The Associated Press (AP) recently ran an article pointing out that many “Bible Belt” preachers are staying silent on vaccinations or opposing them. AP reporter Jay Reeves writes:
Across the nation’s deeply religious Bible Belt, a region beset by soaring infection rates from the fast-spreading delta variant of the virus, churches and pastors are both helping and hurting in the campaign to get people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Some are hosting vaccination clinics and praying for more inoculations, while others are issuing fiery anti-vaccine sermons from their pulpits. Most are staying mum on the issue, something experts see as a missed opportunity in a swath of the country where church is the biggest spiritual and social influence for many communities.
That was on display recently in metro Birmingham, where First Baptist Church of Trussville had an outbreak following a 200th anniversary celebration that included a video greeting by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. The pastor promised more cleaning and face mask availability without uttering two words that health officials say could make a difference among people long on religion but short on faith in government: Get vaccinated.
The article quoted a faculty member at Duke Divinity School, Curtis Chang, who said that while a survey showed that 95 percent of evangelical leaders planned to be inoculated, that hasn’t transferred to advocacy from the pulpit.
For some reason, the AP found the reluctance of white evangelicals to get vaccinated more concerning than the hesitancy found in other groups, saying,
The disparity matters because vaccination rates are generally low across the Bible Belt, where Southern and Midwestern churchgoers are a formidable bloc that has proven resistant to vaccination appeals from government leaders and health officials. While many Black and Latino people haven’t been vaccinated, the large number of white evangelical resisters is particularly troubling for health officials.
The AP fails to elaborate why health officials find it particularly “troubling” that white Bible Belt Christians are resisting vaccination, as if skin color had anything to do with COVID’s spread.
The article references one spokesman and business manager for a church who sees vaccination as a “personal choice.” The man said, “When I am asked personally, I say it was the right choice for me and my wife.” Yet he contracted COVID anyway, something the AP calls a “rare breakthrough case.” The man said he believed the vaccination helped when he became infected.
The article noted that some church leaders are pushing vaccinations as a way to “love your neighbor.” It references the strong bond many in the South and Midwest have with their pastors, seeming to lobby for pastors to use their influence to convince reluctant Bible Belt evangelicals to get inoculated.
While this article does not openly call on pastors to push vaccinations from the pulpit, it is clear that is the intent. Why else would the AP, which is usually focused on break news stories, take the time to specifically talk about Bible Belt preachers not advocating for vaccines? Their silence is presented as though it were surprising. There are many issues with this article, but the chief among them is this: The pulpit and the office of pastor is not for vaccination advocacy.
Evangelicals in the Bible Belt are often scolded for bringing politics into the pulpit, referring, of course, to conservative politics. Yet the AP acts as though pastors should use their office to manipulate their congregations — who may have legitimate reasons for distrusting the government and a brand-new vaccine — and do the government’s work for them.
The government has managed all by itself to earn a foul reputation and lack of credibility with many across the Bible Belt. It didn’t need any help from pastors or anyone else. And if certainly isn’t a pastor’s job to play public relations official for the government.
The pulpit is for one thing and one thing only: preaching God’s Word. The office of pastor is one of shepherd and teacher, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and the doctrines of Scripture. It is sometimes appropriate for a pastor to speak on certain cultural issues that Scripture provides a clear perspective on such as abortion, yet what does Scripture say about taking experimental vaccines?
The pulpit does not belong to the government or the pastor, it belongs to God, and it would be wildly inappropriate for someone to use the pulpit to push vaccinations, particularly COVID vaccinations which are still in the experimental phase and have been shown to have side effects leading to sometimes severe complications for otherwise healthy individuals.
There seems to be a motivation behind the AP’s article: use religion to break through to the left’s biggest political obstacle, white evangelicals. I find it deeply concerning, and telling, that the AP notes the reluctance of the black and Hispanic communities to take the vaccine yet says that it is particularly troubling that white evangelicals resist.
Why is it any more of a concern that white evangelicals would refuse the vaccine than other groups? Because it seems to be the media’s intent to frame Bible Belt white evangelicals as the scapegoat for COVID-19, “If only those hayseed evangelicals would get vaccinated, we could all be safe from COVID, but they are too uneducated and selfish.” The article makes particular note of soaring COVID numbers in the Bible Belt, yet according to the CDC, 46 states and territories currently have a high level of community transmission. So, are Oregon and Hawaii experiencing soaring COVID rates because of the reluctance of white evangelicals to be vaccinated?
This AP article is not reporting the news, it is manipulating the news. It is an attempt to convince people that white evangelicals are wrong about the vaccines and need to be pushed into getting vaccinated, when in reality, multiple demographics are resisting vaccines, COVID is rising all over the country, and, as three recently released CDC studies show, the vaccines do not boast the kind of long-term immunity initially promised, hence the more recent focus on pushing COVID booster shots.
So, pastor, do not listen to the AP and be pressured into using God’s pulpit as a means to push government propaganda. Many people distrust the vaccines because the government is hard-selling them and using bribes and mandates to coerce them. Many Christians won’t take the vaccines because they were produced with or use fetal stem cell lines. Some are concerned about potential adverse reactions, and still others are worried about long-term side effects. There are those who can’t take the vaccine for medical reasons, and a large number of people have already had COVID and don’t see the point of getting vaccinated.
Pastors should not get in between congregants and their doctors and try to influence their medical decisions. People have a right — and the wherewithal — to do their own research and make their own personal choices about what’s right for them and their families.
A pastor’s job is to preach the Word of God — not the word of the AP or the government.