From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. – John 6:66
From the beginning, I supported the vaccine. It was my wife and mine’s 2020 Halloween costume. Through individual conversations I encourage others to get the shot. Of course, I believe it will help keep me healthy. Even more importantly, I am convinced it is a way to love and protect our neighbor.
With the fourth COVID-19 wave engulfing Missouri and hearing the rhetoric of the anti-vaccine crowd, I am growing troubled. How can a large portion of the church reject the vaccine? As I prayed, I felt the need to be bolder.
First I signed onto a statement of Missouri pastors that urged Christians to get vaccinated (which became national news). I followed that by writing on my blog about the same theme. Then, this past Sunday, I urged my congregation to not only get vaccinated (which most of the members already are) but to also share our story.
As I spoke, a visitor grabbed her son and walked out. Another visiting couple left during the next song.
During almost eleven years of pastoring, I have given messages that created stirs and caused disagreement. Lots of office meetings and phone calls resulted in the days following such sermons. But only a few times has someone walked out mid message. Watching the mom walk out, pulling her small son, I feel the tension rise up within me. I wanted to cave — to keep everyone in the fold, but I needed to speak the truth. I understand why pastors avoid controversy. It is hard to watch real people get up and leave.
I felt discouraged that Sunday afternoon. My personality wants to fix everything and my pride believes I can. I worked outside, while praying and pondering. I watched the video — just to confirm I did not say anything crazy (I did cringe at the length of my message but not the actual words!). I helped with the youth group. Then I worked to set up the night’s outdoor movie.
I was not interested in watching The Chosen but it was on the calendar. Episode three of season two plodded along with the disciples talking around the fire. They waited for Jesus who was healing the crowds. Soon the group was arguing and dividing – how could Matthew work for their enemy, the occupying Romans?!?! Then Jesus approached, his body bent and exhausted. Everyone was silent — even my own heart — I had not considered what healing must take out of Jesus.
The uproar around the vaccine has little to do with the shot. And much to do with politics. The church — being too embroiled in politics — has made the shot an issue of faith. You have heard all the rhetoric. “Covid is a hoax.” “The shot is just a way for the government to control us.” “The vaccine will change your DNA!” “It injects microchips.” “My vaccine is Jesus’s blood.” And then there are all the counter arguments — from the science and medical community — that the vaccine is safe.
These arguments will continue. But the question for the church, as I posed on Sunday, is not about safety or government conspiracies. Instead, the question is “where is Jesus?” I already know the answer. Prayerfully, I believe without a doubt that Jesus wants us to get the vaccine. But watching The Chosen gave me a visual of how hard Jesus worked to love his neighbor.
What is God’s vision for the church and the vaccine? God’s desire is that Christians would be quickly vaccinated. And also that Christians make every effort to send the vaccines where needed. As the church — rather than arguing with others and among ourselves — God would have us spend time raising funds and reaching out to send more shots to every country in need.
Let the Republicans do what they want. Let the Democrats do what they want. They will argue from now until the end. But, as the church, we do not follow a political party. We follow Jesus.
Some will choose loyalty to their political party. This is hard for me to accept, as I want to argue and convince everyone. But, I need to lean into what John 6:66 says. I must go with Jesus, joining him to help his neighbor. We know the vaccine does just that.
So, unless your doctor advises against it for health reasons, please get vaccinated. And let people know it was NOT politics. We were vaccinated because we follow Jesus. Because he lives to love the world, so do we!
Sean Taylor is the pastor of Chandler Baptist Church in Liberty, MO. A version of this piece first appeared on his blog and is reprinted here with permission.