The New York Times Asks if White Evangelicals Are Going to Drag Out the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States Due to their Opposition to Science

This past weekend I had an interesting phone call with a friend who discussed how the pandemic is affecting him. When the conversation turned to his extended family he shared with frustration that his step parents have bought into a lot of disinformation and his oldest step mother is not planning to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for theological reasons. Then today in the New York Times Elisabeth Dias and Ruth Graham ask the question if rejection of the COVID-19 vaccine by white evangelicals can drag out the pandemic in the United States. So much for loving your neighbor as Jesus taught. 

“Vaccines are the tugboats of preventive health.”

William Foege 

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:31 NIV 

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At this blog it amazes me as to how many articles I write or the topics explored brush up against my life. This blog draws on over fifteen years of past evangelical experience and I have a lot of connections to those still inside the movement. On Saturday I took a phone call from a long and dear friend who I knew from Campus Crusade for Christ in California. He goes back to my days at Fresno State. I was talking with my friend about the COVID-19 pandemic and he expressed his anger over the evangelicals buying into disinformation and becoming deeply active in conspiracy theories. He then explained his relationship with his step parents in Texas and California and how even though they are high risk his oldest step parent communicated they will not take the COVID-19 vaccine for theological reasons. To hear that is just maddening. 

I often wonder if this pandemic is the first major test of evangelicalism since the 1918 Spanish Flu. Think about it, it was after the Spanish Flu in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee that the Scopes monkey trial happened. Fundamentalism was the reaction to that historical event. We have not had a public health crisis like this pandemic in over a century. And even the HIV epidemic mostly struck drug users and gays who evangelicals already condemned in the 1980’s There were some evangelicals like Jerry Falwell Sr who said that HIV was God’s punishment on gays. So I am wondering if this COVID pandemic is going to be the first global and national test of  evangelicalism since 1918. I mean to get HIV means mostly engaging in risky behavior or drug use. To get COVID-19 you don’t have to go into a gay bar and meet someone for a sexual hook up. Nor do you get it from shooting heroin. Its an airborne virus like measles in many ways. You can get COVID just by walking into a restaurant or even singing in church. 

Why am I writing all this? There is a troubling article today in the New York Times that asks if white evangelicals because of the rejection of vaccines and science is going to drag out the COVID-19 pandemic. The article is by Elisabeth Dias and Ruth Graham  who are solid writers at the Times. This blog as always is asking you to subscribe and support your local paper. If you want to read the article in its original form go to, “How White Evangelicals’ Vaccine Refusal Could Prolong the Pandemic.” You can read a good portion of the article below.


Stephanie Nana, an evangelical Christian in Edmond, Okla., refused to get a Covid-19 vaccine because she believed it contained “aborted cell tissue.”

Nathan French, who leads a nondenominational ministry in Tacoma, Wash., said he received a divine message that God was the ultimate healer and deliverer: “The vaccine is not the savior.”

Lauri Armstrong, a Bible-believing nutritionist outside of Dallas, said she did not need the vaccine because God designed the body to heal itself, if given the right nutrients. More than that, she said, “It would be God’s will if I am here or if I am not here.”

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.

“Would I say that all public health agencies have the information that they need to address their questions and concerns? Probably not,” said Dr. Julie Morita, the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former Chicago public health commissioner.

No clear data is available about vaccine hesitancy among evangelicals of other racial groups. But religious reasoning often spreads beyond white churches.

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.”

Dr. Morita, of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the method to reach white evangelicals is similar to building vaccine confidence in other groups: Listen to their concerns and questions, and then provide information that they can understand from people they trust.

But a public education campaign alone may not be enough.

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.

For slightly different reasons, the distrust is sometimes shared by Asian, Hispanic and Black Christians, who are skeptical that hospitals and medical professionals will be sensitive to their concerns, Dr. Ecklund said.

“We are seeing some of the implications of the inequalities in science,” she said. “This is an enormous warning of the fact that we do not have a more diverse scientific work force, religiously and racially.”

Among evangelicals, Pentecostal and charismatic Christians may be particularly wary of the vaccine, in part because their tradition historically emphasizes divine health and miraculous healing in ways that can rival traditional medicine, said Erica Ramirez, a scholar of Pentecostalism and director of applied research at Auburn Seminary. Charismatic churches also attract significant shares of Black and Hispanic Christians.

Dr. Ramirez compares modern Pentecostalism to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, with the brand’s emphasis on “wellness” and “energy” that infuriates some scientists: “It’s extra-medical,” she said. “It’s not anti-medical, but it decenters medicine.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci are not going to be able to persuade evangelicals, according to Curtis Chang, a consulting professor at Duke Divinity School who is leading an outreach project to educate evangelicals about the vaccine.

The project includes a series of short, shareable videos for pastors, answering questions like “How can Christians spot fake news on the vaccine?” and “Is the vaccine the Mark of the Beast?” The latter refers to an apocalyptic theory that the AntiChrist will force his sign onto everyone at the end of the world.

These are questions that secular public health entities are not equipped to answer, he said. “The even deeper problem is, the white evangelicals aren’t even on their screen.”

Mr. Chang said he recently spoke with a colleague in Uganda whose hospital had received 5,000 vaccine doses, but had only been able to administer about 400, because of the hesitancy of the heavily evangelical population.

“How American evangelicals think, write, feel about issues quickly replicates throughout the entire world,” he said.

At this critical moment, even pastors struggle to know how to reach their flocks. Joel Rainey, who leads Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, W.Va., said several colleagues were forced out of their churches after promoting health and vaccination guidelines.

Politics has increasingly been shaping faith among white evangelicals, rather than the other way around, he said. Pastors’ influence on their churches is decreasing. “They get their people for one hour, and Sean Hannity gets them for the next 20,” he said.

Mr. Rainey helped his own Southern Baptist congregation get ahead of false information by publicly interviewing medical experts — a retired colonel specializing in infectious disease, a church member who is a Walter Reed logistics management analyst, and a church elder who is a nurse for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

On the worship stage, in front of the praise band’s drum set, he asked them “all of the questions that a follower of Jesus might have,” he said later.

“It is necessary for pastors to instruct their people that we don’t always have to be adversaries with the culture around us,” he said. “We believe Jesus died for those people, so why in the world would we see them as adversaries?”

 

8 thoughts on “The New York Times Asks if White Evangelicals Are Going to Drag Out the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States Due to their Opposition to Science

  1. “The New York Times Asks if White Evangelicals Are Going to Drag Out the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States Due to their Opposition to Science”

    “IF”?

    Like

    • H.U.G.,
      Methinks it is a rhetorical question in which everyone already knows the answer.

      Nyssa,
      Over the past 20-25 years it has gone from “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” to borrow the title of Mark Noll’s book (published in 1994) to the “The Tragedy of NO Evangelical Mind.” The election of the Orange Dear Leader merely accelerated the speed off the cliff. And there is still NO bottom for this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Something I just saw:
    Fake COVID Vaccination cards are going for $20 a pop on Etsy. Don’t know if these are actual forgeries or the Vaxx version of those “Freedom to Breathe Agency” Anti-Mask fake cards.

    The fake Vaxx card provider (who did not give her name) self-described as a Warrior “against Gubmint Tyranny”. Too busy polishing her halo to realize that stunts like hers make centralized databases and unforgeable chip implants look better and better.

    I went through two Moderna jabs and three days of side effects to get my card (and the ability to travel safely – including seeing you guys on the East Coast), and this shmuck already invalidated it.

    Like

  3. Pingback: An Open Letter to Glen Schrieber (Modeling COVID Vaccination in EFCA SE District) | Wondering Eagle

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