Missouri church leaders implore congregants: Get vaccinated

In this July 12, 2021 file photo, Dennis Shaffer receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot from Jordan Valley Community Health RN Michelle Butcher at a vaccination clinic.

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — As lead pastor of one of Missouri's largest churches, Jeremy Johnson has heard all the reasons congregants don't want to get the COVID-19 vaccination. He wants them to know it's not only OK to do so but also is what the Bible urges.

Across Missouri, hundreds of pastors, priests and other church leaders are reaching out to urge vaccinations in a state under siege from the delta variant. Health experts say the spread is due largely to low vaccination rates — Missouri lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have initiated shots.

Now, many churches in southwestern Missouri, like Johnson's North Point Church, are hosting vaccination clinics. Meanwhile, more than 200 church leaders have signed onto a statement urging Christians to get vaccinated, and on Wednesday announced a follow-up public service campaign that will include paid advertisements.

“Vaccine hesitancy in our pews puts our congregations and communities at greater risk. Given their safety and availability, receiving a vaccine is an easy way of living out Jesus’s command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself,'" the statement reads, citing a verse in Mark, chapter 12.

Opposition to vaccination is especially strong among white evangelical Protestants, who make up more than one-third of Missouri's residents, according to a 2019 report by Pew Research Center. A March poll conducted by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that nationally, 40% of white evangelical Protestants said they were unlikely to get vaccinated, compared with 25% of all Americans.

Johnson, whose Springfield-based Assembly of God church has three campuses and will soon open a fourth, said the New Testament includes dozens of references urging people to serve one another — and getting vaccinated is a way to do that.

“I think there is a big influence of fear," Johnson said. “A fear of trusting something apart from scripture. A fear of trusting something apart from a political party they’re more comfortable following. A fear of trusting in science. We hear that: ‘I trust in God, not science.’ But the truth is science and God are not something you have to choose between.”

Springfield, Missouri's third-largest city with 167,000 residents, is home to the U.S. Assemblies of God national office and is in the heart of a deeply religious region. Mayor Ken McClure noted that when the pastor at a large Assembly of God church recently preached about the need for vaccinations, large crowds turned out the next day to get shots.

“We found that the faith community is very influential, very trusted, and to me that is one of the answers as to how you get your vaccination rates up," McClure said. "So we’ve reached out to the pastors and they’ve been very receptive.”

They face a tall task. Over the past two weeks, 14 counties in southwestern and central Missouri have been designated as “hot spots” for the virus by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

That number will likely grow and may soon include the state’s most populous county. St. Louis city and county leaders have warned that with cases and hospitalizations rising in the region, the city and county are considering a new mask mandate.

“While we don't have an announcement to make today, this is a topic of conversation and it's ongoing,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat, said Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday announced a new statewide vaccination incentive lottery. The program, MO VIP, will offer chances to win $10,000 to people who get shots.

New cases continue to rise sharply statewide. The state health department reported 2,229 newly confirmed cases on Wednesday, the largest one-day spike since January. The state has cited 549,191 confirmed cases since the onset of the outbreak last year, and 9,526 deaths, including eight reported Wednesday.

Christopher Dixon, pastor of West Finley Baptist Church in Springfield, said the message from pastors involved in the vaccine outreach isn't meant to “shame anyone or put anyone down.”

“We're simply here to care for other people... and to say this is is something we would respectfully ask you to consider doing,” Dixon said.

Darron LaMonte Edwards Sr., lead pastor at United Believers Community Church in Kansas City, noted the disparity in vaccination rates in the Black community, due in part to longstanding mistrust of the government. He understands, but said it's important to get a shot.

“Would you please go get your shot out of Christian duty and compassion?” Edwards asked.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

The expansion is fueled by concerns over political polarization on college campuses, an infusion of funds from foundations interested in bridge-building, and a merger with IFYC, which has a track record facilitating interfaith engagement.
Ancient rabbis imagined the great chain of tradition, that went from generation to generation, as a ball that is tossed, playfully, from teacher to student. Is there a "Lasso Torah" inside a television show about a fish-out-of-water Midwestern football coach?
Studies show houses of worship have provided solace during the pandemic, but companies across the U.S. are struggling to respond to requests for religious exemptions to vaccine mandates.
Catholics leaders have urged vaccination to "protect the most vulnerable," and studies show this outreach is helping improve vaccination rates among Latino Catholics.
Across the country, people from all political divides, faiths and walks of life are coming together to help resettle Afghan refugees arriving at the borders.
The first episode of “Home Sweet Home,” which DuVernay said prioritizes curiosity over conflict, features the Wixx family — a “super queer” Black couple with three children.
Each week, we share our top 10 religion stories from journals, news sites, podcasts and magazines.
Dr. Abel Gomez: "If we’re talking about interfaith work and we want to expand the ability of communities to practice their religious ceremonies, I ask my students: if we think about the experience of Native people under the occupation of the United States, do they actually have religious freedom?"
The Fisk Jubilee Singers, based at the historically Black university founded by the abolitionist American Missionary Association and later tied to the United Church of Christ, started traveling 150 years ago on Oct. 6, 1871.
The last several months have been catastrophic for Haiti. The Aug. 14 earthquake left more than 2,200 people dead, followed by Tropical Depression Grace two days later. The country’s political sector has been in disarray & over 22,000 people have officially died during the pandemic.
Apache Stronghold will take part in a day of prayer Saturday (Oct. 9) at Oak Flat before meeting with leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, who will offer a blessing and prayer for their travels.
It’s not just interactions with friends and families that are getting cut. Routine yet beneficial interactions with people at fitness and child care centers and volunteer organizations are also being eliminated.
Ismaili Jamatkhanas are designed to be both places of worship and community engagement, so when the chance to conduct a vaccine drive became a possibility, volunteers mobilized quickly.
Amid personal and professional crises, the author writes that she finds her Christian faith "one of the most fruitful sources of hope, even in the darkest hours."
Facebook has been a catalyst for religious communities that aren’t defined geographically. For religious leaders who connect with their flocks on the internet, the outage was a reminder to own their information.
The pedestal that propped up the statue of Junipero Serra looks bare at first glance, but once a smartphone camera is aimed toward it, an animated monument honoring the Tongva, the Indigenous people of Los Angeles, comes alive.
A Lutheran church in Wisconsin recently hosted an interfaith dialogue between a pagan and Lutheran pastor. They will continue the conversation this month in an event hosted by the Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Chicago.
The articles and videos are by and about inspiring Latinx/a/o interfaith leaders from diverse religious communities.
Our top 10 religion stories of the week show religious pluralism as an opportunity, not a cause for despair. They're also great reads.
The law, possibly the first of its kind in the nation, is part of a larger effort by women athletes to have more say about what they wear while competing.
"We are American faith leaders from six different faith traditions, including yours," said a letter to President Joe Biden. "We see our nation continuing to spectacularly fail in welcoming the stranger."

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.