White evangelical pastors need to push harder to get more of their white evangelicals vaccinated.
Perhaps some will feel I am splitting hairs, but I am going to say this issue for evangelical pastors is a prophetic issue, an ethical issue, a moral issue and a compassion issue.
The message must be aimed at white evangelical, vaccine-resistant churchgoers and how they came to be vaccine resistant. Let me give you a quick look back.
In this group are “anti-vaxxers” who predate the COVID-19 vaccine.
They have questioned the safety of vaccines for years, largely offering up flawed studies and pushing the statements of fringe doctors who supported their position.
The overwhelming conclusion of the medical and research community is that vaccines are safe and effective, including the COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S.
Yes, the J&J vaccine has had rare instances of blood clots showing up in a few of the millions who have received the vaccine. However, after stopping distribution and conducting an extensive review, no significant, widespread danger was found, so J&J restarted shipping their vaccine.
COVID-19 deniers who still insist the pandemic is some sort of government plot, conspiracy to microchip, on and on, are part of the vaccine resistant.
Many have taken the lead from the former president who continually dismissed COVID-19 and the pandemic. Generally, such folks have closed their minds and hearts to the truth and live out the belief this whole thing was and is a sham.
Even after the former president quietly got the vaccine, and even more quietly suggested people should get their vaccine, this group continues its denial and vaccine resistance.
Other people have filled their minds with misinformation, conspiracy theories and statements from pundits who have little education and less desire to know what is true not only on COVID-19 but also on many other subjects – particularly those related to science.
Many have listened to the former president and the talking heads he listened to on television. Misinformation, conspiracy theories and lies have absolutely no place in the church house. Generally, such folks are also anti-science.
Finally, there are people loudly demanding their rights, which they assert includes the decision not to wear masks, social distance or get the vaccine.
Some of these groups have found a place in the pews of evangelical churches, especially in the South but also around the country.
In March, one poll found that 40% of white evangelical Protestants were unlikely to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
We will not get close to herd immunity unless these COVID-19 resistant folks get vaccinated. That is the simple truth, the simple math and, sadly, the state of the union.
So, why is this a prophetic issue?
We often associate the hard words of God with the prophets. Their job was thankless: delivering a counter-cultural message when God’s people had sinned or betrayed the covenant.
Currently, this is a prophetic issue, which will be received with some blowback in evangelical circles. Pastors never like that, but truth is truth.
This also is an ethical issue because it is fundamentally about doing right. Some wrongly presume that refusing a vaccine is trusting God to intervene and heal. In reality, those who reject vaccines passed up an opportunity to keep that virus from invading one’s life.
A significant part of the ministry of Jesus was healing people, so how is he to think of Christians who claim to be his disciples but refuse medical care (vaccine) and, as a result, spread disease and illness to others?
According to the Mayo Clinic, as of May 26, only 39.7% of the U.S. is totally vaccinated, with 49.7% having at least one dose.
Pastors need to step up and help increase these numbers by speaking to their congregations about the importance of being vaccinated.
While we are tired of COVID-19, we cannot grow tired of the moral imperative to do our part to combat the virus.
The longer the pandemic continues, the longer the recovery will take. There is a moral imperative for us together to push forward so that all can return to work, worship and recreation safely.
Finally, compassion has waned in the evangelical community since the declaration of war on the culture.
Evangelicals are now often seen as mean, uncaring and, in some ways, cruel. The culture is more likely to think of Christians as being like Westboro Baptist Church than the Jesus of the Gospels.
Refusing a vaccine when one is qualified to receive it is not compassionate. It does not respect the sacrifice of so many, which went into the development of a safe, effective vaccine.
More than that, it shows no compassion at all to those in the health care field who have endured the most strenuous, stressful 14 months of their practices. Some will leave the profession never to return, while all who work in health care will carry the burden of these horrific months in their hearts and minds.
More than that, refusal is not compassion to your neighbor.
For Christians, it is never about rights, as Paul made clear in his critique of the Corinthian Christians for using their rights and freedoms in a way that harmed the community.
Rather, our focus is on being a good neighbor, which means considering how our actions affect others.
Prophetic, ethical, moral, compassionate. This is why evangelical pastors must continue to speak out and encourage their constituents to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
A private practice counselor working with veterans and survivors of trauma, he recently relocated to Round Rock, Texas, to be closer to family. Previously, Chancellor served four churches in Texas for 33 years, then ran a Mental Health Department of Alan B. Polunsky Maximum Security prison which houses death row.