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Should church leaders address vaccine hesitancy?

CC’s scientist responds to concerned CC reader.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR 

“Tam’s call to faith leaders (CC Jan. 25) to do her work is a bit of a stretch for me. How do these faith leaders know that Tam is correct in her guidance? How do I know she is correct?
The role of Christian faith leaders is to promote the Kingdom of Christ and not give scientific, medical or political declarations.” 

RUDY EIKELBOOM RESPONDS

This past Friday when I went to drive my car it would not start. We have a six-year-old battery and have been only doing short trips because of the pandemic and this, combined with the cold, meant I needed help. We called CAA and a nice gentleman came out to give us a boost. I expected to see a large array of car batteries all linked in parallel with thick cables to provide the electrical energy needed to start our diesel. No! The technician came out with a small box about the size of a hard cover book, connected its two cables to our battery and told me to start my engine. It started like a charm. Clearly the technology needed to boost an engine when the battery is drained has undergone a revolution since the last time I needed it. Science is a tool that God has given us to better our lives and, at its best, permits us to better carry out the command to love our neighbour.

The same revolutionary increase in understanding has occurred in our knowledge of viruses and their treatment. The technology that within a year produced the vaccines that have the potential to protect us from the COVID-19 virus has only been perfected in the last 20 years. We know so much more about how viruses work than we did when smallpox and polio were diseases we dreaded. For COVID -19 the route of spread is better understood and the way to stop that spread is straightforward: don’t spread respiratory droplets, either by wearing a mask or keeping far apart from people not in your social bubble. 

The advance in knowledge has also meant that we have a much better idea of how the newly developed vaccines work in the body. While each vaccine is different, they are all designed to elicit a similar immune response, so risks of vaccination are well understood and, with the checks in place, very small compared to the effects of the virus. Over 19,000 people have died in Canada and 2.1 million worldwide due to the COVID-19 virus. The vaccine can prevent these numbers from going through the roof. 

Consistent picture

You also raise the question of trust, which is important if we are to follow the suggestions made by scientists. There are two issues that should be considered: trust in an individual and the consistency of messages from multiple sources. I trust Dr. Tam because she has consistently presented what has proven to be an accurate picture of the virus and how it has progressed over time. She has changed her message in response to new information, as all science does. Secondly, the reason I trust this science is that scientists (and doctors) have provided a largely consistent picture about the virus. The science changes as we learn more but COVID-19 but these changes come to be accepted by the whole scientific community. Both Dr. Tam in Canada and Dr. Fauci in the States are providing similar information about the virus. To argue that a whole community is misleading us stretches credulity to the extreme. 

Churches and therefore church leaders are called to teach the love of God in this broken world and lead us to love God and our neighbour. This call needs to be expressed in practical ways, and right now the call to wear a mask, keep socially distant, and, when needed, stay home is clearly a call to act out of love for our neighbour. There is no ambiguity about the need to do these things to protect ourselves and those around us. Thus, we now worship through ZOOM and listen to services on YouTube. Coming together in person right now is an action that shows our selfishness as a community, and our lack of love for our neighbour.


Rudy Eikelboom, who while not a virologist or epidemiologist has a reasonably good understanding of how science works, is a pastoral elder at Waterloo CRC and a professor in the Psychology Department at Wilfrid Laurier University. He’s also a regular columnist for Christian Courier

  • Rudy Eikelboom is a Professor of Psychology, at Wilfrid Laurier University, who has emerged from the dark side of the University after being department chair for 9 years and now teaches behavioural statistics to graduate and undergraduate psychology students. His retirement looms and he is looking forward to doing more writing on the implications of modern science for our Christian faith. Currently, he serves as a pastoral elder at the Waterloo Christian Reformed Church.

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One Comment

  1. I reply to Mr Eikelboom’s response to my two concerns of trust and of love.
    In Proverbs we are advised to not lean on our own understanding but rather to rely on God: mankind, which includes believers as well as unbelievers, is flawed and unreliable while Jesus is the Truth, the Way and the Life, our Rock, refuge and strength. Paul speaks in Corinthians of how what some would consider as foolishness is actually wisdom to God; there is a lot of foolishness going around about this Corona virus, both inside and outside the church. But, as Paul says in Romans, what you eat or drink is not a salvation matter: so, Rudy, if I die of Covid-19 and you die from being injected by an experimental biological agent, the Good News is, that by the grace and Love of God, we will see each other in the New Jerusalem. Science does not have the last Word (see Revelations, a pastoral letter to the church in troubled times). Science can only discover and declare the wisdom, wonder, and beauty of God in how he created the universe; Love for our neighbour tells them to not worry about masks or vaccines because our Father in heaven is not socially distanced from them, and no matter what happens we cannot be separated from His love. If we have the faith of a mustard seed we would discern whether this pandemic comes from man or from God. Have we discovered and declared how this tiny virus has its God given place in his good creation?

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