DISCLAIMER: As always Covid is real, Covid is serious, and Covid should be treated as such. If you have questions or concerns about the vaccine, the illness, or really any other medical concern, please consult your physician.
As he often does, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer has written a short encouragement for the West Ohio Conference. As is often the case when American Bishops of the United Methodist Church write or speak, my ire is raised. Please read through his statement in full. (source)
The Bishops speaks about vaccines and their importance, including the following: “That said, I want to continue to see access to in-person worship, children present in school and so much more. If these are to continue, we must encourage more people to get vaccinated. The United Methodist Church and individual congregations have influence and have multiple mediums to communicate the importance and safety of vaccines. Let’s use our voice and our facilities to make vaccinations possible for all.” Let me be perfectly clear and blunt here. The United Methodist Church can not even agree what it believes about Jesus, it frankly isn’t equipped to give medical advice. Now, a proper functioning church based in the understanding of Wesleyan faith lived out might be, and perhaps even should be, but we are not that now, and I am not convinced that we ever were. While I did not find the UMC in general, or Bishop Palmer specifically on the list of the current government initiative to vaccinate, (see here) the message is the same. I am exceptionally leery of the times when civil government and the church agree on things, though they are not always bad. I am, as a general rule, opposed to churches stumping for political policies and make no mistake, the moment that numbers were set by the administration, it became a political policy. Here is West Ohio, we are involved in that political effort in a very real way. Let me be clear, when you advance what the state has given you, it is for the benefit and purposes of the state. (see here) This is not about ways to respond, or how best to keep safe, this is information n promoting the vaccination policies of the state. If we wanted a head of state that dictated to the church, we could have stayed Anglican. Yes, the church should, and must, be political. No, the church should never be partisan, and when you parrot an administration, you are very much being partisan.
DISCLAIMER: This is not in support of or in opposition to the vaccine. This is an issue with unnecessary entanglements between the church and the state. Talk to your health care professional and make the choice that is best for you.
I am all for churches being used as vaccination sites for those who choose to get the vaccine. I even think it’s a good idea. The church should be a community resource. I am all for the church encouraging people with medical questions to consult a physician with their questions and concerns and even providing them when necessary. These are actions that serve the community. Promoting the policies of the state are not. As an aside, when those things that are known to be false are spoken, say for example that the mRNA vaccines will rewrite your DNA, or the microchip nonsense, of course you should speak the truth…then direct them to their trusted medical professional.
In his short letter, the Bishop also says: “Let’s stop pitting individual rights against the good of the community. This is a tragic social and theological mistake. Frankly and disappointingly, it is not new.” Allow me to start with the social aspect of this. In the classic liberalism of our founders that our nation has been based on, the smallest unit of the community is the individual. The uniqueness of our nation lies in that very thing combined with the idea that those individuals are born with inherent rights. In a perfect world, those rights would be absolute, but we are not in a perfect world so of course there are limits and I recognize this. The simple idea behind this is that when the rights of the individual are protected, the rights of the whole of the community are protected. This idea is not a tragic social mistake unless you want to argue that the foundations of our governmental system are. If that is your argument, so be it. The reality is that our society is based in individual liberties and freedoms and the simple truth is that means there are risks in it. While all of us want people to make the best possible choices, we are never going to agree what the best choices are. In short, individual rights are not oppositional to the good of the community, they are foundational for the good of the community.
As for the theological mistake, it seems to me that the mistake here is trying to use blame, fear, and guilt as a motivating factor, using societal pressure, in order to bring about the desired effect. Isn’t there enough of that already? When the church sounds the same as the world, isn’t that a sign that perhaps some reexamination is needed? The anger and vitriol toward those who have not been vaccinated is abundantly present already. In effect, Bishop Palmer has blamed those who are unvaccinated for any future issues and I have a hard time taking that too seriously when he will not blame those who hold positions contrary to the United Methodist church, never mind scripture. I am supposed to trust him on medical matters (which are outside his field) when I can not trust him on theological ones, but I digress. If guilt and fear are to be our motivators, then let’s bring on the hellfire and brimstone. I’m ready. Rest assured, I have spoken to the professionals that I trust and will make my medical choice based upon those conversations.
I do agree with the Bishop on one thing though. The United Methodist Church does have have multiple mediums to communicate with people. Let’s use them to communicate Jesus and the Wesleyan way of living instead of unsolicited medical advice and government policy goals.