Lesson 2: What We Have Learned

Smithfield Foods closureIn a time when the Christian voice in the public conversation is babel and even cacophony, those struggling to follow Jesus must strive to be radically realistic. Jacques Ellul often describes this as being decisively honest. That would involve acknowledging the lessons that the pandemic has taught us and then making appropriate changes in our lives and society.

Our response to the infection of meat producers at Smithfield Foods provides a good example. It revealed how much we depend on food and how much we took its availability for granted. One month we were musing about the superfluous variety of goods in supermarkets and the next we were worrying about empty shelves.

Consequently, the situation also disclosed how important the people who make the food available are. This was painfully obvious when the president quickly used his war powers to force the business to remain open even though a high number of workers contracted COVID-19.

However, the episode also threw a spotlight on some things we don’t like about ourselves. If we are decisively honest, we should be preparing to change these when the pandemic is over.

A great deal of the recent political rhetoric has played on the fear that immigrants and especially undocumented workers are benefiting from our affluence and giving nothing in return. Considering these are the very people doing the work at Smithfield, the very people we find we cannot do without, it is time to stop this self-serving name-calling.

This particular situation also reveals the harmful nonsense of another conspiracy theory presently being thrown around for political advantage. China has become the scapegoat for our suffering. Presenting China as the great enemy using the virus to destroy us economically is pretty ridiculous when Smithfield Foods is owned by the WH Group from China. If we were decisively honest, we would acknowledge fostering a kind of nationalism that denies the reality of our global economy is misleading if not downright ignorant.

But perhaps the revelation hardest to accept is what this says about changes needed in our economic system. Here, as we have found elsewhere, the workers most essential to our everyday lives are those whom we pay the least. It has long been known meat producers work in the most dangerous occupation in our present society and receive nothing close to hazardous pay. The present circumstance makes obvious other people are profiting from our need for meat. We should begin thinking about how we might correct this unjust situation.

I at least do not think the second step is drawing up political or social programs that are supposedly Christian. Those doing that presently have only amped up the cacophony. Better we should proclaim and discuss what Jesus has taught us about the demands of Christian love. I thought Mike Martine did that very well in his sermon on Sunday. It was entitled “Love is What You Die For” and can be found here.

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  1. Lupe Andrade says:

    Dear Fritz,
    In full agreement with your assessment, I would add that this virus has taught all those with restrictions and stay at home situations have learned, in some cases painfully, to get along with their partners, spouses, children, etc. in confined spaces and with other limitations for action. For example, two stay-at-home workers cannot have simultaneous Zoom work-conferences without interfering with each other… so one may have to retreat to the bathroom or kitchen (if there is one) for privacy. Children especially, take up an inordinate amount of time when they cannot move about freely… finding activities that fit confined spaces is difficult and challenges creativity. Easiest is allow them nearly unlimited video and screen time, but will this be healthy in the future? I have more questions than answers… and these are only a few…
    With love, Lupe

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