A couple of weeks ago, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers made a stop at Nazareth Lutheran Church in Withee to announce the launching of a $100 cash incentive to get vaccinated. Pastor Elizabeth Bier of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) spoke in support of the governor’s initiative.
But also present were protestors who opposed the vaccines. When the press conference concluded, the protestors took their signs and shouts to the street in clear protest of the church and its pastor for supporting the vaccine initiative. Included among the protestors were some of the pastor’s own parishioners.
Church and church-goer response to the vaccines have been remarkable. And varied. Some laughable.
On Sunday morning, September 19, 2021, I read about a mega-church pastor refusing to offer his congregants religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine. My first response was, “Wait, what? There is such a thing?”
Yes, indeed. Apparently, according to the Associated Press (AP), religious exemption letters are being used as a loophole to avoid vaccine mandates.
But the Reverend Robert Jeffress, a Trump-supporting Texas mega-church pastor at the 12,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, said that neither he nor his staff are offering or even encouraging members of their congregation to obtain letters of religious exemption from vaccine mandates.
"Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection," said Jeffress in an email.
What is remarkable about that is Jeffress said in 2016 that he would not vote for a candidate who espoused the teachings of Jesus. “You know, I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’" Jeffress said. "I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation."
He went on, “Government is to be a strongman to protect its citizens against evildoers. When I’m looking for somebody who’s going to deal with ISIS and exterminate ISIS, I don’t care about that candidate’s tone or vocabulary, I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you-know-what I can find -- and I believe that’s biblical.”
But on Sunday, Jeffress said that there is "no credible religious argument" for turning down a shot. That stance was displeasing to the former president and Jeffress was not alone. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said that only medical reasons provide any exemption from the vaccine and "there is no exemption in the Orthodox Church for Her faithful.” In fact, on Thursday, September 16, 2021, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America convened a regular meeting of the Holy Eparchial Synod and declared, “The Holy Eparchial Synod urges the faithful to pay heed to competent medical authorities, and to avoid the false narratives utterly unfounded in science and perpetrated on the Church by those who have succumbed to the disinformation and conspiracy theories that are widely available on social media sites.”
They also added to the Litany of Peace, “For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger and necessity, and from the peril of the coronavirus against us, let us pray to the Lord.
“For our brethren, those who lead the fight against the coronavirus, the doctors, the medical workers and the scientists, let us pray to the Lord.”
The ELCA shares the same view as do the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. The Archdiocese of Rome in New York said that priests who drafted exemptions “acted inconsistently” with Pope Francis’ statement that vaccination was morally acceptable and responsible.
The Colorado Catholic Conference and other catholic bishops, however, have made it easier for parishioners to get religious exemption letters and have even posted them online.
My favorite is the Tulsa pastor who offers religious exemption letters for a “donation.” Anything for a friend for a fee, as they say.
Even though, apparently, televangelist Kenneth Copeland can just blow the COVID away. If it sounds like I’m making fun…I am.
The religious exemption letters have become something of a cottage industry for pastors and would-be ministers. One 24-year-old theology student at Boston University has offered classes on how to get religious exemptions. She said, “We are the majority and we have been silent.”
They have been neither. But the Bible does say that “a child shall lead them.” Yep. Right to the grave.
Get the shot or don’t get the shot. But don’t bring God into it.
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