Central to every faith community is the obligation to care for one another. As people of deep faith, we are commanded to work in service of the most vulnerable. For the past year and a half, amid a deadly pandemic that should have reinforced this responsibility to our communities, it has been disheartening to see so many faithful Texans shirk the CDC-recommended public health guidelines meant to protect ourselves and each other.
On the whole, vaccine acceptance among religious communities is up, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core. But certain faith communities are far more likely to refuse the vaccine. For instance, the survey found that nearly one in four white evangelical Protestants refuse to get vaccinated.
And it doesn’t help when everything from masks to social distancing to vaccines, commonsense measures backed by science, have been under consistent political attack. Earlier this year, for instance, right-wing lawmakers in the state legislature and their allies lobbied to exclude houses of worship from community health guidelines. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also issued a letter last year saying religious schools do not have to adhere to public health orders.
And now, Gov. Greg Abbott has extended the statewide ban on mask mandates, denying communities — including houses of worship and schools — the freedom to make their own decision on how best to keep themselves and their neighbors safe. As faith leaders, we are horrified by the prospect of denying people access to schools and houses of worship by creating unsafe environments.
Our respective faith traditions, Baptist and Methodist, run in stark contrast to these measures that disrespect the sanctity of life. And it feels more personal than ever to deny us the right to enact our own safety policies as our children and grandchildren, some not old enough to receive the vaccine, are returning to in-person learning, without schools following safety measures recommended by health care professionals nationwide.
Faith leaders can be powerful agents of change in the fight to get people vaccinated and, ultimately, end the COVID-19 pandemic. In Texas, many of our fellow clergy members are already answering the prophetic call to advocate for the health of our communities. On the federal level, the Biden administration has been working with faith leaders to spread the word about the effectiveness of the vaccine. And even our own Interfaith Alliance is part of the COVID-19 Community Corps to build vaccine acceptance in our own communities.
As people of faith, we have the responsibility to advocate for the most vulnerable, including our children. When leaders put politics ahead of the safety of our children, they have forfeited the right to be leaders. Our children need true leadership. They need leaders who push for vaccines, masking, social distancing, and following public health guidelines. True leaders live to serve and protect.