Rev. Patricia Hailes Fears, pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church in Washington, is administered with the COVID-19 vaccine during a gathering of a group of interfaith clergy members, community leaders and officials at the Washington National Cathedral, to encourage faith communities to get the COVID vaccine. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Split Between Anti-Vaxxer Theology and Vaxxer Theology

Contribution by Linda Seger, ThD

Another person I know recently died of Covid. He was not vaccinated, nor are any of his family. My teenage grand-nephew also now has Covid. None of his family is vaccinated. Several of my friends refuse to get the vaccine. All of these are white conservative Evangelical Christians.

One of the largest groups of the unvaccinated are conservative Evangelical Christians. Why is that?

Evangelicals focus on individual salvation. “Narrow is the way which leads unto life and few are they that find it,” says Matthew 7:14. Evangelicals interpret this verse as a call for each of us to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior which secures our place in Eternal Life. This easily leads to a theology that protects and emphasizes individual rights and responsibilities, sometimes to the detriment of community rights and responsibilities.

Most of us who are Christians believe Christ is our Savior, but Progressive Christians expand this idea into our communal responsibility. We follow the thousands of commands in the Bible to care for the poor and the needy and the disenfranchised and the marginalized and the outcast and the widows and the orphans. This is not a call only for us as individuals, but there are over 500 verses in the Bible that call a Nation to do justice and show mercy and to care for the poor and the needy and the oppressed. A nation will be judged by whether that nation follows this command. (Isaiah 10, 25, Psalm 72, Jeremiah 2, 5, 7, 22, etc.)

Our relationship as Progressive Christians usually begins on an individual level, but the Holy Spirit moves us into society to also care for others. This care includes the health of other individuals, the health of God’s creation, equality, and respect for all. We are commanded to love our neighbor and for many of us, that means doing all we can to keep them safe. We have a social and a political responsibility. Of course, we’re going to get vaccinated and try to protect ourselves and to protect others. It’s part of our theology. Many churches have mask mandates because they know that masks can help us from getting sick. Many churches sponsor vaccination clinics. We try to get good information out to others. And we don’t believe in testing God and demanding that if we get sick, God must heal us. We try not to be stupid enough to get a preventable disease.

This individual focus often leads to the individual feeling victimized by others. Evangelicals are part of a special tribe that are walking the narrow path, and many of them talk about feeling persecuted. They don’t seem to understand how others are also victimized. If they hear the phrase “black lives matter,” they immediately reply, “All lives matter,” diminishing their responsibility to help erase racism. If they hear a comment that women need to be equal, they remind us about Ephesians 5 – interpreting this to mean that women are to submit to the man.

Our responsibility does not stop at the individual level and it doesn’t stop at the ballot box. We vote our values because we want everyone to have the same rights and we want to equalize the playing field rather than bow down to wealth and privilege. For so many of us, we can not understand the resistance to what we see as a gift from God. How can anyone stand by and watch the numbers of people being sick and dying without wanting to prevent this? We must care about the whole community, and about the whole world.

In 2004, a number of Evangelicals published a paper called “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility”. It was a call to Evangelicals because they did not seem responsive to recognizing their call to social responsibility and social justice. One of the signers of that paper, Dr. Russell Moore, has since left the Southern Baptist Convention specifically because of this lack of care for the broader community and their pro-Trump and anti-vaccination stands. Other high-profile Evangelicals have also left, such as Beth Moore, because of similar stands.

How long will this sick theology continue? What can we do as Progressive Christians to respond to the call from Christ to care for and love our neighbors as ourselves?

Submitted by Dr. Linda Seger. Dr. Seger is a CDA advisory board member and author of “Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Millions of Christians Are Democrats.”