Earlier this week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced every Tennessee resident 16 years of age or older would be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Easter Monday. That's welcome news for a state that ranks near dead last on vaccine distribution rates to date.
Despite noble efforts across the state, including in Nashville where the city distributed 10,000 vaccines during a Saturday event at Nissan Stadium, Tennessee is still struggling to convince its citizens to roll up their sleeves and get the shot. As the governor noted this week, Tennessee doesn't have a supply issue, but a demand issue.
The lagging demand is particularly pronounced in rural Tennessee. When I ran for the United States Congress this past year in one of the reddest and most rural districts in the nation, I saw this vaccine skepticism firsthand, particularly among Tennessee's most devout Christians.
Some have been swayed by telegenic conspiracy theorists, like infamous Mt. Juliet Pastor Greg Locke who tweeted on Tuesday that those who believe the vaccine is effective are "being played" by a "stupid joke of epic political proportions." But most have more vague or even nuanced skepticism, some propelled by baseless fears of participating in abortion and others by a distrust of the Biden administration or of the vaccine's efficacy itself.
It's time for Christians across the Volunteer State to draw a line in the sand and proclaim the truth. Paul told the early followers of Jesus not to be tempted by "strange" teachings. Today's Christians ought to heed that advice. We mustn't listen to the wacko conspiracy theorists. Christians have a profound moral obligation to get vaccinated.
It's the pro-life thing to do.
As the Vatican made clear in its December statement, taking the vaccine isn't just a matter of personal preference, but of the good of the entire community: "the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one's own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good." Or as Pope Francis put more bluntly a month later: "I do not understand why some say that this could be a dangerous vaccine. If the doctors are presenting this to you as a thing that will go well and doesn't have any special dangers, why not take it?"
Catholics aren't the only Christian denomination acting as a missionary for the vaccine's cause.
Rejecting the opposition to vaccines' decades-old and indirect connection to aborted fetuses, The Southern Baptist Convention argued that "there are helpful and strategic ways we can advocate for pro-life issues. Neglecting the use of something so inherently pro-life based on its history is not one of them."
The evangelical institute The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity also argues the vaccine is a moral and effective way to help stop the spread of this terrible virus.
Across the ecumenical Christian tradition, the moral ethical consensus is clear—the vaccine is profoundly good, pro-life, and should be taken to help end this pandemic once and for all.
Now it's up to Tennessee Christians to spread this good news. Rural Tennessee is falling behind the curve, and its slowness to take the vaccine will cause irreparable harm to them and the entire Volunteer State.
I disagree with Franklin Graham on almost every political issue of our time, but he got it right last week: "I think if there were vaccines available in the time of Christ, Jesus would have made reference to them and used them."
But as Book of James reminds us, it isn't enough to be hearers of the word. We must be doers and act on it. Tennessee lives depend on it.
Christopher Hale was the 2020 Democratic nominee for the United States Congress in Tennessee's 4th Congressional District. He's from Murfreesboro.