(The Dialog) — A religious evangelical Christian pal of mine not too long ago texted to elucidate why he was not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “Jesus went round therapeutic lepers and touched them with out worry of getting leprosy,” he stated.
This story that St. Luke tells in his gospel (17:11-19) shouldn’t be the one Bible verse I’ve seen and heard evangelical Christians use to justify anti-vaccine convictions. Different fashionable passages embody Psalm 30:2: “Lord, I known as to you for assist, and also you healed me.”; 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”; and Leviticus 17:11: “For the lifetime of a creature is within the blood.”
All of those verses have been lifted out of context and repurposed to buttress the anti-vaccine motion. As a historian of the Bible in American life, I can attest that such shallow studying in service of political and cultural agendas has lengthy been a fixture of evangelical Christianity.
Bible within the arms of peculiar folks
Within the sixteenth century, Martin Luther and different Protestant reformers translated the Bible from an already present Greek textual content into the languages of frequent folks. Previous to this, most women and men in Europe have been uncovered to the Bible via the Vulgate, a Latin model of the Previous and New Testaments that solely educated males – largely Catholic monks – may learn.
As folks learn the Bible – many for the primary time – they inevitably started to interpret it as effectively. Protestant denominations shaped round such interpretations. By the point Protestants began forming settlements in North America, there have been distinctly Anglican, Presbyterian, Anabaptist, Lutheran and Quaker studying of the Bible.
The English Calvinists who settled the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay constructed complete colonies round their studying of the Bible, making New England one of many most literate societies on this planet. Within the 18th century, fashionable entry to the Bible was a method that the British – together with the North American colonies – distinguished themselves from Catholic nations that didn’t present such entry.
Within the early Nineteenth-century United States, biblical interpretation grew to become extra free-wheeling and individualistic.
Small variations over the best way to interpret the Bible typically resulted within the creation of new sects such because the Latter Day Saints, the Restorationists (Disciples of Christ and Church buildings of Christ), Adventists and varied evangelical offshoots of extra longstanding denominations equivalent to Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and Quakers.
Throughout this era, the US additionally grew more democratic. What the French traveler and diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville described as “individualism” had a profound affect on biblical interpretation and the way in which laypeople learn the sacred textual content.
The views of the Bible proclaimed from the pulpits of formally educated clergy in established denominations gave way to a extra free-wheeling and populist understanding of the scriptures that was typically dissociated from such authoritative communities.
However these evangelicals by no means developed their method to understanding the Bible in full isolation. They typically adopted the interpretations of charismatic leaders equivalent to Joseph Smith (Latter Day Saints), Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell (Restorationist), William Miller (Adventists) and Lorenzo Dow (Methodists).
These preachers built followers around innovative readings of the Scriptures. With out a church hierarchy to reign them in, these evangelical pied pipers had little accountability.
When giant numbers of Irish and German immigrants arrived on American shores within the center a long time of the Nineteenth century, evangelicals drew on longstanding anti-Catholic prejudices. They grew anxious that these Catholic newcomers have been a menace to their Protestant nation and infrequently based mostly these fears on perceptions of how Catholic bishops and monks kept the Bible from their parishioners.
Whereas this worry of Catholics was largely rhetorical in nature, there have been just a few moments of violence. For instance, in 1844, nativist Protestants, responding to rumors that Catholics have been making an attempt to take away the Bible from Philadelphia public colleges, destroyed two of the city’s Catholic churches earlier than the Pennsylvania militia stopped the violence.
These so-called “Bible riots” revealed the deep tensions between the individualistic and common-sensical method to biblical interpretation frequent amongst Protestants and a Catholic view of studying the Bible that was all the time filtered via the historic teachings of the Church and its theologians. Protestants believed that the previous method was more compatible with the spirit of American liberty.
Vaccine opposition and the Bible
At this time this American method to studying and the decoding the Bible is entrance and middle within the arguments made by evangelical Christians looking for spiritual exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination mandates. Once they clarify their spiritual objections to well being officers, employers and faculty administrations, evangelicals choose verses, often out of context, and reference them on exemptions varieties.
Like they did within the Nineteenth century, evangelicals who refuse to get vaccinated at present are likely to comply with the non secular leaders who’ve constructed followings by baptizing political or cultural propaganda in a sea of Bible verses.
Megachurch pastors, televangelists, conservative media commentators and social media influencers have much more energy over peculiar evangelical Christians than these native pastors who encourage their congregations to think about that God works via science.
Once I ask these evangelicals who oppose vaccines how they arrive to their conclusions, all of them appear to quote the identical sources: Fox Information, or a number of fringe media personalities whom they watch on cable tv or Fb. Some others they cite embody Salem Radio host and creator Eric Metaxas, the Liberty Counsel and Tennessee megachurch chief Greg Locke, to call just a few.
From my perspective, the response of some evangelicals to the vaccine reveals the darkish aspect of the Protestant Reformation. When the Bible is positioned within the arms of the folks, void of any type of authoritative spiritual neighborhood to information them of their correct understanding of the textual content, the folks could make it say something they need it to say.
(John Fea, Professor of American Historical past, Messiah Faculty. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially mirror these of Faith Information Service.)