The Pew Forum on Friday issued an interesting survey about America’s faith communities and the COVID vaccine. The findings challenge some conventional assumptions.
Based on a quick scan of headlines, it would be easy to conclude that vaccine resistance is rampant in our nation’s churches or that houses of worship are being torn apart as pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine factions duke it out. The reality is more nuanced. As the Pew survey notes, a slim majority of Americans (54%) who attend religious services say they haven’t heard their religious leaders talk much about vaccines at all.
But what about those religious leaders who have addressed vaccines from the pulpit? The figures here aren’t even close – a pro-vaccine message dominates.
“[A]mong those who have heard from their clergy on this issue, far more say their priest, pastor, rabbi, imam or other religious leader has encouraged people to get vaccinated (39% of all religious attenders) than say their clergy has discouraged getting the shots (5%),” reported Pew.
This is true even among evangelical Protestants, where, at least in the white evangelical community, resistance to the COVID vaccine remains higher than other religious bodies. Pew notes that only 4% of members of evangelical congregations “say their clergy have discouraged people from getting a vaccine.”
If this is the case, why do vaccine rates in white evangelical communities continue to lag? Evangelicals, like many other Americans who attend religious services, tend to trust their clergy, but, as the Pew survey notes, most evangelicals aren’t hearing anything about vaccines from the pulpit. Among evangelicals, 73% reported not hearing much about vaccines in church. This may be deliberate: The Associated Press reported in August that many religious leaders in the Bible Belt have avoided discussing vaccines from the pulpit because they fear it will be divisive.
Pew reports that historically Black denominations are putting forth pro-vaccine messages, with 64% of attendees saying they’ve heard their pastor encourage shots. So, while Black churchgoers are getting reliable information right in the pews, white evangelicals are not. Therefore, they’re probably relying on other sources for vaccine information – and those sources may be Fox News, Christian nationalist blowhards who spout conspiracy theories, sketchy websites that are anti-vaccine, an ill-informed relative on social media or grandstanding politicians who blather on about a twisted form of “freedom” even as the COVID body count grows.
For several reasons, there’s a disconnect between what white evangelicals are hearing in church and what they ought to be hearing. And given the way this virus works, that, unfortunately, hurts us all.