Once everyone who wants to get vaccinated does, I would love to see vaccine passports in wide use by businesses. I know for sure that if one restaurant requires them to sit inside and one is more lax about it, I would always chose the strict restaurant, even if the lax one had better food. And if ideologically insane people don't want to get vaccinated... they can start their own restaurants. Do you think I'm being a dick? A piece by Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham for the NY Times yesterday, White Evangelical Resistance Is Obstacle in Vaccination Effort helps explain why I'm not.
Their point is that millions of poorly educated, Trump-devoted white evangelical adults do not intend to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Tenets of faith and mistrust of science play a role; so does politics. They are a danger to society-- a very big one.
Assume Nathan French, who leads a nondenominational ministry in Tacoma, is sincere and not a scam-artist. What would you guess his IQ is? He claims to have received a divine message that God was the ultimate healer and deliverer: "The vaccine is not the savior." Why should I care?
Dias and Graham wrote that "the deeply held spiritual convictions or counterfactual arguments may vary. But across white evangelical America, reasons not to get vaccinated have spread as quickly as the virus that public health officials are hoping to overcome through herd immunity. The opposition is rooted in a mix of religious faith and a longstanding wariness of mainstream science, and it is fueled by broader cultural distrust of institutions and gravitation to online conspiracy theories. The sheer size of the community poses a major problem for the country’s ability to recover from a pandemic that has resulted in the deaths of half a million Americans. And evangelical ideas and instincts have a way of spreading, even internationally."
There are about 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S. About 45 percent said in late February that they would not get vaccinated against Covid-19, making them among the least likely demographic groups to do so, according to the Pew Research Center.
“If we can’t get a significant number of white evangelicals to come around on this, the pandemic is going to last much longer than it needs to,” said Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois.
As vaccines become more widely available, and as worrisome virus variants develop, the problem takes on new urgency. Significant numbers of Americans generally are resistant to getting vaccinated, but white evangelicals present unique challenges because of their complex web of moral, medical, and political objections. The challenge is further complicated by longstanding distrust between evangelicals and the scientific community.
...Many high-profile conservative pastors and institutional leaders have endorsed the vaccines. Franklin Graham told his 9.6 million Facebook followers that Jesus would advocate for vaccination. Pastor Robert Jeffress commended it from an anti-abortion perspective on Fox News. (“We talk about life inside the womb being a gift from God. Well, life outside the womb is a gift from God, too.”) The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, tweeted a photo of himself receiving a shot.
But other influential voices in the sprawling, trans-denominational movement, especially those who have gained their stature through media fame, have sown fears. Gene Bailey, the host of a prophecy-focused talk show on the Victory Channel, warned his audience in March that the government and “globalist entities” will “use bayonets and prisons to force a needle into your arm.” In a now-deleted TikTok post from an evangelical influencer’s account that has more than 900,000 followers, she dramatized being killed by authorities for refusing the vaccine.
Dr. Simone Gold, a prominent Covid-19 skeptic who was charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct in the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, told an evangelical congregation in Florida that they were in danger of being “coerced into taking an experimental biological agent.”
The evangelical radio host Eric Metaxas wrote “Don’t get the vaccine” in a tweet on March 28 that has since been deleted. “Pass it on,” he wrote.
Some evangelicals believe that any Covid restrictions-- including mask mandates and restrictions on in-person church worship-- constitute oppression.
And some have been energized by what they see as a battle between faith and fear, and freedom and persecution.
“Fear is the motivating power behind all of this, and fear is the opposite of who God is,” said Teresa Beukers, who travels throughout California in a motor home. “I violently oppose fear.”
Ms. Beukers foresees severe political and social consequences for resisting the vaccine, but she is determined to do so. She quit a job at Trader Joe’s when the company insisted that she wear a mask at work. Her son, she said, was kicked off his community college football team for refusing Covid testing protocols.
“Go ahead and throw us in the lions’ den, go ahead and throw us in the furnace,” she said, referring to two biblical stories in which God’s people miraculously survive persecution after refusing to submit to temporal powers.
Jesus, she added, broke ritual purity laws by interacting with lepers. “We can compare that to people who are unvaccinated,” she said. “If they get pushed out, they’ll need to live in their own colonies.”
One widespread concern among evangelicals is the vaccines’ ties to abortion. In reality, the connection is remote: Some of the vaccines were developed and tested using cells derived from the fetal tissue of elective abortions that took place decades ago.
The vaccines do not include fetal tissue, and no additional abortions are required to manufacture them. Still, the kernel of a connection has metastasized online into false rumors about human remains or fetal DNA being an ingredient in the vaccines.
Some evangelicals see the vaccine as a redemptive outcome for the original aborted fetus.
Some Catholic bishops have expressed concerns about the abortion link, too. But the Vatican has concluded the vaccines are “morally acceptable,” and has emphasized the immediate danger posed by the virus. Just 22 percent of Catholics in America say they will not get the vaccine, less than half the share of white evangelicals who say that.
White evangelicals who do not plan to get vaccinated sometimes say they see no need, because they do not feel at risk. Rates of Covid-19 death have been about twice as high for Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans as for white Americans.
White pastors have largely remained quiet. That’s in part because the wariness among white conservative Christians is not just medical, but also political. If white pastors encourage vaccination directly, said Dr. Aten, “there are people in the pews where you’ve just attacked their political party, and maybe their whole worldview.”
...There has been a “sea change” over the past century in how evangelical Christians see science, a change rooted largely in the debates over evolution and the secularization of the academy, said Elaine Ecklund, professor of sociology and director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University.
There are two parts to the problem, she said: The scientific community has not been as friendly toward evangelicals, and the religious community has not encouraged followers to pursue careers in science.
Distrust of scientists has become part of cultural identity, of what it means to be white and evangelical in America, she said.
They wrote about Joel Rainey, who leads Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, who told them that "It is necessary for pastors to instruct their people that we don’t always have to be adversaries with the culture around us. We believe Jesus died for those people, so why in the world would we see them as adversaries?" Rainey noted that pastors' influence has been diminished. "They get their people for one hour, and Sean Hannity gets them for the next 20."
A pastor friend of mine from Minneapolis, Doug Pagitt, who co-founded Vote Common Good, told me last night that "it once again shows that a great percentage of people who claim to be Jesus following Evangelicals live their lives in ways that do not correspond with loving your neighbor at all. While this is a public health crisis, it’s also a crisis for Christian people of faith to have to call out one another to live their lives as a benefit and blessing for others."