Bishops’ letter urges compassion, not stigmatization in Ebola crisis

UMNS–Oklahoma City, Okla.: Representatives of the Council of Bishops and the General Board of Global Ministries issued a letter to the people of The United Methodist Church on behalf of the Council of Bishops in response to the Ebola crisis affecting West Africa. The epidemic has been responsible for nearly 5,000 deaths with more than 13,000 cases of disease reported. (Read the letter in its entirety.)

“Our hearts go out to families, communities and all those suffering as a result of the epidemic. We assure them of our prayers for divine assistance as they go through this period of pain, trauma and grief,” states the letter.

United Methodists are urged to “offer compassion to our sisters and brothers who are suffering, and support to those who walk with them.”

The letter acknowledges that fear is understandable in the face of Ebola, yet sometimes “leads to unnecessary stigmatization of any persons from or believed to be from those countries or even coming from other parts of Africa.” The leaders urge United Methodists to “be realistic and diligent in confronting fear and stigma as our brothers and sisters in West Africa are in a front-line encounter with Ebola,” noting that accurate information that “increases understanding and decreases stigma is a matter of urgency, justice, and fairness for all members of our human family.”

The letter cautions against travel bans, which “have been judged by airlines to be unenforceable and by health authorities as likely to severely restrict the movement of overseas health workers in and out of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” noting that as many as 5,000 workers are needed to bring Ebola under control. It also notes that quarantines should be “required on a case by case basis when medically required and then implemented with a great sense of respect.”

None of the missionaries of the General Board of Global Ministries have been infected with Ebola, and several have volunteered to return to Liberia from the U.S.

The letter was signed by Bishop Warner Brown, president of the Council, Bishop John K. Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Episcopal Area, Bishop John Innis of the Liberia Episcopal Area, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, president of the General Board of Global Ministries and Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries.

Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the three countries most affected, are within the church’s connectional system with a district in Guinea being part of the Liberia Annual Conference. United Methodists in these countries are “strongly committed to efforts with their neighbors of all faiths to safely confront and control Ebola.”

Photo: United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu, chairman of the religious leaders task force, demonstrates to participants a new way of greeting instead of the traditional handshake. New traditions are being created to help prevent the spread of the Ebola virus. Photo by Phileas Jusu.