Soter: Evangelical Vaccine Hesitancy Must End

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(Photo by Andrew Seaman | Courtesy Unsplash)

By Theadora Soter, Opinion Writer

 

Last summer, I wrote a piece about the ironic correlation between the pro-life and anti-mask movements. It was a poignant oxymoron. Here was a right-leaning (therefore inherently Christian) group fighting for the ensured protection of all lives, even unborn ones, while simultaneously refusing to wear masks: one of the few life-saving measures we have against the pandemic. When racial protests joined the pandemic in the upheaval of the American people, I wrote another piece highlighting my continued frustration with the evangelical community — many of whom refused to join the protests determined to reclaim justice and denounce antiquated government institutions. Now, here I am, eight months later, putting my pen to paper to point out yet another blatant hypocrisy between Christian groups and their collective principles. As of March 2021, 45% of adults who identify as white evangelicals are refusing to get the vaccine, despite their deep value of human life. But if all evangelical communities truly valued life, shouldn’t they all be dashing to get a jab in the arm? The answer to this question is an obvious “yes,” which is why all leaders of evangelical communities must urge their patrons to get vaccinated. It’s the Christ-like thing to do.

Rev. Tony Spell, a mega-church pastor in Louisiana, has been dismissive of the virus since the beginning. In April of last year, he was put on house arrest for repeatedly defying the stay-at-home order. Now, Spell is disputing the virus and vaccine. In an interview with CNN, Spell claimed he was a “prophet” to bolster his argument to discourage vaccinations amongst his parishioners. Similarly, a mega-church pastor in Florida, Guillermo Maldonado, also claimed prophet-like revelations to dissuade parishioners from the vaccine, while also using conspiracy theories as “evidence.”

COVID-19 conspiracy theories in evangelical communities have become wildly popular, leaving many constituents convinced that the vaccination is more detrimental than the actual virus. For example, the fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used fetal tissue from decade-old abortions to test the vaccine has been misconstrued into the theory that all vaccinations have fetal tissue in them. Conspiracy theories make it easier for evangelical pastors to encourage people to refuse the vaccine, but why do they further that narrative? For many, the answer to that question is simple: they too have been fooled by the black hole of misinformation, despite their responsibility to the public. The alternative is much more upsetting. After Spell’s house arrest, he initiated the hashtag, #PastorSpellStimulusChallenge which asked his lower-class parish to donate their stimulus checks to the pastors of the church and other parishioners who weren’t eligible for the stimulus checks. Spell (and others like him) are not afraid of taking peoples’ money.         

But no matter the reasons behind evangelical vaccine hesitancy, it’s detrimental to public health. Right now, 35% of America’s population identifies as evangelical, and of Americas’ evangelical community 45% have already admitted that they are unwilling to get the vaccine. While these percentages seem low, it is currently estimated that 70% of the nation’s population will need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. The evangelical community’s cooperation is critical in stopping the spread of COVID-19. 

The way I understand it, God is a miraculous being. Only God can turn water into wine. Only God can make a blind man see. This is why I, a not overtly religious person, have been praying to God since the beginning of the pandemic to make it end. Now, more than a year later, he (along with the help of some scientists) has answered my prayers, and if that’s not a miracle then I don’t know what is. The evangelical community needs to recognize the COVID-19 vaccine as a miracle and start treating it like one by getting vaccinated. 

 

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@SoterTheadora

 

This article was updated on May 17 to remove misstatements about a pastor’s actions regarding his church and COVID-19. Rev. Kenneth Copeland with New Zion Missionary Baptist Church opened his church to become a mass vaccination site, not Kenneth Copeland, the televangelist with Kenneth Copeland Ministries.