Even if we continued to disagree on the reality of what was happening, I proposed last week that the attempt to better hear each other’s fears might be a way to draw our hearts together.
By comparison, the vast majority of high-profile, public efforts to bring unity in our nation this last six months have focus on mostly one thing: encouraging agreement around coming together to receive one of the various COVID-19 vaccinations.
I really do get it: If you believe (a) COVID-19 has killed exactly as many people as officially reported and remains extremely dangerous to many people, and (b) these vaccinations are THE answer to stopping these deaths and as “safe and effective” (short and long-term) as officially reported, THEN, of course you should be advocating everyone to come together around this.
The reality, however, is that many Americans don’t believe either (a) or (b). Despite the relentless, seemingly unending persuasion efforts that continue, these Americans have not embraced either of these points as self-evident.
The dominant response to those people as I’ve detailed elsewhere, has been to disparage, shame, mock, and call for increasing limitations on their freedom. I even heard one doctor I respect last week suggest that mockery was “effective” according to some research he had reviewed.
Which brings me to this follow-up article. If disciples of Christ and other thoughtful decent people aren’t going to agree on vaccination as a unifying point (as seems likely), what WILL bring us together?
Well, the gospel of Jesus Christ might! That’s still the most important thing I think could be said right now. Even if we disagree on Dr. Fauci and masking and vaccination (and all sorts of other things), surely believers can still feel a stirring unity around the reality of the Prince of Peace and what He offers the world (see previous post, “Staying United as Families When America is Not”).
Based on well-known teachings from scripture, I would argue that my emphasis last week on hearing each other’s fears is an important derivative of discipleship and Christian conviction. In addition, I’d suggest three this morning other things believers and decent people could unite around. I based these almost entirely on some of the poignant comments people have shared with me lately – which I think are deserving of being held up for wider attention. I share many of these below verbatim.
1. Standing up to bullying or aggression. One good brother wrote the following, “I’m Bishop of a ward here in the states where this issue has been very divisive. We have had case after case (7 households, 14 individuals) with severe COVID in the last 2 months (when I say severe I mean severe symptoms, low O2 sats, multiple ER visits, long term oxygen use, etc).” Then, he said:
Those who have chosen to wear masks and play it safe have been mocked and bullied – [with people] making jokes about the useless “face diapers”. And if you tell the world you’ve been vaccinated you’re cast as a virtue signaling lemming…People’s response to this and how they treated one another was very revealing and so disappointing. I think what we are witnessing, on both sides of this issue, is a lack of humility in the midst of so many unknowns.
In the other direction, another good man wrote in response to the first individual:
I am Elders Quorum secretary, so I get to hear a lot of what is happening in the many families in the ward. I have never heard of a case, not one, of people choosing to wear a mask being mocked and bullied. I have never heard of a story of anybody being accused of virtue signaling for being vaccinated. However, I have heard of dozens of people being insulted and pressured for not wearing a mask outside in the middle of nowhere hiking on a trail or on a bike ride. It has happened to me several times.
If it’s true that unkindness and harshness seems to be happening in both directions, isn’t that something we could all unite against? Like, all of us?
2. Mourning with those who mourn over physical consequences (of either the virus or the vaccine). One of the things we’ll surely continue to disagree on is our various risk assessments of the overall situation. To illustrate, consider the additional statements from these two good men. First, from the EQ secretary:
Almost everybody in my ward has gotten COVID. Nobody suffered any severe effects from COVID, including several people with serious pre-existing health issues. Many older or at risk people have been vaccinated, and several of them reported serious health issues from vaccination and have regretted getting vaccinated, especially when they already had COVID.
Second, from the bishop:
All of our family who was age appropriate was vaccinated with zero to mild symptoms (six total, Pfizer and Moderna). There are potentially serious side effects with this or any other vaccine. There are potentially serious side effects with COVID as well. From my observations I’ve seen far more from the latter.
That contrast in risk assessment shows up everywhere in this American discussion. I wish there were more desire to openly compare competing narratives of risk (held by equally thoughtful people), rather than pretending that those on one side are simply being “moronic” or “ignorant.”
Admirably, this aforementioned bishop has resisted using his position of power in a way that aggravates the situation further. I find his example quite inspiring. As he wrote:
I’ve tried to be respectful to everyone’s opinions, for instance not excluding people based on their views of the pandemic. When masks were encouraged, I assured my ward members nobody would be turned away. I have tried to stay neutral so all feel welcome to worship but it has been a challenge.
While I can understand why prophet leaders and the Church as a whole has decided it needs to take a more proactive position, I’ve heard only painful stories of local leaders getting more aggressive. It seems to me the kind of more neutral space this bishop has sought to create in his ward is crucial and exemplary.
Of course, the emotional distress and physical suffering that people go through – for whatever reason, and with whatever explanation they give it – is something we need NOT be neutral about.
One pro-vaccination brother wrote about being touched to see people in his ward whose lives have been dramatically changed because they took the vaccination. In his words, “One individual now has MS like symptoms and shakes uncontrollably. Another has chronic migraines when they never had them before.” He added with concern that because these members felt like receiving the vaccine was a “commandment” they are struggling to not “now blame the church.”
Here’s the point at which too many people are willing to jump in and try to explain away what happened – “it may not be the vaccine…it’s probably something else…”
Maybe. And you’re right, if it was something else – it may really help them navigate this emotionally.
But what if these injuries were connected with the vaccination? Given the likelihood of this in so many cases, the repeated insistence the vaccine could not be to blame for any of this is confusing to many of us – and smacks of fear, dishonesty, or something more.
How about this: Let’s just acknowledge that some people are being harmed by this intervention – and let’s mourn with them as much as those who suffer directly from COVID-19.
Isn’t that also something we could come together around?
3. Calling for more humility on all sides, on every question. Which brings me to the final point that I believe could unite all decent people and believers – what I’ve called previously “holding questions humbly.”
There are many examples of the lack of this modesty and humility – yes, on both sides, as noted in that previous article. And that speaks to arguably a greater threat emerging from all this – even more serious than the physical threats we’re so focused on. As one thoughtful sister wrote me, “Currently I am more concerned about the negative effect on the spiritual health of those in my life concerned about the vaccine than I am the physical effects the vaccine.”
This woman went on to share an especially poignant comment that illustrates so well the lack of humility in our current conversation. This mother was in the middle of experiencing the normally joyful moment of sending her daughter out on a mission. Yet her daughter learned she “has to receive the shot in order to attend the MTC.” Although this woman’s daughter doesn’t want to get the shot, she is willing to do it on faith in order to serve. I’ve bolded a few parts in this mothers’ comment that deserve some additional attention:
I’ve lived long enough to see the science be extremely wrong. My mother was told breast milk was inferior to the sophisticated formula created by science. Pregnant women paid a tragic price in birth defects caused from taking the drug Thalidomide. I was treated like an idiot when I told my dentist I didn’t want my children to have mercury in their fillings. (no dentist will use mercury now that the experts acknowledge what many of us knew before, that mercury in your mouth is harmful.) Is science perfect? No. Does it do a lot of good? Yes. But there’s been no humility on the part of our experts throughout all of this. My point is that it’s hard to trust science when so many scientists and doctors have been silenced for even questioning the narrative about this virus from the beginning. Even Fauci admits they have been learning all along and reevaluating accordingly. So, if they admit to not having been omniscient throughout all of this why would they not allow other very qualified scientists and doctors to have their views heard as well? Why would they have been so certain those others were wrong when they themselves admit to not knowing everything? And this same display of hubris continues on their part….I don’t care what one’s politics are how can anyone not see why there is a trust issue significant enough to cause vaccine hesitancy for a virus that has such a high recovery rate? The sister of my dear friend’s mother in law died suddenly the day after getting the shot. The father of my cousin’s best friend died right after getting it. Do we have proof it was the shot that caused their deaths? No, we don’t. But am I supposed to just ignore these things? My niece’s cousin is in the hospital with blood clots in her lungs after getting it. Am I a fear monger for stating these things openly? What about the father and son in Draper, Utah damaged from blood clots? Am I just supposed to ignore these things as a few unfortunate exceptions? How can I? And the refusal of the experts to address these concerns openly only adds to the hesitancy.
Is not this kind of concern with hubris another thing Christians and other decent people can unite around?
I certainly think so.
Thank you to this sister and others who have commented. I’ve learned so much from listening to you all this week.
However scary, and frustrating, and dark things continue to be, I testify that truth and hope and goodness will win in the end. That’s because Jesus is stronger than this virus – and better than this vaccine.
He’s THE real answer to this. And He’s going to lead us out of it and beyond it – even if the worst is yet to come.
Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D., writes about the implications of competing socio-political and health narratives – and what it takes to preserve public conversation where open exploration of truth in these matters is still possible. To read more, visit: http://unthinkable.cc