One of the things we can learn from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, during this global pandemic is the truth that there is no holiness but social holiness, and this points to the reality that there is no personal responsibility without social responsibility. Simply focusing on personal responsibility rather than also looking at public social measures for the common good during a public health emergency ignores this reality.
For John Wesley, the goal of Christian life is Christian perfection, and this perfection was not about being a perfect individual, rather it was about growing in perfection in relation to loving God and others and expressing social holiness. Personal choice and personal freedom for Wesley were grounded in a deep sense of social responsibility. Freedom from the weight of sin meant freedom to love others more perfectly.
What lessons can be learned from this emphasis on love and social holiness during a global pandemic? What actions will truly express more perfect love of others? What actions will most appropriately reflect our social responsibility in relation to others?
In the horrific reality of a global pandemic we are reminded with great clarity that this is not just about me. It is about us – all of us; and right now, might I suggest that growing in perfection entails living according to Wesley’s simple rules of doing no harm and doing good within our beloved community.
Doing no harm and doing good in a global pandemic are tightly woven together. Doing no harm may seem more passive and doing good may seem to be more active, but the things we need to be doing to love each other in a global pandemic express both doing no harm and doing good simultaneously.
Doing no harm and doing good as an expression of social holiness during this particular time of this global pandemic at the very minimum means getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in indoor public spaces for the health and well being of all persons in our communities – especially for the most vulnerable among us. Globally, doing no harm and doing good means working for vaccine equity so that persons around the world have equal access to life-saving vaccines because, as has been often noted by the World Health Organization, no one is safe until we all are safe.
Doing no harm and doing good in a global pandemic entails realizing that the very nature of a public health emergency is that it is not only about our personal decisions when our personal decisions may have a negative impact on public health. The mantra of freedom, personal choice, and personal responsibility that is repeated so often by so many mayors, governors, and other political leaders who want to avoid mask mandates and vaccine mandates leads to a failure to recognize and appreciate the social aspects of the challenges we are facing. It fails the test of doing no harm and doing good in a global pandemic because personal choices not to get vaccinated and not to wear masks in indoor public spaces actually do harm and thus do not do good.
John Wesley reminds us that there is no holiness without social holiness. Personal freedom and personal responsibility alone will not overcome a pandemic – only social responsibility and love for others can do that. May we all work together to more perfectly express this love for one another.