While doom scrolling through social media the other day, I hovered over a post that basically said that some of us stayed home when we were supposed to, and so those who have chosen not to be vaccinated can stay home now; that it’s their turn. I sort of harrumphed in agreement and then immediately felt guilty about it. This post turned out to be words incorrectly attributed to Emmanuel Macron, President of France, as that country works out what it would like to have a “vaccine passport” that allows people into public venues and transport.
It feels easy, to me anyway, to agree. It feels good to be rather smug about my double shot of the Pfizer vaccine, to throw away my masks and look forward to church and outings with family and friends again. If I’m honest, I don’t care one jot that people who have chosen not to be vaccinated can’t join in. The rub though, is that I should care, my response, our response, should be less self assured hubris, and possibly a response that embodies compassion and a desire to understand.
Or should it? It’s an internal battle, a wrestling match that I’m having with God and with myself. At what point does pastoral end and boundary begin? At what point is it fair to acknowledge that those who choose not to be vaccinated specifically because of politics, specifically because of misinformation they have consumed like someone who is starving to be proved right – at what point can those individuals be tasked with the fact that their refusal leads to more infection, more virus mutation, and more death?
Italian journalist Selvaggia Lucarelli actually wrote the words attributed to Macron back on July 13. She said, “I no longer have any intention of sacrificing my life, my time, my freedom and the adolescence of my daughters, as well as their right to study properly, for those who refuse to be vaccinated. This time you stay at home, not us.”
Perhaps the pastoral response isn’t one that leave others behind unless they absolutely desire to be left. Perhaps the gospel speaks again in a way that sometimes the world and even us Christians find political or polarizing, not because it actually is, but because it causes us to question what we thought was right or true, because it makes us uncomfortable.
Jesus exhorts us in Mark 12 to love our neighbors. Jesus doesn’t mention particular neighbors who may fall outside of this command to love. In our time loving our neighbors looks particularly like lifting up populations who have been marginalized, and it also looks like not willfully choosing to possibly contract, carry and spread a deadly disease.
In the Episcopal Church we also promise in our baptismal vows to respect the dignity of every person. It is a delicate balance to walk when we are respecting the dignity of those who choose to inflict harm, of those who decide not to respect the dignity of others, and yet we are still called to find a way to do it.
The prophet Jeremiah calls us to seek the welfare of the city, the common good, the thing that is the healthiest for the most people. Of course this can lead to endless ethical rabbit holes, but right now the welfare of the city is to vaccinate the city. Those who choose to remain outside the city because they have chosen not to believe in the science behind vaccines must be loved because God loves them, but with boundaries in place that keep the rest of the inhabitants well.
This is how we love the city, this is how we love people: with boundaries that protect and a hand extended over that boundary line, a constant invitation to let go of fear, propaganda and political agendas. We will not change minds and hearts through vitriol, shame or shouting. We will change minds and hearts with kindness, with, I really wish you would join us, and when you’re vaccinated you can.
Alicia Hager resides in West Michigan and is a Postulant to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. Alicia enjoys spending time with her daughters and her husband, is bonkers about her cats, and blogs at astrawberrypointe.wordpress.com.
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