By CONNIE SCHULTZ
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m ever going to get over how some humans have behaved during this pandemic.
First, the good news: As of this week, more than 65 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Millions more are well on their way.
Now, the pull-out-your-hair news: A Pew Research study reports that, of the 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S., a whopping 45 percent of them said in late February they don’t plan to get vaccinated.
From The New York Times: “‘If we can’t get a significant number of white evangelicals to come around on this, the pandemic is going to last much longer than it needs to,’ said Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois.”
See what I mean?
Also from that Times story: “Lauri Armstrong, a Bible-believing nutritionist outside of Dallas, said she did not need the vaccine because God designed the body to heal itself, if given the right nutrients. More than that, she said, ‘It would be God’s will if I am here or if I am not here.’”
See, this is where I stop and say out loud to our dogs, “I did not just read that.”
I read it again to make sure I understand Lauri. She did not improve upon closer acquaintance.
I’m related to many evangelicals, and some of them I love, but we are at an impasse here. Listing all the reasons to get vaccinated is like reading a restaurant menu to a giraffe. They are smart and attentive, but we’re not speaking the same language. If I hear one more person tell me, “It’s in God’s hands … “
When did white preachers stop telling the helicopter story?
I grew up with various versions of this story, in our family and at church. Whenever our pastor was winding up to tell it, Mom would shoot that look at me from the choir that meant this was exactly the story I needed to be hearing, young lady.
My mom’s version, sort of:
A town’s river has overflowed. Floodwaters are headed for the home of a woman — let’s call her Laurie, with an “e” — whose faith in God is unflappable, she’ll have you know.
A police officer knocks on Laurie’s door. “Ma’am,” she says, “Your house will soon be underwater. Come with us, please.”
“Oh, no, thank you,” Laurie says. “God will save me.”
An hour later, water is starting to seep into Laurie’s second-floor hallway. Emergency workers paddle a boat up to her bedroom window and yell, “Ma’am, you’re going to drown. Get in the boat, please.”
Not our Laurie. “God will save me,” she tells them, waving goodbye.
An hour later, Laurie is sitting on her roof. A helicopter hovers overhead, dangling a rope ladder within her reach. “Ma’am!” a man yells over the chuff-chuff-chuff of the helicopter blades. “This is your last chance! Climb. Up. The rope!”
Laurie cups her hands around her mouth and yells, “God. Will. Save. Me!”
Minutes later, our Laurie drowns.
She arrives at heaven’s gate, and she is in a mood. “Why?” she yells at God. “Why did you let me drown?”
God looks as Laurie always thought he would look, with adjustments. Think Santa if he were on a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Lean and bright-eyed, with great skin.
God pulls his hand out of the pocket of his robe and starts counting on his fingers as he answers Laurie. “I sent you a police car. I sent you a boat. I sent you a hel-i-cop-ter.”
I learned about God from my mother, a devout Christian who insisted that we’re called to love everybody because that’s what God does, no exceptions. I once told Mom I was pretty sure God didn’t expect me to love — and here I made air quotes with my fingers — “everybody.”
“Think again,” she said, marching me up to my bedroom to spend the next hour doing just that. God’s soldier, that woman.
I’ve been trying to figure out how Mom, a nurse’s aide and thus a believer in science, might have convinced the beloved evangelicals in her life to get this vaccine. She was so patient and kind — and always at the ready with examples from Jesus, her favorite activist.
Then again, even Mom had her limits. More than once, I heard her say, “If you want to die stupid, God will let you.” (I may be paraphrasing.)
Get in that boat, my evangelical friends. Grab that rope ladder, and get yourselves vaccinated so that we can keep disagreeing for years to come.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, “The Daughters of Erietown.” Email Connie Schultz at [email protected]