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Faith Domain as Social Immune System: Recommendations for Response and Recovery

By Tom Peterson

Think of the network of faith as an immune system, except in this case it’s for the social body. The purpose of the immune system is to protect, strengthen and animate all of the other parts of the society. “We use that metaphor to organize and make visible what the National Academy of Science Round Table on Population Health earlier identified as “faith-based assets for population health,” says Gary Gunderson.

In a white paper — Faith Domain as Social Immune System: Recommendations for Response and Recovery — authors Gary Gunderson and Teresa Cutts describe these assets in such a way that you may realize, “Oh, we have this stuff here, in our community, let’s include it in our local plan.”

The paper is part of a much larger effort that sought the “most promising solutions, boldest ideas, and deepest aspirations” from leaders of 100 communities and organizations. These are gathered in Thriving Together: A Springboard for Equitable Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America.

“What we do in the next 100 days will not only determine the spread of COVID-19, but will shape the upcoming elections and progress towards our unfulfilled promise as a land of liberty and justice, says Tyler Norris,  chief executive of Well Being Trust. “The unmasking of pervasive inequity, widespread system failure, and chronic underinvestment in the vital conditions for intergenerational well-being has never been more clear.”

The 100 authors developed a comprehensive view of how the many assets of US communities can help them find their out way from COVID-19 and on to the path to a healthy future. This group addressing the CDC and other government institutions included faith as part of the civic muscle. Cutts and Gunderson highlight the unique value of faith communities.

Faith communities are visible in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or COVID-19 as well as unnatural ones such as mass shootings. In Katrina, faith communities (and Wal-Mart) cut through red tape, showed up with water and food within hours, swarming like immune cells to meet the basic needs of the body of New Orleans and the overlooked towns on the Gulf. They were ready for the unthinkable.

 

Often, we find that the smallest congregations are already where the pain is located, in places big structures aren’t nimble enough to reach. In Winston Salem, NC, we found no response from big churches when a man (with no local family) was discharged from the hospital after surgery and needed meals. A 12-member church provided three meals a day to this stranger for weeks.

 

Faith assets, like an immune system, are interconnected in mysteriously effective ways that allow quick delivery of resources, information, and more. This is not always ideal medicine, but even a casserole keeps the social muscle connected to more specialized help.

 

Click here to read Faith Domain as Social Immune System.