As formerly Confederate states struggle with low vaccination rates and as the Delta variant of coronavirus spreads across America, pastors are stuck between the science of what is best for their flocks and superstitions that their congregants believe.
“Biden administration and state officials hoped that pastors would play an outsized role in promoting Covid-19 vaccines, but many are wary of alienating their congregants and are declining requests to be more outspoken. Politico spoke with nearly a dozen pastors, many of whom observed that vaccination is too divisive to broach, especially following a year of contentious conversations over race, pandemic limits on in-person worship and mask requirements. Public health officials have hoped that more religious leaders can nudge their congregants to get Covid shots, particularly white evangelicals who are among the most resistant to vaccination,” the publication reported Saturday.
“State health officials are conducting informal focus groups and outreach to try to ease pastors’ concerns about discussing vaccination, but progress is often elusive, they said. Many pastors said they have already lost congregants to fights over coronavirus restrictions and fear risking further desertions by promoting vaccinations. Others said their congregations are so ideologically opposed to the vaccine that discussing it would not be worth the trouble,” Politico explained. “The pastors Politico spoke with are located across Virginia and Tennessee, mostly in predominantly white communities. Some in rural areas lead overwhelmingly conservative congregations while some in more suburban areas said their churches were more politically mixed. Each pastor had been vaccinated but not all were eager to discuss it with their congregations.”
Polls have shown white Evangelical Christians are among the groups most opposed to vaccination.
NIH Director Francis Collins worried about the public health implications as some Americans reject vaccines.
“It’s heartbreaking that it’s come to this over something that is potentially lifesaving and yet has been so completely colored over by political views and conspiracies that it’s impossible to have a simple loving conversation with your flock,” Collins told Politico. “That is a sad diagnosis of the illness that afflicts our country, and I’m not talking about Covid-19. I’m talking about polarization, tribalism even within what should be the loving community of a Christian church.”