(RNS) — The spokesman for a major evangelical nonprofit was fired for promoting vaccines on the MSNBC “Morning Joe” cable news show, Religion News Service has learned. Daniel Darling, senior vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters, was fired Friday (Aug. 27) after refusing to recant his pro-vaccine statements, according to a source authorized to speak for Darling.
His firing comes at a time when Americans face a new surge of COVID-19 infections due to the highly contagious Delta variant even as protesters and politicians resist mask mandates or other preventive measures.
During a broadcast on Aug. 2, Darling, an evangelical pastor and author, told host Joe Scarborough about how his faith motivated him to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Darling described the vaccines as an amazing feat of discovery by scientists, some of whom share his Christian faith. Darling said he was proud to be vaccinated.
“I believe in this vaccine because I don’t want to see anyone else die of COVID. Our family has lost too many close friends and relatives to COVID, including an uncle, a beloved church member and our piano teacher,” Darling told Scarborough.
He expressed similar views in a recent USA Today opinion piece.
Earlier this week, leaders at NRB, an international association of Christian communicators with 1,100 member organizations, told Darling his statements violated the organization’s policy of remaining neutral about COVID-19 vaccines. According to the source, Darling was given two options — recant or sign a statement admitting he had been insubordinate.
When he refused, Darling was fired and given no severance, the source told RNS.
Troy Miller, CEO of NRB, confirmed Darling was no longer with the organization. He did not respond to a question about the role Darling’s statements about vaccines played in his departure.
“Dan is an excellent communicator and a great friend. I wish him God’s best in all his future endeavors,” Miller told RNS in an email.
While on “Morning Joe,” Darling said his Christian faith played a key role in his decision to be vaccinated — saying the Bible’s command to love our neighbors informed that decision. The vaccine, he said, helps protect our neighbors from the spread of COVID-19.
Darling also expressed sympathy for those who are hesitant to be vaccinated, seeing it as part of a larger breakdown of trust in American culture.
“When trust goes down,” he said on the show, “belief in conspiracies goes up.”
White evangelical Christians and Hispanic Protestants are among the faith groups most likely to be hesitant or refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccines, according to a recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute. That study found vaccine hesitancy dropped among many faith groups from March 2021 to June 2021. Still, 1 in 4 White evangelicals said they refuse to get a vaccine, while an additional 1 in 5 was hesitant, according to PRRI.
Darling criticized those who try to shame people who are vaccine-hesitant or who rejoice when someone who was unvaccinated becomes ill with COVID. Neither of those approaches is helpful, he said on the show. He also encouraged his fellow evangelicals to consider following his example.
“I do encourage folks to talk to their doctor and really consider it, just because we just don’t want to see anyone else unnecessarily die of this lethal virus,” he said.
Darling, an ordained minister and author of a number of books, including A Way with Words and The Dignity Revolution, joined the NRB in April of 2020, following six years at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Darling still believes in the mission of the NRB and his statements about vaccines, his authorized source told RNS.
In his August USA Today editorial, Darling said vaccines save lives and encouraged his fellow Christians to consider being vaccinated before more lives are lost.
“There are not many things in the world today that are worthy of our trust, but I sincerely believe the COVID-19 vaccine is one of them,” he wrote. “As a Christian and an American, I was proud to get it.”