Risk and Prophecy – has the Church got its COVID-19 response right?

Risk and Prophecy – has the Church got its COVID-19 response right?

Dr Charlie Bell, Girton College, Cambridge

Charlie Bell holds a PhD in medical genetics and is a medical doctor, as well as a policy adviser to UK Parliament; later this year he will take up a role as Academic Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry at King’s College, London. He is John Marks Fellow, College Lecturer, Praelector and Director of Studies at Girton College, Cambridge, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

In this paper Charlie Bell challenges assumptions about how we should approach the COVID- 19 crisis not least in church. He argues that church authorities have misunderstood the science and imposed a culture of fear thereby exacerbating the crisis. It is time for a radical reassessment.
October 2020


Risk & Prophecy

Since the start of the coronavirus epidemic, life has fundamentally changed, not only in how we practically go about our daily lives, but also in the way we are encouraged to think. For years there have been complaints about the ‘health and safety’ culture which is frequently cited as the cause of all evil, but it’s not clear that this complaint has ever really been borne out by reality. However, the pandemic really has changed the way we respond to and what we prioritise in our community lives – we live in a society in which ‘safe’ has become the new watchword. Everything must now be deemed ‘safe’ before it can occur – a rebuilding of society out of lockdown, based on what has been, at times, pretty shaky grounds. That shakiness, of course, is to be expected – there is no pure scientific way of determining what ‘safe’ is given the novelty of the threat we currently face and the resulting lack of clear universal measures that can be taken to avoid infection.

To aim to be safe is laudable, and it might seem strange to ask questions about its prominence in public, and church, debates. Safety is, and will remain, a key part of an appropriate and effective response to a major global pandemic. However, this article contends that safety as currently envisaged may, in fact, prove nothing of the sort, and may in fact lead to far worse long-term and societal outcomes than we are currently facing. This is not to denigrate or cast shadow on the intentions of those who have made safety their first concern – it is rather to suggest that the right questions may not have been asked, that those who should be asking the questions may not be equipped to do so, and that the resulting fear and panic that continues to surround the pandemic may be leading to far worse outcomes than are necessary.