When I chose to be vaccinated against COVID-19, I felt relieved. Relieved that I was less likely to get sick, myself, and relieved that I was less likely to infect others. And I honestly thought that I was simply at the leading edge of a movement towards vaccination that was going to usher our society out of the pandemic. It seemed like time, reason, and public policy were going to keep us moving towards societal immunity.
So I had to sift through some complicated emotions back in May when it became clear that others were actively resisting vaccination efforts. It didn’t make sense to me. Still, I noticed that there were fault lines extending across the tectonic plates of our society. Conservatives were less likely to be vaccinated than liberals. Midwesterners were less likely to be vaccinated than people living on the coasts. I noticed that a lot of white “Evangelicals” resisted the vaccine (though I feel like that had more to do with being conservative and Midwestern than with any theological position). And many people of color resisted the vaccine, too.
Ultimately, I feel like God led me through a process of extending grace and accepting other viewpoints. I was particularly persuaded by the biblical admonition to “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” I made peace with the détente over the COVID-19 vaccine because I reasoned that other adults were free to make their own decisions. We would each have to live with the consequences of our decisions. But I wanted that freedom for myself, and I wanted to respect the freedom of others in a similar way.
The last month, however, I’ve had a resurgence of complicated emotions. Mostly because the consequences of others’ decisions have become more clear.
Almost all of the severe cases of COVID-19 that have been weighing on me over the last week have been the result of people actively resisting the COVID-19 vaccine. And as I’ve processed my emotions, I’ve realized: I’m mad. Not so much mad at the individuals; more at the social pressures that are causing people to make unfortunate decisions which are now having unfortunate consequences. People are dying. And their loved ones must grieve those deaths. People are racking up huge hospital bills. And the financial implications of those decisions will hang around for years. It’s terrifying and heart-breaking and infuriating to see what this is doing to others.
But the consequences of others’ decisions affect me, too. I’m a mess, emotionally, these days. I feel like crying and yelling a lot of the time. I constantly wonder and worry about my friend in the hospital. It’s hard not to empathize with others and absorb some of their pain. My work as a pastor is (and will continue to be) more challenging because of all the grief and financial hardship of people under my care. I fear that our network will lose momentum for church planting and special events because of the people taken out by COVID (hopefully just temporarily). The consequences are widespread. And that makes me sad. And mad.
Why have the fault lines settled where they are? Why must we suffer these consequences? When will we break the cycles of distrust and end this pandemic? I know that my perspective is still just one of many. I want to trust God through all this. But it’s hard right now. The consequences are such a heavy burden to bear.