COLUMN: Using Faith to Counter Vaccine Skepticism

In Luke 10:25-37 (NIV), Jesus is questioned about how to obtain eternal life and what it means to “love your neighbor,” which caused him to tell the Good Samaritan parable. The parable consisted of a man who was robbed and beaten near to death in the desert. He was passed by a Levite and priest, but a Samaritan – a member of an ostracized ethnoreligious group of the Israelites – saved the man.

With the introduction of three new vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the skepticism about the vaccine remains pertinent in some communities – especially among evangelicals. Yet, Christians must embody the Samaritan’s actions of loving their neighbor through consideration of other’s health and the vaccine.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on March 10, the seven-day average number of daily cases saw an 11.2% decrease when compared to the prior week. Moreover, on March 18, The New York Times reported a decline in hospitalization and deaths in the United States with 21% and 32%, respectively. As of March 23, in the U.S., 13.5% of the population is fully vaccinated and 24.9% of the population has at least one dose of a vaccine, according to NPR.

The data obtained certainly inspires hope around the world about overcoming the pandemic; however, this news has received skeptical criticism from many about the effectiveness, safety and the “holiness,” of the vaccine. Although there are small sections of critiques prevalent in every ethnic, social and racial group, the same problem is identifiable in the Christian community. The tragedy comes when specific Christian individuals misconstrue science to influence others and Scripture to betray sanctity of loving your neighbor.

When approaching the topic of vaccination, Christians should always approach with health questions to ensure the information is credible and trustworthy. Unfortunately, trust is the missing component and this mistrust derives from conspiracy theories online or the authority held by some pastors, like Guillermo Maldonado and the U.S. Conference Catholic of Bishops, who discourage the vaccine.

In their Feb. 24 Washington Post article, Russell Moore and Will Kim offered examples of how evangelical and Christian hesitations derive from conspiracy theories, racial fears and misinformation. They stated that some Black evangelicals recall the Tuskegee experiment – an unethical experiment by the CDC to observe untreated syphilis – that perpetuates racial injustice fears. Some Roman Catholics believe aborted fetus cells are in the vaccine. Other conspiracy theorists believe that COVID-19 is a planned pandemic or that the vaccine was produced by Bill Gates and contains a microchip – which is the Mark of the Beast.

Although most of these discussions remain online, this misbelief is starting to be recognized by Christians leaders, who are starting to encourage other believers through faith and science to take the vaccine. In its January Evangelical Survey, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) reported “an overwhelming majority (95%) of evangelical leaders” would receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and 89% of evangelical leaders would encourage their congregation to take the vaccine.

Will Kim, NAE president, understands the concerns about some minor side effects from the vaccine but encouraged “a careful look at the science behind the vaccines [to be] convincing and the Christian ethic to love is compelling.”

In 1 Timothy 5:23, the apostle Paul abruptly interjects and commands to Timothy about drinking “a little wine” to help his stomach and “frequent illness.” Timothy abstained drinking wine to be an example for the church but led to him becoming ill frequently. Yet Paul encouraged him to take up some wine to aid his health and displayed the fundamental aspect of loving your neighbor through their health struggles.

Paul and Jesus preached about loving your neighbor through your actions, thoughts, services and behaviors, but the challenge comes from knowing what is loving your neighbor and maintaining those habits consistently. Instead of searching for the anti-Christ, Christians should focus on finding Jesus Christ through hard times. Therefore, love your neighbors by limiting the spread of the coronavirus, wear your mask in large groups, maintain social distance protocol and receive the vaccine.

Correction: A prior edition of this article had listed Will Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, as Walter Kim. Kim’s name has been corrected.