As the United States ends the year with the highest levels in new infections of the covid pandemic, the historical question naturally arises: Were a hefty portion of Americans entirely out of their senses?
Some of this rapid spread has come from breakthrough infections, caused by the insidiously transmissible omicron variant. But after a ghastly year of rumor, alarm and needless death, nothing is going to erase the harsh verdict against Americans in 2021: They were granted a miracle drug, and tens of millions refused to take it (or take enough of it).
In the grab bag of reasons for vaccine resistance, the religious exemption claimed by evangelicals is perhaps the most perplexing. The default ethical stance of Christianity is the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This principle was developed in a variety of other religious and moral traditions. (See the Babylonian Talmud: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah.”) In the New Testament, the Golden Rule is the moral culmination of the Sermon on the Mount. And it is clear from the text that Jesus is not encouraging a calculating ethic of reciprocity. His goal is to inspire a kind of aggressive, preemptive generosity. “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
The proper application of this principle can be difficult, particularly when it comes to Christian participation in a just war. But the case of vaccination is not really a hard one. Here the tunic is the prick of a needle and a minuscule risk of a bad reaction. The result is a significant benefit for the vaccinated and the community they live in.