I’m a white, Christian woman and my heart is breaking today for my Black and Latinx friends and congregants who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Earlier this month, Aaron Harris a white, evangelical pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City, Kan., told the Associated Press that he hasn't discussed the COVID-19 vaccine from the pulpit, nor has he decided whether he’ll get vaccinated. “We don’t believe that this is a scriptural issue; it is a personal issue,” he said. Certainly, choosing whether or not to get vaccinated is a personal choice and part of our freedom inherent in our constitutional rights as citizens. But a unique issue is at stake in America today: Will white evangelical Christians choose to get vaccinated in an effort to selflessly love Black, brown, and Indigenous people who are at a greater risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19?
A poll conducted by Pew Research found that among U.S. religious groups, white evangelicals expressed the most resistance to getting a COVID-19 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that because of health and social inequities, many people of color are at a higher risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.
Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, an epidemiologist and family physician who worked at the CDC for 14 years, told Scientific American that people of color, once infected, “are more likely to die because we carry a greater burden of chronic diseases from living in disinvested communities with poor food options [and] poisoned air and because we have less access to health care.” In other words, racism is responsible for the higher COVID-19 death rates among people of color.
White evangelicals' resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine represents a startling disconnect from what Christians are taught in the gospels: to love the vulnerable as we love ourselves, to bring good news to the poor, and that the kingdom of God is a place where the last are first. When we choose to get the vaccine, we are less likely to contract and spread COVID-19. The CDC makes it clear that getting the COVID-19 vaccination helps protect the people around you. When we are immunized, we can literally help save lives.
Curtis Chang has ministry experience in the evangelical world and is currently a consulting professor for the Duke Divinity School. He co-founded Christians and the Vaccine, a website that explains why he believes Christians can trust the vaccine. But despite Chang and others’ advocacy efforts, The New York Times recently reported : “White evangelicals who do not plan to get vaccinated sometimes say they see no need, because they do not feel at risk.”
The Times also reported that some charismatic evangelicals are wary of the vaccine because their tradition emphasizes divine health and miraculous healing “in ways that can rival traditional medicine.” Recently, white pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, La., told his congregants that it is against “common sense” to “contaminate your bloodstream” with a COVID-19 vaccination. He has also been on record saying that “the virus has been a scam from the beginning” and pushing conspiracy theories about the virus.
This reality raises a true moral question worth excavating: Will those of us who are white Christians look beyond our own personal comfort — and the fact that we are statistically less likely to die from COVID-19 than our Black and brown neighbors — and choose to get the vaccine in order to practice the selfless love Jesus demonstrated for his disciples? If we’re following Jesus, then the answer to the question of whether or not to get vaccinated must be yes. Christ’s ministry and message overwhelmingly point us to serve the people our society has marginalized, to put the needs of others before ourselves, and to usher in the reign of God “on earth as it is in Heaven."
In John 13, we find Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus then asks them, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus then says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” If we are to emulate the quality of love that Jesus shows his disciples, then our actions towards our Black and brown neighbors must emulate the humility and generosity of Jesus.
For white evangelicals, getting the COVID-19 vaccine will require emulating the selflessness Jesus demonstrated when washing his disciple’s feet. Some evangelicals disagree with the current federal government while other evangelicals have been confused by disinformation campaigns. But Christians have not been given a spirit of fear, rather a spirit of love (2 Timothy 1:7), which should compel white evangelicals to act selflessly, and get the vaccine.
Rev. Manikka Bowman, of St. Paul AME Church Cambridge in Massachusetts, is an itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and also serves on the Cambridge School Committee. She told Sojourners that getting vaccinated when one is healthy and able to do so is right in line with the message of the gospels. “To turn away from life-saving medical intervention during a global pandemic undermines the value of life and weakens the beloved Christian community,” she said, citing Matthew 25:44. “Caring for the well-being of others is a fundamental tenet of Christianity. To turn away from that responsibility is turning away from God's love for us through Christ Jesus,” she said.
My husband and I are both planning to get vaccinated. We are doing this to protect ourselves, and perhaps more importantly, to protect those in our beloved community who are the most susceptible to dying from this disease.