Christian nationalism is an obstacle to mass vaccination against COVID-19

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While the majority of Americans intend to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have already received their vaccines, getting white evangelicals to vaccination sites can prove more difficult – especially those who identify as Christian nationalists.

A Pew Research Center investigation in February found that white evangelicals were the religious group least likely to say they would be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Almost half (45%) said they would not get the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 30% of the general population.

Some evangelicals have even linked coronavirus vaccinations to the “mark of the beast” – a symbol of submission to the Antichrist found in Bible prophecy, Revelation 13:18.

As a specialist in religion and society, I know that this skepticism among evangelicals has a background. The suspicions of religious conservatives about the COVID-19 vaccine are based on their growing distrust of science, medicine and the global elite.

‘Anti-mask, anti-social distancing, anti-vaccine’

Vaccination hesitation is not limited to COVID-19 vaccination. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that more than 20% of white evangelicals – more than any other group – believed that “parents should be able to decide not to immunize their children, even though doing so can create health risks for their children. ‘other children and adults. . “

Meanwhile, there are fears that many white evangelicals are becoming more radical. Faith in and of itself is not an indication of extremism, but the attack on the Capitol on January 6 showed that there is a problem when it comes to some evangelicals who also have extreme beliefs. White evangelism, in particular, has been sensitive to Christian nationalism – the belief that the United States is a Christian nation that should serve the interests of white Americans.

Those who identify as Christian nationalists believe that they are God’s chosen people and will be protected from all disease.

This is problematic when it comes to vaccinations. A study done earlier this year found that Christian nationalists were much more likely to refrain from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. It builds on research which has found Christian nationalism to be one of the main predictors of ignorance of precautionary behaviors regarding the coronavirus.

Christian nationalists tend to place vaccinations in a worldview that is generally wary of science and scientists as a threat to moral order. This has been seen in the response of many on the religious right to advice on masks and social distancing as well as, now, vaccines.

And in some cases, it has been led by church leaders in the conservative evangelical community at large. For example, Tony Spell, a pastor at Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, defied authorities by organizing mass religious rallies even after the state deemed them illegal. He also dismissed warnings that the pandemic is dangerous, saying: “We are anti-masks, anti-social distancing and anti-vaccine.”

He believes the vaccine is politically motivated and has used his chair to discourage church members from getting the vaccine.

This anti-vaccine attitude corresponds to the anti-government libertarianism that predominates among Christian nationalists. Many within the movement place this belief in free government action within a traditional religious framework.

They think COVID-19 is God’s divinely ordained message telling the world to change. If the government tells them to go against this idea and vaccinate, many of them think they are going against God’s will or that the government is violating their religious freedom.

Such a view was also observed before the deployment of the vaccination. White evangelicals were the religious group least likely to support mandatory business closures, for example.

Counter disinformation

The problem is not only that Christian nationalist beliefs will constitute a considerable obstacle to collective immunity. To dispel myths about the COVID-19 vaccination among conservative religious communities, religious leaders must be enlisted to communicate facts about the vaccine to their parishioners – who may trust religious leaders more than scientists and government .

To increase immunization rates, messages need to come from people you trust in the community. The opinion of a government official will in many cases be much less important to a Christian nationalist than the opinion of a church leader.

As such, I contend that religious leaders can guide their congregants and use their chairs to encourage parishioners to say that the vaccine is safe and conforms to religious doctrines.

To enable this, church leaders must both understand and communicate to parishioners the origins of the vaccine. Many evangelicals have the mistaken impression that vaccines were developed from fresh fetal tissue, and are immensely troubled by this fact.
In fact, none of the COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States were made using new fetal stem cells, but Johnson & Johnson’s was developed using created stem cell lines. in the laboratory and derived from an aborted decades old fetus. Many evangelical churches have determined that it is ethical for anti-abortion Christians to take other vaccines when there are no other life-saving options.

Some within the larger evangelical movement have begun to sound the alarm bells about the influence of radicalized Christian nationalism.

After the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, a coalition of evangelical leaders issued an open letter warning: “We recognize that evangelism, and white evangelism in particular, has been sensitive to the heresy of the Church. Christian nationalism because of a long history of religious leaders accepting white supremacy.

NIH Director Dr Francis Collins, a devout Christian, urged religious leaders to support the immunization program.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

And many high-level evangelical leaders recognize that they can maintain their personal and biblical integrity while supporting scientific breakthroughs by connecting what they see as the wonders of God’s universe with science.

For example, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and devoted evangelical Christian, said, “The church in this time of confusion should be a beacon, a light on the hill, a truth-believing entity. . “

“It’s a great time for the church to say, no matter how well meaning someone’s opinions may be, if they’re not based on fact, the church shouldn’t endorse them.”

[The Conversation’s most important coronavirus headlines, weekly in a new science newsletter.]

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