Not far from my house, there’s a United Methodist church with a marquee that has projected a simple message for months: STAY SAFE. GET VACCINATED.
Every time I see it, I’m reminded that while the outrageous statements and antics of vaccine-denying, conspiracy theory-promoting clergy capture headlines, they, thankfully, don’t represent the majority of the leaders of America’s religious community.
COVID-denying clergy have been with us from the start of the pandemic. They insisted on keeping their houses of worship open when governors were issuing stay-at-home orders. Some of their in-person services became super-spreader events. When vaccines became available, they told their congregants not to get shots – and they’re still at it.
Many, but not all, of these resistors are conservative evangelicals. As we’ve noted on this blog, their short-sighted behavior has prolonged the agony for all of us. We have – and we will continue – to call them out.
But it’s also important to acknowledge the hard work being done, often outside the spotlight, by members of the clergy who are urging vaccines and supporting sound science. I’m thinking of pastors like this one in a rural area of Maryland who’s working to educate a skeptical population. I’m thinking of the Orthodox Jewish rabbis who have made videos urging vaccinations. I’m thinking of the imams in Minnesota who allowed their mosques to be turned into vaccination sites. I’m thinking of Pope Francis and the Catholic clergy who support vaccines and remind their congregants that nothing in church doctrine calls for religious exemptions from the shots. I’m thinking of the pastor who oversees that Methodist church that I often walk by.
This is a country where, for various reasons, some people in our population will listen to a member of the clergy before a scientist. In light of that, religious leaders have a role to play in battling the pandemic. Yes, some have chosen to be reckless and irresponsible, and their disturbing behavior frustrates and angers us. They deserve every ounce of disdain they get.
But let’s remember that plenty of members of the clergy in America and around the world don’t think that way. They’re doing the right thing and telling their flocks that it’s a good idea to roll up their sleeves and take a jab.
For that, we owe them an overdue word of thanks.