Christian Nationalists May Extend Our Coronavirus Misery

  Rob Boston

The year 2020 had its share of bad news, but it ended on a bright note when several companies released vaccines to combat the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 350,000 lives in the United States.

True to form, the Trump administration has bungled the initial rollout of the vaccines. President Donald Trump has spent his time threatening state election officials for failing to find ways to cheat for him instead of providing anything like leadership on combating the coronavirus pandemic. We can only hope that the incoming Joe Biden/Kamala Harris administration will change course and spearhead an effective national plan for vaccine distribution.

But as the vaccine becomes widely available, we may face another challenge in reaching herd immunity: anti-science views harbored by Christian nationalists.

A fascinating column by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, co-authors of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, shows what we’re up against.

“Americans have found all sorts of reasons to be suspicious of vaccines,” the two write. “One community that appears disproportionately opposed is Christian nationalists. In fact, we find in a new study that Americans who strongly embrace Christian nationalism – close to a quarter of the population – are much more likely to question the safety of vaccines and to be misinformed about them (e.g., believing that vaccines cause autism or don’t work or that those who administer them are dishonest). If enough of these Americans resist a Covid-19 vaccine based on suspicions rooted in misinformation, the results would be disastrous for achieving herd immunity and reducing the spread of the virus.”

Throughout the pandemic, one of the most discouraging things we’ve seen is Christian nationalist religious leaders simply refusing to be responsible. While the vast majority of America’s clergy did the right thing and either canceled in-person religious services or moved them online, several far-right pastors have either ignored public health orders designed to protect us all or fought them in court. (To be fair, they’ve had support from other faith communities, such as ultra-Orthodox Jews and some Roman Catholic leaders.)

Some Christian nationalists have gone out of their way to endanger communities. Among them are Sean Feucht, an evangelical singer, and former child actor Kirk Cameron, both of whom have been hosting large public events despite stay-at-home orders.

As the Los Angeles Times reported about one Feucht event, “Despite the risks of spreading the coronavirus amid a deadly surge in the pandemic, people could be seen standing shoulder to shoulder while jumping, singing and shouting in a video posted by Feucht’s Instagram account. Most in the crowd did not wear face coverings.”

As part of their study, Whitehead and Perry surveyed a sample of people nationwide to gauge their attitudes toward vaccines. They also asked several questions to determine participants’ level of support for Christian nationalist ideology and then cross-tabulated the results.

What they found is disturbing: “Americans who agreed with the various measures of Christian nationalism were much more likely to espouse anti-vaccine attitudes, even after controlling for other influences, such as political party, political ideology, religiosity, race or even education.”

As we’ve noted in Church & State and on this blog, Christian nationalists have waged war against reality since the pandemic erupted. They’ve denied its severity, resisted common-sense recommendations such as mask-wearing, embraced magical thinking and spread conspiracy theories.

We’ve now reached the first sign of real hope – the creation of effective vaccines – and Christian nationalists seemed poised to stand in the way of progress yet again.

P.S. AU has been working to oppose the machinations of Christian nationalists in courts, in legislative chambers and in the arena of public opinion. Your support will help us continue this important work. 

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