As COVID-19 vaccination rates slowed this spring, Americans’ attention turned toward the groups less likely to get the shot, including white evangelicals.
Black Protestants were initially among the most skeptical toward the vaccine, but they grew significantly more open to it during the first few months of the year, while white evangelicals’ hesitancy held steady.
With African Americans, many credit robust campaigns targeting Black neighborhoods, launching vaccination clinics in Black churches, and convening discussions featuring prominent Black Christian voices for reducing rates of hesitancy. So for those eager to see higher levels of vaccination, the question became: Are white evangelical leaders doing enough to engage their own?
The latest poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research organization focused on health issues, found that as of the end of April, white evangelicals (54%) were about as likely to have received the COVID-19 vaccine as the country overall (56%).
The difference comes with the attitudes among the unvaccinated. White evangelicals are half as likely as Americans overall to say they plan to get the shot ASAP, and 20 percent say they definitely won’t be getting the shot, 7 percentage points lower than the rest of the country.
Most evangelical churches in the country span a range of perspectives on vaccination, which makes it difficult for pastors to know when or how to address the topic.
“I know pastors who won’t even mention masks because people would leave. I’d say vaccines are even more sensitive,” said Dan DeWitt, who directs the Center for Biblical Apologetics and Public Christianity at Cedarville University. “Pastors feel so constrained. They want to take care of their people, but they know one careless comment could cost them.”
The issues dividing the country in 2020 divided churches too. While pastors tried to adapt worship services and continue to provide spiritual care for the suffering and mourning, congregational disputes over politics, racial issues, and COVID-19 responses spiked. Church leaders fielded complaints for being too cautious or not cautious enough, with members threatening to leave or simply making the move over reopening plans.
After a year like that, some don’t feel comfortable publicly endorsing or rejecting the shot; maybe they would if tensions weren’t so high. Even pastors who personally trust the vaccine and would recommend it may worry that it’s not their topic to preach on or that doing so would unsettle their congregation.
Curtis Chang, the former pastor and Fuller Theological Seminary senior fellow behind ChristiansAndtheVaccine.com, says pastors are in a tough position. “They’re really stuck. They’re feeling paralyzed and muzzled,” he said. He challenges them to think beyond Sunday sermons to other ways to engage the issue.
Chang’s site and campaign offer a slate of informative videos for Christians and for pastors in particular. His message to those leading evangelical congregations: “Don’t feel like you need to preach on this from the pulpit. Look for other subtle ways to exercise your influence.”
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Source: Christianity Today