It should come as no surprise that a “historian” professor at Messiah College took to the pagan Religion News Service to promote Branch Covidianism, but it is worth examining ourselves to make sure that we are not taking bible verses out of context. John Fea wrote the poorly titled, “Cherry-picking the Bible and using verses out of context isn’t a practice confined to those opposed to vaccines – it has been done for centuries” to argue that Christians refusing the COVID-19 vaccine are doing just that.
A devout evangelical Christian friend of mine recently texted to explain why he was not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “Jesus went around healing lepers and touched them without fear of getting leprosy,” he said.
This story that St. Luke tells in his gospel (17:11-19) is not the only Bible verse I have seen and heard evangelical Christians use to justify anti-vaccine convictions. Other popular passages include Psalm 30:2: “Lord, I called to you for help, and you healed me.”; 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”; and Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood.”
All of these verses have been lifted out of context and repurposed to buttress the anti-vaccine movement. As a historian of the Bible in American life, I can attest that such shallow reading in service of political and cultural agendas has long been a fixture of evangelical Christianity.
If you’ve not gathered, Fea conflates people who are refusing the COVID-19 vaccine with anti-vaxxers. Moreover the verses being used here, all but one, sound as though they come from obscure Prosperity Gospel churches which is outside the scope of Evangelicalism in belief. Moreover, Evangelical Dark Web recommends a religious exemption template that insists that opposition to this vaccine is not premised on a promise of miraculous healing.
But the verse that is actually being used within it’s context is 1 Corinthians 6:19 which reads in its full context:
The passage is long but the message is simple: our bodies belong to God. This means that our bodies do not belong to government. And when the government attempt to assert authority over your body, they are violating God’s established order. Not getting vaccinated when the government or employers try to compel you to is recognizing that our bodies do not belong to them. Thus this makes a valid religious exemption. John Fea is grossly wrong in his assessment of this verse.
When I ask those evangelicals who oppose vaccines how they come to their conclusions, they all seem to cite the same sources: Fox News, or a host of fringe media personalities whom they watch on cable television or Facebook. Some others they cite include Salem Radio host and author Eric Metaxas, the Liberty Counsel and Tennessee megachurch leader Greg Locke, to name a few.
Another flawed premise in his pseudo-historian analysis is that he considers men like Joseph Smith to be Evangelicals and then tries to say that Evangelicals opposing this vaccine are following megachurch personalities like Greg Locke who is unqualified to be a pastor. There are far more pastors who are taking the Bible out of context to sound like the world and peddle the vaccine, such as when they say “love your neighbor.”