The Pandemic’s Battle for the Pulpit :: By Jennifer Laufenberg

In my previous article, “Is This the Sifting of the Church?: Government Inquiry and the Auspices of Safety,” I wrote about the increasing pressure on both believers and the church to endorse the Covid injection. My views are influenced by prayer, Bible study, and a return to the Bible Belt, where I wonder how many holdouts remain in an area once ranked one of the most Biblically literate in America.

In Proverbs 3:7, Solomon tells us, “depart from evil.” His warning, though, is nearly impossible to heed if we are ignorant to the evil, as the legalistic, salacious, and nefarious can remain undetected until we are caught inside their web. Likewise, Paul warned that Satan often masquerades as a paragon of light. The enemy’s deception is not sin-specific; therefore, we need both discernment and wisdom. Wisdom is described as a treasure better than silver and fine gold, more precious than rubies. Nothing compares in value (Proverbs 3:14-15). We are to dig and search for wisdom all our days. If we are attuned, we will hear her cry unto us.

There is, however, another voice in Proverbs, that of the strange woman whose paths lead to death. Thus, it’s prudent to consider the cost of what we listen to, endorse, and eventually heed. Put a different way: From whose table are we eating (Daniel 1:5-6,8)? In today’s Covid context, each side has a table full of information, so whose agenda are we following?

I came across the American Medical Association’s (AMA) talking points used to guide the physician-patient interaction on the Covid injection. Arguably, the most interesting section of the twelve-page pdf is the Covid-19 Language Swaps table. But before going there, the AMA has a few opinions on exemptions. Knowing these provides better context for the language swaps. While endorsing medical exemptions as legitimate, the AMA takes a firm stance against exemptions “based on religious or philosophic grounds, or personal belief,” as those “endanger the health of the unvaccinated individual and the health of those in his or her group and the community at large.” The AMA applies this stance to people inside and outside the healthcare setting.

It’s not surprising, then, that this organization desires to “eliminate nonmedical exemptions” for vaccines. So zealous is the AMA in this endeavor that it supports any kind of “legislation, regulations, programs and policies” that achieve its goal: prohibiting non-medical exemptions. Whether or not the recommended language swaps are part of this plan, I cannot say.

The substitutions are justified as a way for the physician to avoid appearing partisan—that is, having an agenda.

The Language Swaps table appears on page 9 of the pdf file. This act of appearing fair-minded entails the following (these are just a few) swaps:

  • Replace “hospitalization rates” with “death.”
  • Replace “science, medicine, data-based” with “fact-based.”
  • Replace “the consequences of not taking the vaccine” with “the benefits of taking it.”

Now, I am not a scientist, physician, or healthcare worker, but I do know there is a fairly obvious difference between data that is “science, medicine, data-based” versus “fact-based.” To simplify, one is not open to debate. Many people refer to mRNA vaccines as novel, and they are. mRNA has never been used as a vaccine, so no one knows the long-term benefits or consequences. mRNA, however, has been studied as gene therapy to treat some cancers and inherited diseases. The benefits anticipated with gene therapy have not come without consequences, including study participants that died as well as cancer that developed in laboratory animals.

Recently, the FDA discussed how to handle the “potentially serious side effects associated with gene therapies,” as The Wall Street Journal reported on October 2-3. These same “promising” yet controversial therapies are also being used in the Covid injections. So while I have no experience working in the medical field, I do have experience as a patient, and I have learned the hard way that informed consent is a right to every patient, and it entails understanding both the benefits and consequences of a procedure. That is a fair-minded, non-partisan obligation that every physician has to his or her patient.

Among other language swaps the AMA recommends is substituting “government” for “public health agencies.” This is an overwhelmingly large group, especially compared to one hesitant patient. A little glance into these agencies reveals more that one should consider when taking information from their table.

The Virginia Department of Health has a page devoted to faith-based organizations. Their advice to the faith leader: “To protect everyone in your congregation, encourage vaccination.” To aid in this task, the agency provides free downloadable and printable signs that promote vaccination and even a Mythbuster’s Toolkit. The information runs the gamut from basic promotional material that one could find in a doctor’s office to highlights of each manufacturer’s “vaccine,” to information about how the injections were developed, approved, and manufactured. There is no hint of controversy or impurity. Instead, the whole process and the injection itself appears as simple and wholesome as picking fresh cucs from the garden (cucumbers, for you non-vegetable lovers).

They also offer an Interfaith Toolkit that promotes the same sense of purity and peace. Individuals sometimes don a mask but always appear righteous. Often the models are posed in prayer, underneath bold promises of peace of mind, and protection for the family and community. Curiously, at the bottom of the page, after scrolling past all the innocent signs, are two more signs: Contact Tracing for Religious and Community Organizations. Huh. Interesting. Wonder why they are at the bottom.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has a two-page Toolkit Overview for faith leaders in which they recommend that faith leaders not only get vaccinated but also promote their experience on social media by becoming “vaccine ambassadors.” Faith leaders can find: go to the webpage Find Your Spot, Take Your Shot and access a template for a media advisory, a selfie tip sheet, and a template press release—all to promote their experience.

Beyond taking the Covid injection themselves, faith leaders can assist the government in helping the “vaccine” hesitant by sharing accurate information through the health agency’s FAQ and Guide to Supporting Vaccine Confidence for Faith and Community Leaders and by discouraging misinformation circulating on social media. In an open letter to the faith leaders of North Carolina, the governor called “getting vaccinated … one of the deepest expressions of our shared values to protect human life and love our neighbor.”

Some faith leaders have already signed up to become these secondary ambassadors for the government. On July 21 of this year, Word&Way, a publishing ministry covering Baptist and Protestant news, released a statement that has since been signed by over 200 Missouri pastors (current or retired) who endorse taking the Covid injection as a “love-your-neighbor act grounded in the sacred teachings of our faith.”

During this same period, the mayor of Springfield, Missouri, Mayor Ken McClure, praised the power of the church as “very influential, very trusted, and … one of the answers as to how you get your vaccination rates up.” The mayor had taken strides to “reach out to the pastors,” whom he describes as being “very receptive,” citing a pastor of a large church who one Sunday spoke from the pulpit on getting the “vaccine,” which resulted in a large number, presumably of congregants, getting the injection.

Today, nearly three months later, there is more on the pandemic’s battle for the pulpit. In early September, the Southern Baptist Association’s (SBA) International Mission Board (IMB) said that both missionaries and staff who work with them will be required to get the Covid injection. The IMB is also encouraging missionaries to let their children who are 12 and older get the injection as well. Such a decision was made according the president of the IMB, Paul Chitwood, to “undergird our team members’ spiritual and physical health to maximize our effectiveness as we serve Southern Baptists in our global gospel endeavors.” Chitwood also cited the problems some missionaries are experiencing in countries that are requiring proof of injections for entry, eating, shopping, and other needs.

I’ve never been an overseas missionary. I’ve also never known Satan to clear a path for the Gospel light to shine. I have known, however, our most amazing God who fulfills His command to go into all the world by His abundant provision, whose power in the life of a believer is that of “exceeding greatness” and “mighty” (Ephesians 1:18-19). Is the power of the world governments right now, in the midst of this “pandemic” greater than the power that tried the church at Smyrna (Revelation 1:8-11)? Despite believers being delivered up to prison and execution, the Gospel continued to be spread. “Be thou faithful unto death,” Jesus said, “and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 1:10).

At some churches, members cannot count on a pastor giving a religious exemption. That is the case at First Baptist Dallas, where the Reverend Robert Jeffress said he will not offer or encourage congregants to seek a religious exemption: “There is no credible religious argument against the vaccines,” Mr. Jeffress stated, citing that many products use aborted fetal tissue: “Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection.”

Maybe I’m missing something. Are we justifying abortion on the grounds of the greater good? Is this a defense of convenience? Perhaps, we’re washing our hands and saying, what’s done is done?

Sadly, many of us are unaware of how deeply entrenched the abortion industry is in the life of ordinary citizens. Many Christians have an implicit trust in medicine, failing to question whether all medical advances may be of God, even procedures just to improve one’s everyday life. Medical technology is more advanced than the average American can conceive.

When we are not certain, God is. And on this, He is clear—

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! … Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!” (Isaiah 5:20-21, 23).

Within some congregations, church life for the unvaccinated believer has already changed. In August, one church in the New Orleans area began requiring members and guests to prove their vaccine status or a negative Covid test before entering the church. Certain Episcopal churches from New York to California have begun requiring attendees to prove their status in order to attend church. The guidelines vary. Overall, though, there are options for the unvaccinated. They can show proof of a negative test or attend church virtually, while children who are not eligible for vaccination can attend, but only if the parents are vaccinated. Reverend Caroline Stacey, the rector of an Episcopal church in New York, said, “The rights of the individuals to choose not to get vaccinated ends where the responsibility to safeguard the worshipping community begins.”

I appreciate it when people who are ill stay home, and I can understand staying home when you’ve been exposed to a virus that could make others ill. I get that. I believe that is not biblical but common sense. Reverend Stacey said, “This is an evolving situation, so we’re trying to evolve with it.” What we’re really doing is disintegrating into a two-tiered caste system that differentiates based on one being forced to disclose private medical choices—not symptoms or health. The dean of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral admitted that he had made a hard choice in requiring the Covid injection but said some members felt excluded because they didn’t feel “safe” attending a church with the unvaccinated.

I see. Interesting.

Jesus sought ought the ill, and if you’ve ever been terribly ill, then perhaps, you have cried out to Him as your Great Healer, your Physician. By the way, so too did Jesus’s disciples—that is, attend to and heal the ill.

I suppose, then, it’s no surprise that church insurance has come knocking. One religious insurance organization advises churches to consider before hurrying to open their doors. Claims of liability lurk everywhere—staff, volunteers, members, or guests could contract Covid while at church or a church function and, presumably, hold the church accountable. A pastor must “protect the ministry,” this organization urges. I cannot tell you more, as the video detailing this plan is not open for public view. I can tell you what one large Protestant denomination advises its church leadership: “Whether to require vaccines and whether to resume in-person worship are complex decisions that should only be made after careful consideration.”

Stop. Consider.

As individual believers, we also have much to “looketh well to.” We should stop and consider our spiritual house. Proverbs 14:15 reads, “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” In the Hebrew, “looketh well” means to separate mentally or distinguish; it is in keeping with the verb ‘consider.’ We should consider the way we are going and not be naive in believing all we are told. Whose agenda are we following? Consider why it is better that “a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly” (Proverbs 17:12).

In his commentary on this verse, John Gill, an 18th-century Baptist pastor, has a prescient commentary on this verse, attributing the intensity of the passion behind the “fool in his folly” as characteristic of those who will one day be “the followers of the man of sin, who have no mercy on the souls of men they deceive, and whose damnation they are the cause of; and who are implacably cruel to those who will not join with them in their idolatrous worship.”

In looking to our steps, we might consider Lot and Daniel. Lot chose to pitch his tent toward Sodom. Despite warnings from the angels that the city would be destroyed, Lot’s warning to his sons-in-law “seemed as one that mocked” (Genesis 19:14). In other words, they didn’t believe him. When the time came to flee, Lot “lingered” (verse 16). The heavenly beings, arbitrators of God’s mercy, laid hands upon Lot, his wife, and daughters in order to push them out of the sin-filled place.

Now—consider Daniel. Seventy years after Jeremiah’s prophecy about Israel (Jeremiah 29:10), Daniel “set [his] face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And [he] prayed unto the Lord [his] God and made [his] confession…” (Daniel 9:3-4). Daniel “understood” (verse 2).

Do we understand?

“By books,” Daniel understood (verse 2).

What table are we going to? What news, what books are we reading from? Whose voice are we heeding?

This is a question for all of us, whether we have taken the Covid injection or not. Our answer determines our course. Just as He did with Lot, God is willing to put us back on course, even if we’ve taken steps in the wrong direction.

jennilaufen@gmail.com