This morning I received an email from a reader, soliciting advice from this community about a family matter deeply entwined with current events. I have permission to share it, and invite your replies. Your personal experiences, thoughts and advice are welcome…
I learned last night that my cousin, a dear childhood friend, has convinced his father, living in a nursing home and nearing 90, not to get a coronavirus vaccine. I won’t say more for fear of identifying them, but suffice it to say that my cousin is a “Christian leader” and his father was a beloved figure in our childhood.
I had hints that my friend was in deep when he parroted the lie that the “election isn’t over” on social media, urging his followers to believe the flat out lies being peddled by Trump and the Republican party, but I didn’t dream he would go this far.
Today, our nation will reprise an unspeakable evil in the Senate chamber. Even though I dread it, I know I must watch and bear witness. But bearing witness to the smaller, everyday acts of evil in my personal life is even harder. It shakes my sense of what I’ve always thought to be true. The audacity of this friend—a Christian leader, to trade his father’s safety for a conspiracy theory is breathtaking.
I want to say I’ve always known my friend to be a good person. I want to say he’s lived a righteous life. I have known these things to be true. But I must check myself at this moment in history, as this has been said of so many “leaders” who continue to promote lies and falsehoods.
For African Americans, there is good reason to distrust the U.S. medical establishment—the history is heinous and long. I know of no such justification if you’re White like me. And, may I add, it is one thing to avoid the vaccine yourself, but another to goad your elderly father—who lives in a nursing home—to mimic your behavior.
Today, as we watch history unfold, could you take a moment to advise me? Could we all advise each other on how to respond to the evil that is near at hand?
4 thoughts on “everyday evil: trading safety for conspiracy…”
Dear Writer, thank you for sharing this deeply personal story. You’re expressing deep pain and I share your outrage. Do you have a relationship with family members close to the father, other than your cousin who has convinced his father not to take the vaccine? I wonder if they share your concerns. If they do, you all might coordinate and act together to talk to the father and/or the son–a sort of family intervention. If other loved ones are unable or unwilling to act, what is your relationship with the father? Might you share with him your concerns, perhaps enlisting the help of the nursing home staff who I’m sure strongly recommend the vaccine? In the end, the father is in charge of his life, unless he has granted others complete authority over his care. As such, treat him as a rational adult who wants to live a long and healthy life and consider strategies that reach him in that vein–speaking truth in love. Praying for you and your family during this weighty moment.
Friend, you are weeping the tears of Jesus who looked upon his beloved city, and the people who would crucify him, with a broken heart. Not weeping for himself and his sacrifice, but for the needless suffering of stubborn people unwilling to open their hearts, minds, and habits to the freedom of Good News. And still, today, there are people who would rather suffer and die than believe in Good News.
It is Good News that God is made flesh in human endeavors — even in humans who don’t believe. It is Good News that we can protect ourselves and others from harm simply by wearing a mask. It is Good News that scientists have discovered vaccines. It is Good News that we had a free and fair election even for those who don’t like the winners. It is Good News that Americans are waking up to Black Lives Matter, MeToo, and End Child Poverty.
And when we who welcome Good News — whatever the source — with open hearts and minds, we cannot help but weep for loved ones who suffer because they are deaf, dumb, and blind to the God who longs to fill them with Good News.
We follow Jesus, live his Word Made Flesh, and share his broken heart as a prayer of lament, petition, and surrender: Loving God, we offer into your hands our loved ones who have yet to welcome your Good News.
I’m so glad you reached out dear reader, and so very sorry for the distress that is yours. Sigh. This dynamic in families, especially when your voice carries lesser influence, is complex and troublesome. All the more so since life and death are perhaps on the line.
The fundamental difficulty in communicating over such a divide lies in overcoming the anxious resistance that indwells the other. Our first inclination rarely works, because the intrinsic nature of such resistance is to toughen in the face of our determination to will it away or convince it otherwise.
Insight is overrated among those who are disinclined to change. In such family dynamics, or any human system really, effective communication does not depend primarily on information, eloquence or fluency with the subject. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they tend to distance when our words seem to overpower them. Creating environments where people can hear you is the task.
In my experience, such resistance is more likely to dissolve when we give up resisting them. Instead of going directly at the other, we might arouse within others a vision for truth by paying less attention to their obstinacy. It might feel like surrender, but it’s really about creating an environment where attitudes play the most important role, and the imagination of the other might be engaged.
In my prayers…
That being said about the dynamics within families, in the communal sphere of religion, our responsibility to counter cultural anxiety and effectively advocate for vaccines remains. I’m with you in the need to “respond to the evil that is near at hand.” This is both a question of mature faith and public conscience.
The apostle Paul writes to Timothy in the context of socially disenfranchised community and family members, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim. 5:8) James calls such care for the marginalized, “faultless religion.” And if orphans and widows matter, it’s not a stretch to apply this to older adults, or indeed to any people group on the margins in this era. Followers of Christ must be the first to declare in word and through action, that the disenfranchised matter. When it comes to Covid, people of color and seniors are the most at risk and we must respond with the strategic intentionality of faith (and vaccines) well-directed.
It will be a long battle. In 2018, Heidi J. Larson, professor of Anthropology, Risk and Decision Science at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine identified the anti-vaxxer phenomenon as “emotional contagion,” writing presciently of the next pandemic (now upon us.) “I predict that the next major outbreak — whether of a highly fatal strain of influenza or something else — will not be due to a lack of preventive technologies. Instead, emotional contagion, digitally enabled, could erode trust in vaccines so much as to render them moot. The deluge of conflicting information, misinformation and manipulated information on social media should be recognized as a global public-health threat.”
The sophisticated use of adopted anxiety to recruit more people to the antivaxx cause seems to be especially effective among the religious.
Our best faithful response to this reality still lies ahead.