As of this morning, more than 785,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. To put that number into perspective, consider that about 620,000 men died in combat during the Civil War, and there were more than 405,000 U.S. battlefield deaths during World War II.
This is a serious virus, and we’re not done with it yet. A new variant, omicron, has surfaced in several nations, and doctors aren’t sure yet how serious it will be or how rapidly it will spread.
Yet despite this sobering picture, white conservative evangelicals continue to live in a state of denial. Nearly two years since the virus was first detected and despite the alarming death toll, many pastors and self-proclaimed prophets are still telling their flocks to avoid vaccines and are promoting conspiracy theories.
Last week, Marcus Lamb, CEO of Daystar Television Network, the nation’s second-largest Christian network, died of COVID. Lamb used his network as a forum for anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists. Shows on the network also promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine, which studies show is ineffective against the virus.
While hosting one program, Lamb urged his viewers to do their own research instead of listening to experts. Daystar gave a platform to various cranks and crackpots, including America’s Frontline Doctors, a fringe anti-vaccination group. Even now, Daystar’s website sells an eight-part DVD series titled “Vaccines: The Unauthorized Truth.” Its description reads, “The truth behind these pills and injections along with the police-state protections they enjoy may be one of the most shocking revelations of the modern era.” Daystar’s site remains littered with other anti-vaccine nonsense.
After Lamb fell ill with the virus last month, his family members blamed the sickness on Satan.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a spiritual attack from the enemy,” Lamb’s son, Jonathan, said on the air Nov. 23. “As much as my parents have gone on here to kind of inform everyone about everything going on to the pandemic and some of the ways to treat COVID – there’s no doubt that the enemy is not happy about that. And he’s doing everything he can to take down my Dad.”
Some people might be tempted to shrug, saying Lamb got what he deserved. But this isn’t about Lamb or even one network that chose to operate as a font of misinformation. It’s about an entire right-wing evangelical subculture that has turned its back on science and embraced irrationality – mainly for political reasons. (Although it is difficult to “own the libs” when you are dead.)
And it’s about the fact that no one – not even their coreligionists – will call them to account. After Lamb’s death, Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein noted that the evangelical leaders who mourned his passing didn’t bother to point out that his death at age 64 was entirely preventable.
“Absent was a painful truth: Lamb had led his global Christian network, Daystar, for months in spreading inaccurate information about coronavirus vaccines and instead promoting treatments that are not proven remedies,” Boorstein wrote.
Elsewhere in the article she added, “But the silence and unanswered questions by some Christian leaders, as well as Lamb’s family and network, sit atop what some experts say is a deep base of politics, conspiratorial thinking and a skepticism of anything that appears secular. And that makes frank discussion of Daystar’s activism against vaccines, even in the face of death, unlikely.”
This same toxic mix of far-right politics and conspiracy theories led conservative evangelicals to insist that their churches should be able to operate during stay-at-home orders. It led them to decline vaccines at higher rates than everyone else. It leads them now to go about their daily businesses unvaxxed, unmasked and unfazed by facts, putting all around them at risk.
Apparently, not even the death of one of their own can shake their consciences. One wonders what, exactly, it will take?
(Photo: Screenshot of Marcus Lamb)