A sickness is infecting our land. Dangerous breaths coming from our pulpits.
A Catholic priest in Wisconsin, who flouted health rules about masks and social distancing, denounced “diabolical” efforts to compel people to get a vaccine he falsely claimed “modifies your body — your temple of the Holy Spirit” and makes “you nothing other than a guinea pig.”
A Pentecostal preacher in Florida warned against a supposed “satanic global agenda” and encouraged his members not to take the vaccine but instead “believe in the blood of Jesus, believe in divine immunity.”
And I’ve seen pastors on Facebook sharing similar messages. Like posting a meme claiming “it’s not a conspiracy theory to believe that the immune system is capable of doing the job it was designed to do.” Or arguing that God knows the future and has a purpose so we should trust God instead of getting a vaccine (as if we cannot do both). These anti-vaccine posts follow months of anti-masking and anti-social distancing memes.
Quick news searches reveal other pastors across the country and in numerous denominations sharing similar anti-vaccine views. And each time I see such a headline, I think of the words of Matthew.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.
But we might need to update the saying. The problem for many today isn’t that they have no shepherd. Rather, they are harassed and dejected by their local shepherd.
And we’ve seen that over the past year. If you pay attention to the anti-vaccine pastors, you’ll quickly learn the problem isn’t vaccine hesitancy but COVID denialism. They denied the threat of COVID, shamed their people to pack the pews (and the offering plates), and argued that people urging health measures just had too much fear. Having spewed their misinformation for months, these false prophets now double down by attacking the vaccine since getting the jab would represent an acknowledgment that COVID actually poses a threat.
Meanwhile, the sheep are dying, distressed and scattered, alone without their local “shepherd” or loved ones present for the last painful breaths.
Nearly 600,000 dead of COVID in the United States. That’s more Americans killed by COVID in one year than who died in the entire four years of fighting in World War II. And it’s 10 times more than the U.S. death toll in the two-decade Vietnam War.
And globally the death toll already topped 3.1 million people, and it continues to rise as COVID burns out of control in nations like India and Brazil. While many Christians in the U.S. refuse to get vaccinated, people around the world continue to suffer and die without even the option of a vaccine yet.
Harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.
COVID is real. Any preacher who says otherwise spreads dangerous misinformation. But like in the Bible when the religious authorities harm the people, God raises up prophets from untraditional places. Farmers like Amos. Or scientists like Francis Collins.
Collins, an evangelical Christian, serves as director of the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. government’s main biomedical and public health research group. It is an understatement to say Collins knows more about vaccines, COVID, and general health than all the anti-vaccination preachers combined. He also better understands clear biblical teachings.
“It’s not just about this decision for yourself; it’s also about the opportunity to do something for your neighbors,” said Collins at a webinar called “Evangelicals & COVID-19 Vaccine” on April 27. “Brothers and sisters, this really is a love-your-neighbor moment.”
“I think God gives us a chance to learn the truth,” Collins added. “I think those who do seek this honestly will see this as a potential gift but a gift that has to be unwrapped.”
Whoever has ears, let them hear.
And if your preacher rejects medical wisdom about vaccines and biblical teachings about love, may your rear end follow your listening ears in finding a new sanctuary.
Brian Kaylor is president & editor-in-chief of Word&Way. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianKaylor.