It’s pretty well known that some of the people most hesitant to get vaccinated against Covid are evangelical Christians. In the NYT article below (click on screenshot), two of them do a good thing, urging their fellow evangelicals to get their jabs. Here’s a plot showing that while Jews and white Catholics are pretty down with getting their shots, Protestants, particularly white evangelical and Hispanic ones, are resistant, with fewer than half being “accepters”. (Evangelicals are also less likely to wear masks.)
Why is this? Chang and Carter explain:
The decision to get vaccinated is essentially a decision to trust institutions. Many people do not understand the vaccines’ scientific complexities, regardless of religion. That means getting immunized is a decision to trust “them” — the constellation of scientific and government institutions offering assurances that the vaccines are safe and effective.
But American evangelicals are historically prone to ambivalence toward dominant secular institutions. In fact, a posture of critical evaluation is built into the fabric of our faith. Evangelicals interpret Jesus’ teaching that his followers are in the world but not “of the world” (John 17:16) to mean we should engage with secular institutions with a certain measure of wariness. Some amount of caution is healthy for all communities, not just for evangelicals. No institution is infallible, and critical thinking can be a civic virtue.
What ever happened to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s“? For surely the vaccine is Caesar’s!
But there are other reasons as well:
Unfortunately, in recent years, the evangelical approach to engaging with secular institutions has morphed from caution into outright fear and hostility. Three forces have exploited this inherent ambivalence toward secular institutions. First, conservative media has mastered the art of sowing evangelical suspicion of the establishment to increase ratings. Second, politicians — some Christian and some not — have used evangelicals’ distrust of so-called elite institutions to gain our votes. Third, conspiracy movements such as QAnon and antivaccine campaigns have targeted evangelicals, conjuring fictional enemies intent on destroying our values and, in the case of the vaccines, our actual bodies. All of these forces shape how large segments of the evangelical community perceive the Covid vaccines.
In our vaccination outreach, evangelicals have told us they’re suspicious of the shots for a variety of reasons. Many worry that the development process was rushed, that the vaccines contain a microchip or that they are the “the mark of the beast,” a reference from the Book of Revelation that some Christians associate with a future Antichrist figure. A sharpened distrust of institutions underlies these fears.
But did you note the explanation above, which I’ll repeat:
In fact, a posture of critical evaluation is built into the fabric of our faith. Evangelicals interpret Jesus’ teaching that his followers are in the world but not “of the world” (John 17:16) to mean we should engage with secular institutions with a certain measure of wariness. Some amount of caution is healthy for all communities, not just for evangelicals. No institution is infallible, and critical thinking can be a civic virtue.
You can already see the dissonance here, and I’ll quote reader Philip, who sent me this link, who has a few questions:
As if critical thinking and “critical evaluation” (based on rational evidence and the desire to acquire it) constitute the foundation of evangelical skepticism. Does he include “The Church” in his “No institution is infallible . . . .”? Would he tell evangelicals that? And when is critical thinking not a civic virtue?
The first sentence, “In fact, a posture of critical evaluation is built into the fabric of our faith” evoked a guffaw, if not a horse laugh. True critical evaluation by evangelical Christians would lead to the disappearance of the faith, if for no other reason than no Christian, evangelical or otherwise, if sufficiently critical, could demonstrate that their religion—as opposed to the gazillion others on the planet—is the right one. And if you don’t choose the right one, you’re going to fry for eternity.
Kudos to Chang and Carter for trying; theirs is an admirable though an uphill battle. But they really shouldn’t have claimed that critical evaluation and caution are healthy and “built into the fabric of their faith.”