Letter to the editor: Maine people of faith should get vaccinated

Loving both God and neighbor means we must do all we can to protect those around us from the coronavirus.

from the Portland Press Herald Opinion August, 28. 2021 

This week’s headlines – “Under siege, hospitals plead with Mainers: Get vaccinated” (Aug. 27, Page A1); “Court’s shift to the right could affect challenge to vaccine mandate” (Aug. 27, Page A1); “Episcopal bishop requires all Maine clergy, staff to get vaccine” (Aug. 24), and Bill Nemitz’s excellent column Friday – highlight the compelling urgency for Maine’s faith communities to speak up about the moral mandate we have to get the vaccine as the way to love both God and neighbor and end the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019 and 2020, just before the pandemic broke out, the Maine Council of Churches (representing seven Protestant denominations with 55,000 members in Maine) spoke publicly in favor of ending the religious exemption from vaccines for schoolchildren, and the Legislature and vast majority of Maine voters concurred. And today, we stand firm in rejecting religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine.

This is not a matter of so-called “religious liberty,” as some have argued. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in 1941 (eight decades ago!), “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community … to communicable disease,” a position Justice Antonin Scalia affirmed in 1990.

More importantly, this is a matter of faith-based compassion and justice. The Maine Council of Churches is rooted in Hebrew and Christian scriptures, where the moral imperative is clear: Be mindful of and protect your neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable and marginalized. The way to do that in the midst of this crisis is also clear: Get vaccinated.

Rev. Jane Field
executive director, Maine Council of Churches

The Maine Council of Churches applauds Bishop Thomas Brown’s well-reasoned and compassionate stance on requiring Episcopal clergy and staff in Maine to be vaccinated without delay. Read the full press release here.

In response to the rapidly spreading Delta variant of COVID-19, churches across the state are reassessing their fall ministry plans. Many congregations are choosing to re-instate universal masking, go back outdoors, or go back online. The latest Returning to Church supplement created by our sister organization, the Wisconsin Council of Churches, By Faith We Stand Firm: Ministry in the Era of COVID Variants, offers advice and theological grounding for congregations as they have these important conversations.

As we continue to mask up to keep our communities safe (especially those who cannot be vaccinated), we encourage you to take some time to assess the masks that you have been using to make sure you have adequate fit and filtration. Dear Pandemic offers a great post to help you think through options.

We also encourage you to be in conversation with those around you about vaccination. We have found the greatest tool for helping those who are hesitant around vaccination is empathetic listening. Rev. Dan Schultz and Eyon Alexander Biddle, Sr. had a great conversation on the WICC Facebook page last week about why we need empathetic listening (instead of just yelling at, or shutting down around, people we disagree with).