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‘I believe God is holding us accountable for this’


Second of two webinars on race, science and the church explore cures for health-care inequities and our biases

June 29,  2022

Dr. A. Oveta Fuller

Health-care inequities that sicken and kill people of color undermine communities. Reducing those inequities will require working together to improve health-care quality, accessibility and affordability for everyone.

“The church has a huge influence and responsibility. I believe God is holding us accountable for this,” said Dr. A. Oveta Fuller, an associate professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan Medical School, during the second of a two-part webinar, “Race, Science and the Church,” offered by the organization Science for the Church through the Synod of the Covenant. Read a report on the first webinar here.

Fuller offered a number of statistics that indicate disparities in health care outcomes for people of color compared to non-Hispanic white people. Covid, she said, has “helped unveil what we already knew: disparities in health are based on factors that seem to do with race.”

In Michigan, for example, 14% of the population is Black, but 40% of deaths attributed to COVID during the early stages of the pandemic were among Black people. Black children are twice as likely to die at birth than white children are. Black mothers are more than three times more likely to die at childbirth than white mothers are, a statistic that is not reflective of the mother’s economic status.

“I focus on African Americans,” Fuller said, “but you can choose whatever group you want, and you would see a disparity there.”

More on what Covid revealed about disparities in the nation’s health-care system can be found here.

Contributing factors to health-care disparities include socio-economic status, underlying medical conditions, access to medical care, misinformation and systemic and institutionalized racism, she said.

To learn more, Fuller recommended two books: Ibram X. Kendi’s “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019,” and James W. Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.”

“These health disparities didn’t just happen. There are reasons for them, and we need to be brave enough to dig down and get them,” Fuller said. While “you and I may be used to things, our children and our grandchildren are whole different people, and they won’t put up with it.”

What do you tell parents, one person tuned into the webinar wondered, about current efforts to prohibit white children from being taught what the questioner called “their real history in school?”

That pushback against what’s been dubbed critical race theory “could almost be predicted,” because oppressors don’t readily give up their power, Fuller responded.

“We are Christians, and we don’t like to think about demanding things,” Fuller said. “But Jesus taught the disciples to change out of love. … The truth is hard, but we will all be better, and we will use our gifts and graces together if we can all learn the truth together.”

Stress can play a big role in disparate health outcomes. A pregnant woman carrying her child to term is dependent on her hormones reaching a certain level before her body induces labor, Fuller said. But if the mother’s hormone levels start from a higher baseline — because, for example, store cameras follow her she’s shopping for new clothes, or “if I speak up at a faculty meeting, will people think I am ridiculous because I am being who I am?” — her body determines it’s reached the giving birth threshold even though the baby is not fully developed.

“Death by a thousand paper cuts is absolutely real,” Fuller said. “Society has never recognized the inequality despite God creating all of us in God’s image.”

“Let’s sit down and talk,” Fuller said to conclude her portion of the webinar. “It won’t be fun, but we will all be better off because of it.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus:  Health-care inequities

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Jung Ju Winner, Marketing Assistant, Presbyterian Women
Janna Wofford, Operations Manager, Association of Presbyterian Colleges & Universities (APCU)

Let us pray

Loving Father, we thank you for your courageous and faithful people. They have so much to teach us about loving you and trusting you for all our needs. As we serve, let us all walk humbly with you as we follow the example given to us by Jesus Christ. Amen.

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