French President Emmanuel Macron recently made headlines for suggesting— using a vulgar French term— a new strategy for “encouraging” the unvaccinated to get the jab. Essentially, he called for making the lives of the unvaccinated so miserable that they would change their minds about the vaccine, stating that he could no longer put up with the unvaccinated infringing on the freedoms of others. When he experienced pushback in response to the use of vulgar language, he defended his choice: “When some make from their freedom … a motto, not only do they put others’ lives at risk, but they are also curtailing others’ freedom. That I cannot accept. When you are a citizen you must agree to do your civic duty.” [Associated Press, January 7, 2022]
I completely agree. With all of it.
In a recent conversation with one of my parishioners, the topic of one of his adult children came up— not for the first time. She is unvaccinated, despite the advice and counsel of her parents, the CDC, etc. Her spouse is also not vaccinated. And, all of their friends are not vaccinated and, I was told, most of the large church community of which they are part. Covid has run rampant in this group, but they are all young adults and no one has become seriously ill. But, they continue to refuse vaccination and use the contracting of the illness as a sort of vaccine equivalent— instead of understanding that they are now part of a very big problem, as they actively contribute to mutations of the virus, providing willing hosts, allowing the virus to run rampant.
Freedom over responsibility to community. What would Jesus do? What would Jesus say?
When “What Would Jesus Do,” or WWJD, was a “thing”— when was that?— I didn’t get caught up in asking that question at every juncture of life. Yet, somehow, it’s a question that I now find often in my mind when I think of the unvaccinated, especially those unvaccinated who are connected to Christian churches. What would Jesus do? What would Jesus say to them?
There’s a big part of me that thinks (hopes?) Jesus would say something along the lines of the French President. Perhaps he wouldn’t used a vulgar French term, but the Jesus I know would not be sympathetic to those who continue to refuse to participate in something that will so clearly benefit the community at large, including their own church subset of the larger community. I can’t help but hear Jesus offering chastising words, declaring the science of vaccination as a wonderful gift to humanity. In the face of so much human devastation, why would anyone reject it?
Jesus is generally understood as a nice guy— compassionate, gentle, loving. But, Jesus had his angry moments:
John 9:39: Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
Matthew 18:2-6: He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Luke 13:15, after he was criticized for healing a woman on the Sabbath: But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?”
That we are experiencing a lurching back into earlier days of the pandemic, hunkering down, limiting contact, wearing masks everywhere, I just want to scream at those who have chosen not to vaccinate, those who have chosen to practice “freedom” over responsibility to community. And, I find myself especially angry at those who, like the daughter of my parishioner, are part of Christian communities that refuse to recognize the damage they are causing to the wider community.
How in the world have we come to this place where large groups of people who claim to worship Christ, are actually worshiping something that is not Christ-like at all? What sort of mental gymnastics are required to think that Christ, in the midst of pandemic, would teach individual freedom over the health and well-being of the community— the church community and the community in which that church exists?
Old South is a largely vaccinated community (we have a couple of people who have not been vaccinated because of age or health complications). In our conversations about how we should worship and gather, there is a strong commitment to each other, to the community of which we are part, and the community beyond. Many of our conversations include discussions concerning our sense of responsibility to loved ones as well as a call to do whatever we can to lessen the demands on our local healthcare system. There is an acute awareness of relationship, connectedness and responsibility. And, in that awareness is the kernel of truth found in the Greatest Commandment and its companion:
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Whether my anger at the unvaccinated is righteous or not, I think it’s clear enough that many Christians are not actually practicing the teachings of the religion to which they cling. I would like to think that Jesus would not only encourage vaccination, but pointing out the misery that the unvaccinated have so recklessly and foolishly brought to so many, He would teach that it is mandated by the Greatest Commandment,