Tuesday Conversations S1E18 [AUDIO]: As Omicron Surges, A Personal Reflection about Vulnerable People and Unvaccinated White Evangelicals
And new OP-ED: Most Americans set a high bar for religious exemptions to vaccination mandates.
Happy Tuesday, everyone. I hope this finds you safe and well, especially amid the troubling news that the highly-contagious omicron variant is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S. Given this news, I’m breaking from the normal Tuesday format, focusing today’s edition on new COVID-19 related data recently released by PRRI and IFYC—including a new op-ed at RNS/The Washington Post and an appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition. I’m concluding with a personal reflection on vulnerable populations and unvaccinated white evangelicals.
Bracing for the Omicron Surge
Here’s the news from where I am. Over the last 14 days—even though two-thirds of the Washington, D.C., population is fully vaccinated—new COVID-19 cases are up over 120%, with record-breaking daily case rates. The city has just reinstituted an indoor mask mandate, and we at PRRI are pushing off, yet again, a much-anticipated planned return to our downtown offices.
The omicron variant hasn’t fully spread to the southern states yet, but it’s only a matter of time. I’m bracing myself for the news that may be coming from places like Mississippi, where much of my extended family and many close friends still live, and where the vaccination rate currently stands at only 48%.
The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on the Elderly and People of Color
As we hit the grim milestone of 800,000 American deaths—far surpassing the estimated 650,000 deaths from the 1921 influenza pandemic—we continue to see the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations and people of color. About three quarters of all pandemic-related deaths were among Americans over the age of 65. To put that into perspective, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 1 in 100 American seniors.
The pandemic also continues to disproportionately impact people of color, according to CDC data. Adjusted for age, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans are each approximately twice as likely as white non-Hispanic Americans to die from COVID-19. Looking at this another way, Black people account for 22.1% of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths despite only comprising 12.8% of the population.
Americans Set a High Bar for Religious Exemptions [OP-ED]
With these new outbreaks, we’re likely to see additional vaccination mandates, and, in response, religious exemption claims. Two weeks ago, in partnership with IFYC, PRRI released the third wave of our Religion and the Vaccine Survey, which casts clarifying light on public opinion about these issues.
My friend Eboo Patel and I have a new op-ed up at Religion News Service/The Washington Post that gives some guidance about how leaders might use the public opinion data to calibrate a religious exemption policy that respects religious liberty while protecting public health.
Six in 10 Americans (60%) — including majorities of every major religious group except white evangelical Protestants — believe there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine…. For most Americans, the legitimacy of religious objections to COVID-19 vaccination mandates rests on how consistent the current claim is with a person’s previous actions.
You can read the full column below.
Anger Toward the Unvaccinated Surges [NPR AUDIO]
Eboo and I also had the opportunity to appear on NPR’s Morning Edition to talk about the anger among the growing majority of Americans who are vaccinated toward vaccine refusers. Listen in below.
If you missed it, here’s my take from two weeks ago on anger and Advent this year.
A Personal Reflection about Vulnerable Populations and Ongoing Vaccine Refusal among White Evangelicals
Earlier this week, I heard a medical expert on NPR giving simple advice for holiday gatherings: Make your holiday arrangements with the most vulnerable person in the group in mind.
In the Southern Baptist church in which I grew up, such a sentiment would have been right at home, and could have, I imagine, even garnered a hearty “Amen!” if spoken by a pastor or Sunday school leader. But in the upside-down world white evangelicalism has become, the willingness to act in self-sacrificial ways for the sake of vulnerable others—even amid a global pandemic—has become rare, even antithetical, to an aggressive, rights-asserting white Christian culture.
In the most recent PRRI/IFYC Religion and the Vaccine Survey, white evangelicals remain the most vaccine resistant of any major religious group, with one quarter (25%) refusing vaccination (compared to only 13% of the country). And these refusal rates are not all tied to theological objections. Only 13% of white evangelicals say the teachings of their religion prohibit receiving a vaccine, a rate comparable to the general public (10%).
Strikingly, the evidence suggests churches and pastors are the heart of the problem. White evangelicals who attend religious services regularly are twice as likely as less frequent attenders to be vaccine refusers (30% vs. 15%). If ever there were clear evidence of a massive abdication of pastoral responsibility and leadership, this is it.
In my own extended family, I’ve seen repeated vaccination appeals from elderly members with underlying health conditions flatly rejected by younger healthy members who are also blithely foregoing masks and social distancing—all while happily attending their evangelical church. There is no cognitive dissonance. There is no hint of awareness that their actions are a mockery of the central biblical injunction to care for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the vulnerable among us.
While Southern Baptists have always had massive blindspots—created in part by self-righteous, arrogant claims to be the exclusive bearers of the Truth—there is a hardening I see today among many white evangelicals that is unrecognizable to me, even against the backdrop of the conservative churches of my youth.
It’s important to say this straight. This refusal to act to protect the vulnerable—particularly because of the low personal costs involved—is raw, callous selfishness. Exhibited by people I love, it is heartbreaking. Expressed by people who claim to be followers of Jesus, it is maddening.
A Holiday Offer — Personalized Signed Copy of White Too Long to First 12 New Paid Subscribers
Due to high demand—thank you to all who have purchased the book—and supply chain issues, the paperback edition of #WhiteTooLong is out of stock at Amazon. But it remains available at Barnes & Noble here.
During December, I’m also making paperback copies available from my author stacks to the first 12 people who sign up for a paid annual subscription or gift an annual gift subscription ($50 level) to my #WhiteTooLong newsletter.
All content continues to be free, but paid subscriptions are a way to to support my writing in this space. Just sign up at the link below, and if you’re one of the first 12, I’ll email you to get delivery details.
*To those who have responded—thank you! There are a few copies left….