Susan Campbell (opinion): Jesus would vax, dammit

Photo of Susan Campbell
This artwork by Paul Tong refers to the U.S. commitment to increase the supply of COVID-19 vaccine to the rest of the world.
This artwork by Paul Tong refers to the U.S.' commitment to increase the supply of COVID-19 vaccine to the rest of the world.Paul Tong

Christians, can we talk?

(If you’re not a Christian, please stay. Everyone is welcome, but we white evangelicals — some of the most vaccine-hesitant people in the country — need to caucus.)

Christians, nowhere in your Book does it say vaccinations run counter to God’s will, nor is your Book anti-science. Your Book — the part you are charged with following — suggests that your primary commandment is to love people. How does love fit into anti-vax protests? And what is the scriptural reference that supports those protests? (For more on the importance of love, see 1 Cor. 13:13. For more on loving your neighbor, see Mark 12:31.)

In addition, where in your Book do you find backing for vaccine exemptions based on your religion? Because from here in the cheap seats, it looks like you’re faking if you say Jesus wants you to skip the shot. I say that with love. (James 1:26 covers this more fully.)

Last week, the White House set a Jan. 4 deadline for businesses that employ more than 100 people to require either vaccines or weekly testing. Over the weekend, a three-judge panel in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals put a stay on that directive, which was both an expected move and an ignorant one.

A little context might help here: Two of the judges were appointed by the president who lost in November 2020. The third was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. The court is in Louisiana, which has been hit particularly hard by COVID’s Delta variant, with less than half of eligible residents fully vaccinated.

The directive affects roughly 84 million American workers and includes health care employees whose facilities treat Medicare and Medicaid recipients. Fomented by their pastors (the ones who haven’t caught COVID and died), the outcry from evangelicals has been as expected and as ignorant as that of the Fifth Circuit.

It’s a pity that we have allowed an angry, vocal minority to weaken our defense against a killer virus, but such is the nature of democracy. Unlike so many white evangelicals, much of the business community appears to accept this newest mandate, with a few caveats. Some are nervous that the mandate puts them in the role of police officer who must make sure employees do the right thing. Speaking as an academic, I understand that. I do not treasure starting each class with a check of every student’s phone for the app that makes sure they’re symptom-free. But I have folded this chore into my day, as I have folded into my day the wearing of a mask. There are worse things to wear — like, say, a respirator.

If this mandate is upheld — and my money’s on science and that it will be upheld — those who remain non-compliant should lose their jobs, and good riddance to them. I do not understand police officers, teachers and health care workers who talk about freedom and ignore the need to act as if they live in a community during this public health crisis. Favoring personal freedom at the cost of the collective is actually the opposite of Christianity. (We refer in your Bible to stories of the early church, where people shared their possessions with one another and “had everything in common,” Acts 2:44.)

Cheshire’s own state Sen. Rob Sampson was quoted by a local television station calling the federal vaccine mandates “very anti- and un-American policies. They are anti-freedom. They’re anti-science.”

I don’t have a Bible verse for Sen. Sampson, but Gen. George Washington mandated the smallpox vaccine for his troops, who up to then were rendered unable to fight because of the effects of an imminently preventable virus. Some historians credit that vaccine for keeping the troops safe enough to defeat the superior British troops. Washington knew this might not be popular. In 1777, he wrote: “Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the army in the natural way and rage with its usual virulence, we should have more to dread from it than from the sword of the enemy.”

Is George Washington American enough for you?

Perhaps people professing Christianity who seek religious exemptions from the necessary COVID vaccine are sincere. Perhaps they’ve searched their hearts and found Jesus there, telling them not to get the shot, though I doubt it. Whatever the outcome for their souls, I am anxious to see how these newly minted Christians practice their faith besides using it as a shield against science and common sense.

I’ll close with 2 Peter 2:1, a verse about false prophets, false teachers and destructive heresies. Best of luck to my brothers and sisters.

Susan Campbell is the author of “Frog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood,” “Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker,” and “Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl.” She is a distinguished lecturer at the University of New Haven, where she teaches journalism.