it centers on the extremely poor people of West Africa we care so much less.
Could it be that God had nothing to do with this virus? Perhaps God’s role is to call us to respond in love in order to reveal to the world that we care precisely because he cares? This is a novel idea to some. And could it be that the consumerist and self-centered church in America needs to wake up from its moral sleep and stop getting its worldview from the talk show hosts and cable news channels? This might actually allow our love to grow and our view of the world to shift towards the least and the lost.