Love Your Neighbor: Vaccinate!

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What do diphtheria, smallpox, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, pertussis, polio, rubella, tetanus, tuberculosis, and yellow fever have in common? They have all been eradicated or brought under control by global vaccination programs. The jury is still out on COVID-19. The problem with viruses in particular is that they mutate, change, adapt. If our country were fully vaccinated against current strains, yet the disease was allowed to be transmitted freely anywhere else on the planet, it could mutate to the point where those who are vaccinated are no longer protected from the new strains. Even before we bring Jesus and love of neighbor into the equation, it’s good for everyone not only to BE vaccinated but also to see that OTHERS are vaccinated.

I’ve asked a number of acquaintances, Lutheran and otherwise, why they are hesitant to be vaccinated. As you know, for some, it’s a political stance, though one that doesn’t make sense to me. The vaccine was developed at warp speed under a Republican president who himself was vaccinated and urges others to do the same. It’s been produced and distributed under a Democratic administration which likewise urges all to be vaccinated. So, between at least the two major parties, there is rare agreement, even before we bring that Jesus and love of neighbor angle into the conversation.

From an economic standpoint, it doesn’t matter so much what I individually or you individually think. Many people, especially older adults, aren’t going to feel comfortable gathering in public places as they once did unless and until we reach some sort of herd immunity (70%+ fully vaccinated). That is achievable, and quickly, but just today I read about how huge cases of the vaccine are now being discarded because they’re expiring, and many unvaccinated people aren’t planning to be. That’s their right, they insist. Well, in this country, you may be correct, if the fullness of your identity derives from the U.S. Constitution and its corollary interpretations. But if the Jesus and love of neighbor mandate resides anywhere near your core, I invite you, for your own sake, for your neighbor’s sake, and for the sake of the world, to reconsider.

I fear that many of us—sometimes I—may have bought the lie that the only thing we can ever be as a culture or as a church is divided. The truth is, it seems to me, that for all our differences, we are all still way more connected to and dependent upon each other than we realize or perhaps even desire. We share the same planet, the same water sources, the same air. We all aspire to love and be loved, to hope, to be free, and to live in peace. John’s Gospel reminds us that God so loved the world (cosmos, universe) that God gave us Jesus, the glue that in love connects us all. We proclaim this in our Easter Eucharistic preface, “And so, with Mary Magdalene and Peter and all the witnesses of the resurrection, with earth and sea and all their creatures, and with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, we praise your name and join their unending hymn.” We are not, cannot be, as ruggedly individualistic as many currently profess to be.

And this “Word made flesh” commands us repeatedly to love our neighbor and to love one another. We’re so close in NC to the lifting of all restrictions, which Governor Cooper has promised if we can get to two-thirds of us being vaccinated. We’re already right at fifty percent. If you haven’t already been vaccinated and you’re able, would you please, for the sake of your neighbor, for the sake of Christ, and for the sake of the world, take that step? Let’s put COVID-19 where those who came before us put smallpox! Obliterate it!

Walking with you,

Bishop Tim Smith, NC Synod

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