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Worship encouraged as reply to division over COVID vaccine

WHEATON, Ill. (BP) – Evangelical Christians’ response to division in the church regarding the COVID-19 vaccine should primarily be to worship God, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said Tuesday (April 27) in an online conversation.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Timothy Dalrymple, president of Christianity Today, in a virtual town hall meeting hosted by Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute. Much of the discussion addressed the skepticism by some evangelicals regarding the vaccine.

In recommending Christians’ main answer to the division should be worship, Moore said, “We have a vaccine right now because we have a God who is Creator of the universe.  … [W]e know how to combat a virus and [develop] a vaccine because God has designed this sort of orderly universe.

“And I think we should have a standpoint of gratitude, thanking God for what He has given us and then allowing that to take root.”

The production of the vaccine, Dalrymple told participants in the virtual town hall, gives “extraordinary glory to the creative genius of God to create beings who could themselves create something like this.”

He suggested helping people recognize those who developed the multiple vaccines that have been approved “were equipped by God, given the gifts to develop these. It’s not government. It’s not Big Pharma. It’s men and women using their God-given talents to develop something that serves the world.”

A reason for some skepticism is the “natural distinction” between those who adopt a technology early and those who adopt it late, Moore said. Another is lack of trust, he added. “They don’t often know who to trust, who to listen to.”

The COVID-19 vaccine “weaves together a lot of things that I think people have developed skepticism toward,” Dalrymple said, citing government, science and large pharmaceutical companies. “So that’s part of the obstacle that we need to overcome in building trust.”

To pastors of churches divided over the issue, Moore urged patience with members who are struggling with getting the vaccine. But he also encouraged pastors not to permit the rest of the congregation to be captive to what someone saw on the Internet.

“I think the way to go about it is to differentiate between the people who are just trying to figure things out and people who are trying to divide the congregation one way or the other,” Moore said. “And sometimes what we end up with in any institution is a captivity to whoever feels the most passionate at the moment.

“[T]here’s a way for a pastor to thank God and to celebrate the technology of the vaccine” and talk about vaccination, he said, “while at the same time not putting the people who just aren’t there yet [regarding getting the vaccine] into a situation where they can’t get there.”

Moore recommended pastors talk about how widespread vaccination in a church will enable cancer victims or elderly people to return to corporate worship and again make mission trips possible.

“So I think celebrating those things will probably go a lot further than simply picking apart all the conspiracy theories of the week,” he said.

About 135 million Americans have received at least once dose of a vaccine for a virus that has taken the lives of more than 570,000 people, Collins told town hall participants. It will be critical over the next two months, he said, “to try to get something like 70 to 85 percent of our adults immunized or this could go on a very long time.”

“The only reason that we can get past this will be … if we can get a sufficient number of our nation immunized,” Collins said. People undergoing cancer immunotherapy treatments cannot receive the vaccine because “their immune systems aren’t up to it,” he said. The best way to protect their health is “to provide this blanket of immunity across the whole country.”

An evangelical, Collins told fellow Christians it “really is a love-your-neighbor moment.”

The federal government will not issue a vaccine mandate to Americans, he said.

Moore said pastors and other Christian leaders need to emphasize “this isn’t government forcing you to do something. This is a scientific discovery that is actually freeing us to be able to do things more freely than we’re able to do them right now.”

In developing a vaccine in 11 months, there were “absolutely no corners cut in terms of safety,” Collins said. After being in the middle of the vaccine development for 15 months, Collins said he has never seen the production of a treatment or vaccine that has been conducted “with higher standards of safety and efficacy than this.”

He also addressed concerns about delayed, long-term effects from the vaccine. It is normally difficult to find any such vaccine repercussions after the first couple of months, and no delayed effects have been seen with the COVID-19 vaccines, Collins said.

“For those who are in the wait-and-see mode, and I totally get that, I think you can kind of say at this point you have waited, you have seen, and it looks really good,” he told the online audience.

Among the vaccines approved for use in the United States, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is only one dose. Use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused by the federal government after an unusual blood clotting disorder was detected in 15 people of 8 million who received a dose, Collins said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended use of the vaccine be resumed April 23 with a warning that women under the age of 50 “especially should be aware of the rare risk” of blood clots.

In an online webinar in early December, Moore interviewed Collins about the development of the vaccines before any of the candidates was approved by the FDA.

The conversation was moderated by Jamie Aten, the Humanitarian Disaster Institute’s executive director, and Kent Annan, the institute’s director of humanitarian and disaster leadership. Founded in 2011, the Humanitarian Disaster Institute is the country’s first faith-based academic disaster research center. Wheaton is a Christian school in suburban Chicago.

Video of the town hall is available at https://vimeo.com/542269714.