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David French: Get the Vaccine or You're a Bad Christian
Concerns about COVID vaccines are not "spiritual problems"
I’m going to afford David French the grace he refuses to give others: I won’t criticize his faith based on his opinions on the COVID vaccines. I will, however, question his judgment.
The other day, French considered white Evangelical reluctance to take the COVID vaccine. He did so after the Washington Post and Religion News Service piled-on white Evangelicals for their skepticism, accusing them of partisanship and not trusting science.
Some of the accusations were low blows. Historian John Fea was quoted by Religion News as saying, “There’s a long history of anti-science within American evangelicalism. It goes back to the Scopes trial and evolution in the 1920s.” Of course, vaccine hesitancy isn’t anti-science (just as doubts about evolution isn’t anti-science), but some relish the opportunity to make accusations against Christians.
That is a disgusting and dangerous statement by French, a Christian with a huge platform. What is it but a spiritual guilt-trip? His message: get the vaccine or you’re a bad Christian.
Broad commands to vaccinate miss the particulars, of course. What of those Christians hesitant to get a vaccine because of the side effects?
French doesn’t have an answer – he actually fails discuss side effects. That’s a curious omission. Instead, his guilt-induced vaccination plan features platitudes masquerading as theology: “taking risks (or enduring inconvenience) on behalf of others should be a cardinal Christian characteristic.”
What are those “risks” and on whose behalf are we supposed to take those risks?
At what point is a risk too risky, given the benefits to others - or the danger to ourselves?
If we risk ourselves for the general public, what do we tell our family when those risks become reality? Don’t worry, Dad has life insurance?
These are relevant questions because French’s “cardinal Christian characteristic” is really a cost-benefit analysis. Certainly he would agree that dangerous risks shouldn’t be taken if the benefit to others is minor. And he would likely agree (one would hope) that even small risks of catastrophic consequences might not be the best idea, even if the benefit to others is great.
To summarize my point: his cost-benefit “cardinal Christian characteristic” is good but your cost-benefit analysis of the vaccine is bad. Uncertain about a vaccination if you’ve already had COVID? French says to get it anyway. Concerns about anaphylaxis if you get the mRNA vaccine? Your worries don’t matter to French.
In any event, he’s making the broader argument that we need to take a vaccination without long-term testing and subject ourselves to unknown risks out of love for our neighbors. (One could imagine other scenarios where this argument would be more persuasive.) I’ll add that his statements are at least partially based on the assumption that the vaccine will stop the spread. There’s a problem with that and French may be overstating the vaccine’s benefit to others. According to a March 5, 2021 article on the Mayo Clinic’s website, it’s “not clear if the COVID-19 vaccines reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”
What of pregnant mothers, David?
After reading French’s piece, one isn’t certain whether he would accept any exception to his vaccine demands. And there should be exceptions. Not just for the healthy or those with underlying health issues at risk for allergic reactions to the vaccines, but also for expecting mothers. Per Pfizer’s 12/10/2020 briefing documents to the FDA, there is “insufficient data to make conclusions about the safety of the vaccine in . . . pregnant” women.
Even the World Health Organization states “very little data are available to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy.” The CDC’s warning is more blunt: “the actual risks of mRNA vaccines to the pregnant person and her fetus are unknown because these vaccines have not been studied in pregnant women.”
Those are scary unknowns and unnecessary risks if you’re carrying an unborn child. According to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, “the vast majority of women who test positive for COVID-19 during their pregnancies won’t develop serious health complications.” So why should they be guilted into taking the risk?
To close on a personal note.
I’m one of the Christians that David French accuses of having a “spiritual problem” because I haven’t received the vaccine and I don’t plan on getting it.
I’m in good health and I’m not part of an at-risk group. There’s a lot of people like me who aren’t getting the vaccine. Our personal decision isn’t a “spiritual problem.” Instead, these are careful decisions made after looking at the evidence, the risks, the benefits, and the unknowns. Exactly as God intended.
For those same reasons, I understand and respect those who get the vaccine and their decision-making process.
As for us, we’ll continue to love our neighbors by staying home if we feel sick and staying socially distant in public (as necessary) if we’re well.
What we won’t do is question your faith if you doubt our convictions.