Whether it is promoting vaccination uptake or thoughtful climate action, the public church is at a unique crossroads as the tragic circumstances that have spilled over into 2021.
Not all denominations or even congregations are created equal when it comes to tackling COVID or climate woes, but what is clear from some church leaders is the idea that doing nothing is no longer a viable option when it comes to addressing science publicly.
Let’s start with the COVID vaccine. Have you been vaccinated yet? Will you become vaccinated when it becomes available in your area? The answers may depend on how some Christians view science. It is clear that mainline Protestant denominations are supported of the vaccine generally, including the ELCA – which shared a video of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton getting vaccinated and issued guidance on the vaccine in early March.
Yet some may be skeptical about the vaccine, and public figures are calling on church leaders to advance vaccination in their communities – because whether churches recognize the power of science done well, science recognizes the power of the church to respond to a crisis in public confidence.
In mid-March, a ‘confidence event’ was held at the Washington National Cathedral bringing together leaders of the DC-area’s faith, medical and political worlds assembled to encourage people of various religions to get the vaccine, that was broadcast nationally on C-SPAN. Dr. Anthony Fauci and National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins were both in attendance. Fauci told cathedral participants and the online audience “it’s not possible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine” and “we will get through this and we will get through it by vaccination.”
And if one is curious what Lutheran ethicists are thinking about the vaccine, look no further than the latest edition of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics that published thought pieces on the pandemic in its April and May issues that represent the dialogue that took place in January at the Lutheran Ethicists’ Gathering which was part of the Society for Christian Ethics. As the current issue explores how the pandemic laid bare so many of the gender and racial disparities among us, it also highlighted how much we truly could do about the climate if we started to pay attention to world around us more closely.
And while many of us celebrated Easter from our living room couches just as we did in 2020, we have a sense that Earth Day may be spent outdoors albeit socially distanced.
And, while yes the pandemic has lessened our carbon footprint in some instances, it has yet to take away the urgency of the situation. Perhaps it has given us more time for reflect on the world around us as we spend time in our public parks with our family or just marvel at how much we filled up our gas tanks each month pre-pandemic. And watching people suffering from the late winter storm that impacted Texas, we realize our fragility and dependence on fossil-fuels and clean water for our very survival.
If COVID and the climate crisis has taught us anything in the year 2020 and 2020 2.0 (aka 2021), it is that we are fragile and have so much to be thankful for in what may feel like a natural world that seems hostile to our very existence. Much of that thankfulness can be for the work of scientists in developing vaccines, medical treatments and solutions to our climate woes.
But as people of faith, we need to remain informed about science and not place our hopes on pseudoscience, which we learn in this month’s feature was an idea that didn’t come about in the last few years. Pseudoscience, which are claims that have not been substantiated via the scientific method, spills over into politics and everyday life. It particularly can be found at the basis of many conspiracy theories that in turn are spun out of a feeling of a lack of control or fear in certain circumstances.
The outcomes can be deadly as we have seen over the course of the pandemic. But the same can be said over disbelief that that climate is changing. Denying climate change and negating concern over manmade activities has implications in politics too that we have seen in recent years play out on the global stage. Faith leaders preparing for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) are doing their part to help shape public dialogue on the global issues at stake, including the Lutheran World Federation.
Yes, we humans like to think we can avoid suffering and struggle. Deep down we know that suffering is part of our existence. If there is anything that our faith has taught us, however, it is that we needn’t dodge the hard decisions, but rather rely on a God who is faithful and just to guide us through these times of shared suffering and grief and toward a better tomorrow.
May the decision to be vaccinated and to care for the planet in a newly emerging post-pandemic landscape may be a decision we can support others in making along with us.