40% of Evangelical Protestants, America’s largest religious group, hesitate to get COVID-19 vaccine

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination in the United States, posted a photo on Facebook last week of himself receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. He drew over 1,100 comments, many expressing their admiration for the Reverend JD Greear, and many others for the assailant.

Some of the critics questioned whether worshipers would now need “vaccine passports” to enter Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, where Greear is pastor. Others have described the vaccines as satanic or dangerous, or have suggested that Greear was complicit in government propaganda.

The divided reaction highlighted a phenomenon that has become increasingly apparent in recent polls and surveys: Skepticism about vaccines is more prevalent among white evangelicals than almost any other major bloc of Americans.

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In a March poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 40% of white evangelical Protestants said they likely would not get vaccinated, compared to 25% of all Americans, 28% of white Protestants and 27% of non-whites. Protestants.

The results have raised concerns even within evangelical circles. The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 local churches, is part of a new coalition that will organize events, work with the media and disseminate various public messages to build trust among suspicious evangelicals.

“The way to end the pandemic is through the evangelical church,” said Curtis Chang, a former pastor and missionary who founded ChristiansAndTheVaccine.com, the cornerstone of the new initiative, With white evangelicals making up about 20 percent of the U.S. population, immunization resistance by half of them would seriously hamper efforts to achieve herd immunity, Chang argues.

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Many evangelical leaders have spoken out in favor of vaccination, ranging from Dallas mega-church pastor Robert Jeffress to Reverend Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist public policy branch.

Jeffress believes a majority of his congregation at First Baptist Dallas are welcoming vaccines, while some have doubts about their safety or fear they may have links to abortion. Jeffress is one of many religious leaders who say major vaccines are acceptable given their distant indirect links to cell lines developed from aborted fetuses.

Moore expressed hope that SBC pastors would provide “wise advice” to their congregations if members raised questions about vaccinations.

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“These vaccines are a reason for evangelicals to celebrate and give thanks to God,” he said by email. “I have no doubts that pastors and lay members want churches to be full again and the vaccines will help us all get there as soon as possible.”

Other evangelical pastors have hesitated to take a public stand.

Aaron Harris, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City, Kansas, has not discussed the vaccine in the pulpit or decided whether it will be vaccinated.

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“We don’t think this is a Scriptural problem; it’s a personal problem, ”said Harris, who estimates that 50% of the elderly in the congregation have been vaccinated, while fewer younger members plan to do so.

“We shouldn’t be living in fear of the virus because we have faith in eternity. However, just because we are not afraid of it, where is the line of what we need to do?” He asked. “I’m not going to lie down in front of a bunch of alligators to show my faith that way.”

Some Christians say they would rather leave their fate in God’s hands, rather than get vaccinated.

“We’re going to go through times of hardship and all kinds of horrible things, but we always know where we’re going at the end of it,” said Ron Holloway, 75, of Forsyth, Missouri. “And heaven is so much better than here on earth. Why are we fighting to leave here?”

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John Elkins, pastor of the Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria, Texas, about 50 miles south of Houston, said only one person from his SBC congregation of about 50 has been vaccinated.

“We’re in a very libertarian area. There’s a lot of hesitation about anything that seems to come from the federal government,” said Elkins, who is also waiving the vaccine, at least for now, with his wife.

Elkins, whose father was a professor of gynecology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said his followers’ doubts are not based on theology.

“It’s skepticism about the effectiveness,” he said. “People are concerned it was shipped too quickly.”

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Phillip Bethancourt, another Baptist pastor from South Texas, has encouraged his congregation at College Station Central Church to get the vaccine and believes most will. The church has organized a vaccination campaign for staff and volunteers from other churches; 217 people received their first doses on March 22.

“Even people who might be medically skeptical can understand it from a missionary perspective,” he said. “If this helps more people to be able to serve in their church again, so that more children can learn more about Jesus, that is a good thing.”

Bethancourt, former vice-chairman of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission, spoke to worshipers who reject the vaccine and say they are not afraid to die if it is their will. God.

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“The feeling doesn’t bother me at first glance, but there is an inconsistency,” he said. “We don’t take that mindset into other areas of our life, like not wearing a seat belt.”

Chang said that as a former pastor, he understands why some whose congregations are wary of government and vaccines are muzzling rather than risking a backlash if they urge their herd to get vaccinated.

“It’s going to take courage,” he said.

His initiative includes a toolkit for pastors offering suggestions on how to approach – in a Christian setting – the various concerns of evangelical skeptics. They range from the extent of the vaccines’ connection with abortion to whether they represent “the mark of the beast,” a harbinger of the end times prophesied in the book of Revelation of New Testament.

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The Ad Council is a partner in the initiative, known for its iconic public service advertising campaigns such as Smokey Bear and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”.

“We know the important role faith plays in the lives of millions of people across the country,” Advertising Council President Lisa Sherman said, expressing hope the campaign could boost their confidence in vaccines. .

When the vaccines first became available, there was widespread concern that many black Americans would be reluctant to take them due to historical and racist mistrust of government health initiatives. But recent surveys show that black Protestants are more open to vaccinations than white evangelicals.

“This pandemic has hit our community like a plague – and it has made our jobs easier,” said Bishop Timothy Clarke of the First Church of God, a black evangelical church in Columbus, Ohio. “We have done a tremendous job of educating.”

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Associated Press editor Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.