To vaccinate or not?Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Well-known methodist preacher, scholar, and ecumenist Phillip Potter from Dominica would have celebrated 100 years on August 19 if he were alive today. A tower of strength in the ecumenical community and the first black general secretary of the World Council of Churches with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Potter was famous for many things, especially the saying “only connect”. Those who knew him well and interacted with him came to appreciate the practical ways Potter modelled in his own life the importance of making connections for the health and well-being of society.
We make connections, especially as people of God, to the extent that we make ourselves available for service to God, others, and all of creation. This service to God, which is a commitment we make to demonstrate that the human community is just as valuable as each individual within it, is one way to make God's power or influence known in the world. To this end, we draw on a particular kind of power or influence to enable the effective functioning of the collective or our common humanity.
This power to influence, while it can be used for selfish ends, is of greater use to the extent that it's used to affirm human life and the value of community. This means, among other things, encouraging commitment to doing everything in our power to make real the community of God. This is not a community we create but one Jesus had in mind when he proclaimed that he is the living bread which came down from heaven (John 6:51).
Discussions about the health of individuals, communities, and nations must now answer the question: How can we connect with anti-vaxxers in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic? This is a matter of life and death. The simply answer lies with Phillip Potter's injunction to “only connect”. Yet, this is easier said than done for two reasons.
First we must contend with those who say other issues such as crime, violence, including gender-based violence and murders, are much more serious than COVID-19. The reason given is that more people are killed due to crime and violence than COVID-19. We must admit there is no denying the large number of people being abused and killed as a result of crime and violence on a weekly basis. At the same time we cannot scoff at public health and the need to create and maintain a healthy environment for everyone to live, work, raise families, and do business. Public health, including the welfare and well-being of children, is consistent with the life Jesus affirms in St John, chapter 6. To affirm that we are followers of Jesus and agents of God's power means we are called to affirm life in all its fullness (John 10:10), even in the midst of the pandemic.
Second, we must contend with those whose stance is similar to a former politician who understood his role as being that of one who should oppose, oppose, oppose. This stance of resistance, either for its own sake or when sponsored by external sources, is in conflict with mainstream scientific, theological, and biblical ideas and serves to appeal to the sensational, rather than serious critical thinking. In fact, one entertainer describes the character of the music industry in Jamaica, especially reggae and dancehall, as an “oppositional” factor. For this entertainer the role of the singer-songwriter is to take a stand against the Government irrespective of the issue at hand. I believe it is in response to this kind of resistance thinking, void of critical thinking, that singer-songwriter Ernie Smith asks the question: “Are we building a nation or are we building a hut?”
Put differently, the question before us is: What are we willing to do in the midst of the pandemic to support national development? No one is denying that there must be a role and a place for resistance against injustices in order to enhance the country's development. At the same time there must also be a place for demonstrating care and concern in determining the best path to take to secure the well-being of all citizens, especially the elderly and those with underlying conditions. Now, with the new variant of the virus which puts young people at risk, it is critical that we listen to someone like Professor Peter Figueroa, a local expert in public health, who can suggest the best way forward.
Theologically and biblically we would do well to listen again to Phillip Potter in his injunction to “only connect”. It is in this vain and for this reason Jesus offers living bread as a means of sustaining and maintaining human life and, by extension, life for all of God's creation.
Finally, we must contend with those who are committed to being agents of God's power through compassion and love. Jesus's discourse about bread, and the living bread in particular, is based on the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus's action is largely driven by compassion for the most vulnerable, which is demonstrated by an openness to sharing with others and unconditional love and committment to doing the best for all people. Agents of God's power recognise that there are those who will oppose the ways of God, just like there are those who refuse to do blood transfusions. This group of people oppose on the basis that, in their view, it is wrong or a sin for one person to use the blood of another (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:10; and Acts 15:29).
Yet, for Jesus, life is what counts, both in the present and the future. Life is God's gift to all people (John 3:16); therefore, any attempt to frustrate life such as refusing the vaccine to minimise the effect of COVID-19, especially for children who need to return to school, is against the teachings of Jesus and all that he represents. It is worthy of note that in St John 6 the Judas in the past builds on the Judases of the present, that is, those who act to frustrate the will or plan of God to give life to all people.
COVID-19 is deadly. Jesus is an advocate of life, not death. Practising care and compassion as agents of God's power in the world is critical as we engage those who are anti-vaxxers and those who will oppose national policies and principles simply for the sake of opposition. In the end, preaching the good news of Jesus as a life-giving way, with power to change lives for the well-being and welfare of all creation, is the way to “only connect” for the sake of God's glory and the good of all people.
Canon Garth Minott is deputy president of the United Theological College of the West Indies. Send comments to the Jamaica o bserver or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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