When COVID-19 first arrived in late 2019, it was barely a blink in anyone’s eye. Over months, the virus spread globally until the world had to shut down. Businesses boarded up, employees transitioned to work from home, schools turned to virtual learning experiences. Lives have been permanently changed as over 600,000 individuals in the U.S. have lost their lives to a virus. After nine months of the scientific community shifting to focus almost all research on the deadly virus, companies were able to to develop vaccines that were approved for emergency use. Doctors thought the answers to their problems had arrived.
But another nine months have passed and the numbers are still increasing. New variants have emerged and families are continuing to lose loved ones — all because people refuse to get the vaccine. Currently, around 90 million people who are eligible for the vaccine have refused to get it. Christians, in particular, lead the numbers in refusing to get vaccinated, with reports showing that 36% of all Protestants stated that they would not get the vaccine.
The reasons for refusing the vaccine range from concerns about how safe the vaccine is—especially when it comes to long-term effects (though scientists have addressed this endlessly)—to legitimate health reasons as to why they cannot receive the vaccine. The CDC’s guidance has been confusing since it changes as the virus is further researched. And America has a muddled history when it comes to marginalized communities being part of medical studies.
The vaccine has also been seen as a political issue. Getting the vaccine can be seen as aligning with the Democratic party, leaving many Republicans nervous to get the vaccine. Christians, in particular, have gone the religious route and claimed that receiving the vaccine is a lack of faith and everyone just needs to trust God to be healed.
And still others rely on unfounded and dangerous reasonings. Despite no evidence to this claim, many refuse the vaccine because they believe they would be microchipped by the government. People have had concerns the vaccine is actually how COVID-19 is transmitted. Some believers even claimed the vaccine is the mark of the beast.
Despite the online theories spreading around, the vaccine is actually not the enemy. In fact, there are many reasons why Christians should be first in line to receive the vaccine.
An Answered Prayer
For many believers and doctors, the vaccine is part of an answered prayer.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, sees vaccines as a gift from God. “If God gave us the gift of being able to understand viruses and the immune system, and be able to use that information to develop something that’s going to save hundreds of thousands of lives, doesn’t that seem like something that God has provided for us as a way of protecting us?”
Collins, a respected physicist-geneticist and Christian, has spent the last few years working with specialists to develop a safe and available COVID-19 vaccine. When vaccines became available last December, he felt as if he could finally take a deep breath.
“It seemed like this was something everybody would run to embrace,” Collins said. “Yet, obviously, it’s been a little more complicated than that.”
Many well-believing Christians have prayed for an answer and end to the pandemic. But while many Christians are waiting for a specific way for God to move in this pandemic, Collins believes God has already given His answer.
“It seems to me that when God does answer prayer, it is often through the works of other of God’s children, and in this case, I think one can make a very good argument that the successful vaccines are part of the answer to that prayer.”
Collins has worked and spoken with faith leaders throughout the pandemic to address Christians’ concerns about the safety and importance of the vaccine. In one instance, he spoke with Franklin Graham about the parable of the Good Samaritan. In their discussion, they pointed to the idea that the Good Samaritan used “medicine of the time” in the form of torn cloths for bandages and oil to wounds.
“He administered medicine to him,” Collins states. “We were supposed to notice that. I think that should always be a consideration when people of faith are looking for answers to medical problem. Doesn’t that mean you kind of count on the doctors to be part of that answer? Why is this any different?”
Loving Your Neighbor
The greatest commandment Christ gives us is to love God. The second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does loving your neighbor look like in the midst of a pandemic? It looks a lot like laying aside your opinions and thinking of others first. There’s a good chance you won’t die from COVID, as most people can make it through. But not everyone has the same chance as you.
“You particularly have to think about kids under 12, who can’t be vaccinated, and about people who have cancer and for whom the vaccine basically doesn’t take because their immune systems are already impaired or somebody who has a kidney transplant,” Collins explained. “It’s up to all of us, by finding a way to keep the virus at bay, to protect them. And if you choose not to do that you’re contributing to their risk in a fashion that doesn’t sound like loving your neighbor.”
Biblical scholar Beth Moore has been one of many religious leaders urging Christians to get vaccinated. In August, she took to her Twitter to beg believers to love their neighbor by getting vaccinated.
Stare in the face what some of you are saying:
MY RIGHTS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR LIFE. SORRY, NOT SORRY.
If you’re not going to get vaccinated, for the love of God, PUT ON A MASK IN PUBLIC PLACES WITH VULNERABLE PEOPLE.
Go ahead & unfollow me. I don’t care. FOLLOW JESUS.
— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) August 10, 2021
“For all our Jesus-talk, where on the ever loving earth is our Jesus-walk?” Moore questioned. “Jesus wasn’t playing when he called us to a whole different ethic from the world. We’re not loud mouth boasters. We’re servants. We SERVE.”
Moore’s plea echoes Philippians 2:3-4, which spells out exactly how we are supposed to be loving our neighbors in this critical time: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Loving your neighbor means getting a vaccine to help save even just one person’s life. At the very least, loving your neighbor means wearing a mask if you still refuse to get vaccinated.
Faith Over Fear
“It’s well documented that the false information spreads more rapidly than the truth does,” Collins said when speaking about the talk that has spread to the far corners of the Internet.
He has spent his career trying to get others to see that science and faith are “wonderfully complimentary and harmonious.” He has written books like The Language of God about the connection between faith and science, and founded BioLogos, an organization that distributes research articles and videos addressing falsehoods about science and Christianity.
“There’s so much misinformation floating around on the Internet that I think many people have gotten confused and troubled, and wondering, ‘Is this really something I want to take advantage of for myself and my family?’ I think it’s particularly been true for evangelical Christians who have had lots of information thrown at them that makes it sound like maybe this is not really something they would want to do. And for me, as an evangelical Christian, that’s particularly hard to see.”
Throughout the pandemic, BioLogos has released countless articles and videos addressing common misunderstandings about COVID-19. The videos are thoughtful and worth your time, especially if you are someone struggling with getting the vaccine because of what you’ve heard.
As with everything on the Internet, you shouldn’t always believe what you read. But Collins and other scientists like him are working diligently to bring life back to normal. Despite the online conspiracies, they don’t want this pandemic to continue. They don’t want individuals to live in constant fear. On the contrary, Collins faith propels him to search for truth.
“Science is a gift from God, that we were given intelligence and the ability to be curious, to find out how things work in this universe that we’ve been given,” Collins states. “Why would that not be an appropriate activity, even a form of worship — after all, what are we doing? We’re uncovering the mysteries of what the Creator has given us.”
Fear had a big year in 2020, and it’s continued to have a big year in 2021. Misinformation and “online research,” a.k.a. reading an unverified Facebook post from your high school friend you haven’t spoken to in years, have caused fear to flourish. But as people of faith, Christians are called to walk in confidence of the wisdom given to us. Scientists like Collins have been given wisdom from God. So why are Christans having such a hard time walking in faith?
The Time is Now
As the rest of Americans have steadily received the vaccine, Christians are slowly coming around to it (and I do mean slowly). The Delta variant, encouragement from faith leaders and the recent approval from the F.D.A. has pushed hesitant believers to get vaccinated. But time is running out for many individuals.
In Texas, Judge Clay Jenkins put it grim terms: “In Dallas, we have zero ICU beds left for children …Your child will wait for another child to die.” Hospitals are filling up and nurses are worn out with seeing patient after patient die due to lack of proper resources.
There are 90 million eligible Americans who have refused to get the vaccine. Most of them will make a full recovery if they get the virus. But not all. And the longer we wait, the more people will surely die.
Collins describes our current situation like this: “You know the story about the guy who was caught in a flood and he is praying to God to save him so that his house won’t wash away and he won’t drown. And he’s praying and nothing’s happening. So he looked out the window and, here comes somebody in a boat, and they call out to the guy and say, ‘Hey, come on, get in the boat. The water’s still rising.’ The guy says, ‘No, no, no, God will save me. I’m going to be fine. Go on. Find somebody else to help.’
“Well, the water keeps rising, up to the second floor, comes by another boat. ‘Hey, we can help you. ‘No, no, no. God will save me.’ Up to the roof, a helicopter comes by, ‘Hey sir, you’d better come on our helicopter now because the water’s still rising.’ He’s like, ‘No, no, you don’t need to help me. God will take care of me. I’ve prayed about it.’ Water keeps rising, the guy drowns. He’s up in heaven. And he’s saying to St. Peter, ‘What happened? I prayed for God to rescue me. And he didn’t answer. I shouldn’t be here.’ St. Peter goes, ‘Well, we sent three answers to your prayer and you turned them all down.’ That’s a little bit like the vaccine story.”
We are in the midst of a flood, and there is a way out of this. God is providing an answer to the world’s prayers. What will their response be?