On Monday, the day after Easter, I got my second “Fauci Ouchie.” That means in a couple weeks I should be fully vaccinated and facing much less risk from COVID-19 (though I’ll continue wearing a mask and practicing social distancing to do my part while we fight this virus). Sitting in that vaccination chair just barely 24 hours after preaching during an Easter service, I felt hope is on the horizon.
Then my phone vibrated while I received my vaccine. A friend sent an article about how many White evangelicals refuse to get vaccinated. In fact, a recent poll found that 40% of White evangelicals say they probably won’t get the COVID vaccine, compared to just 25% of all Americans.
If nearly half of White evangelicals — who make up about 20% of the U.S. population — don’t get the vaccine, it will be more difficult to reach herd immunity status. That would put everyone at risk by stretching out the pandemic and perhaps even allowing the virus to continue to mutate so that the vaccines no longer work against a new strain.
White evangelicals — who are also less likely to wear masks and practice social distancing — are literally putting lives at risk. And why? Perhaps since many who call them “pro-life” have adopted a heretical philosophy.
“It would be God’s will if I am here or if I am not here,” Lauri Armstrong, a nutritionist near Dallas, Texas, told the New York Times about why she doesn’t plan to get vaccinated.
With that philosophy, I’d be a bit afraid to take any nutrition advice from her. Who cares if that supplement’s been tested, if it’s God’s will you’ll live. Why even worry about nutrition at all when God’s going to take you or leave no matter what you do?
“We are going to go through times of trials and all kinds of awful things, but we still know where we are going at the end,” Ron Holloway, a real estate agent in Forsyth, Missouri, who thinks COVID was overblown to hurt Donald Trump, told the Associated Press about why he won’t get vaccinated. “And heaven is so much better than here on earth. Why would we fight leaving here?”
With that philosophy, I’d be a bit afraid to buy a house from him. Who needs an inspection, just trust God? Why worry about fire codes when you know where you’re going at the end? Why fight for a safer house when heaven’s so much better?
Like the Gnostic heretics that the early church leaders warned against, these White evangelicals preaching against vaccines today distort the faith.
The ancient Gnostics argued they had special knowledge that gave them the secret truths that others couldn’t see. The cult of QAnon, which has infiltrated our churches, similarly claims exclusive access to the “real” news that can’t be verified elsewhere. And much of the COVID-denial in our churches and communities can be linked to QAnon and its adherents.
An anonymous person on the internet doesn’t know more about this virus than our scientists and medical professionals. To reject science is to reject the command to love God with all our mind.
The ancient Gnostics preached a dualism between the spiritual and physical worlds, with the latter being evil. Similarly, some in our churches today prioritize the spiritual afterlife over the current world, even though Jesus spent much more time preaching and modeling how to live today than he did talking about heaven.
A theology that discounts people’s lives does not come from God. To put our neighbors’ lives at risk is to reject biblical commands to love them.
We need evangelical preachers and leaders to not only publicly encourage vaccination but also to condemn the unbiblical theology putting our communities in danger. Thankfully, many national evangelical leaders across the political and theological spectrums have done this already. From Jim Wallis to Robert Jeffress, from Jerusah Duford to Franklin Graham, we’ve seen prominent evangelicals promote the COVID vaccines. I hope this message will ring out from preachers across the country, from their pulpits, church newsletters, or personal Facebook pages.
Let us thank God for the scientists and medical professionals who developed these vaccines and worked to keep us safe over the past year. And let us love our neighbors by doing our part to keep our communities safe and beat this virus as we wear masks, practice social distancing, and get vaccinated.
Brian Kaylor is president & editor-in-chief of Word&Way. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianKaylor.