More than 200 clergy in Missouri have signed up to encourage their congregations to get vaccinated. So far, 20 are clergy from Columbia.
During a conference call Wednesday, a group of these pastors announced that they have signed a statement that emphasizes vaccination “as a witness to Christian compassion.”
According to the statement, “Vaccine hesitancy in our pews puts our congregations and communities at greater risk.”
Because the vaccine is safe and readily available, getting one “is an easy way of living out Jesus’ command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’” the statement reads. “Every vaccinated adult helps protect children under 12 who are still ineligible to receive the vaccine.”
Word&Way, a publication in Jefferson City, created the statement calling on Christians to get vaccinated because of the faith they profess.
“As a Baptist minister, I believe getting vaccinated is a ‘love-your-neighbor act’ grounded in the core teachings of the Christian faith,” said Brian Kaylor, president and editor-in-chief of Word&Way.
“Voices of clergy speaking out for vaccination remain particularly important,” he said.
Data from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that white evangelicals are among those most hesitant to get vaccinated.
Research also shows that many will consider getting vaccinated if their minister encourages it, Kaylor said.
Members of the group said they are specifically addressing the need to protect children and others ineligible to get the vaccine.
“If you are a follower of Jesus who is eligible for the vaccine but not vaccinated, please go get one out of Christian duty and compassion,” said the Rev. Darron L. Edwards Sr. of the United Believers Community Church in Kansas City.
Richard Sullivan, lead chaplain of spiritual care services for Boone Health, said COVID-19 has taken a toll on caregivers, nurses and health institutions as a whole.
“Our health systems are overrun with people who are sick with COVID-19 because they have not gotten the vaccine,” he said. “It’s very difficult when you have to sit at the bedside of somebody who is passing from this life because of COVID.”
“Jesus taught us to love your neighbor as yourself,” said Carol McEntyre, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in downtown Columbia. “And I just don’t want other people to have to suffer the way our family has had to suffer, losing my dad.”
Cassandra Gould, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, said the role of clergy “is not just to be responders to death but to disrupt death, similar to what Jesus does in the Gospels. We need to disrupt the death that COVID-19 has caused and continues to cause.”
The group is asking other ministers in Missouri to sign the statement and spread it on social media. There are also plans to promote the statement in a print and digital advertising campaign.