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The good news: Many pastors don’t believe science and faith are mutually exclusive


Union Presbyterian Seminary webinar explores ‘to vax or not to vax’

November 23, 2021

Photo by Hakan Nural via Unsplash

To vax or not to vax has become a life-and-death question for millions of Americans — especially people of color. A recent panel put on by Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation and the Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership explored ways communities of color can use trusted voices to both drive up vaccination rates and boost access to health care proved both engaging and informative. Watch the hourlong discussion here or here.

The panelists were:

Dr. Jerome W. Williams Jr., senior vice president for Consumer Engagement at Novant Health
Dr. Augustus Parker III, medical director for Novant Health’s Women’s Urgent Care Centers and Novant Health’s facilitator for diversity, inclusion and health
Dr. Rodney S. Sadler Jr., associate professor of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary and the director of the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation.

While there’s a need across the nation for more providers of color, Williams said another way of improving health in communities of color is “to give our white brothers and sisters cultural competency to understand where we people of color are coming from.”

“We have known for a long time” the inequitable distribution of services, power, money and resources available across communities of color, Williams said. “We have been living this and fighting this for decades.” Eighty percent of chronic problems that afflict people of color have their roots in the environment where they live — housing and food insecurity, lack of social connectivity and limited upward mobility, Williams said. “You see these inequities, and it’s no wonder you see disparate outcomes,” because “continued distrust affects our health overall. If you don’t see a primary care physician or a specialist, it’s only delaying preventative and other much-needed care.”

Communities of color must be challenged to “look at the data” that shows people of color succumbing to COVID-19 at a greater rate than white people do. “We’ve got to educate about the benefits of seeing one’s provider to understand how we can advocate for ourselves and how to ask pertinent questions of our providers. Hopefully then we can active a healthier community.”

We’re also now “more mature in our thinking about systemic racism,” in policing, in the criminal justice system and in health care, Parker said. “Where you live matters,” he said, and sinful acts such as the Tuskegee experiment must be acknowledged before “we move forward to engage Black and brown communities to trust the health care system.”

Parker said it’s important where people receive their information and whom they trust. Myths are still in circulation, including claims that mRNA vaccines change one’s DNA or contain tracking devices. Those myths “need to be debunked,” Parker said. Fortunately, Parker said, “there are many pastors who don’t believe science and faith are mutually exclusive.”

“Many pastors in the Black and brown community are standing up to say, ‘Utilize the faith and know what God has given us,’” Parker said.

One cannot ignore the politics that undergirds the debate, Williams said. While congregants may be hearing sermons about taking individual responsibility and providing for oneself, “public health is a community-based effort.”

What is, Sadler wondered, the ethical responsibility to become vaccinated?

We have a strange dichotomy in the Black community, Parker responded: vaccine hesitancy coupled with the fear that systemic racism “will eliminate our access to the vaccine. … My fear is that because of political backlash, a lot of people are turned off” to viewing reputable news sources. “So,” Parker said, “we need to utilize our leadership, particularly in the faith-based community, to promulgate our message.”

Black church leadership, Williams said, “has a strong voice and presence and is well trusted in the community. They are positioned to continue to educate and inform. You can’t force people to do something, but you can meet them where they are without judging them. And it’s not just the vaccines — it’s medicine and science as a whole.”

“We don’t live in isolation,” Williams added. “We are historically a communal society. We need to get away from an individual focus. What I do has impact on my neighbor, positive or negative. A common North Star will go a long way.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: ‘to vax or not to vax’

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Deb Davies, Manager, Meeting Services, Office of the General Assembly
Allison Davis, Digitization Coordinator, Presbyterian Historical Society

Let us pray

Dear Father, thank you for the opportunities you have given us to spread your word. Help us to serve you in all our words and actions and to show your love to the entire world. Thank you. Amen.

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