Religious leaders have traditionally been expected to lead their communities of faith, especially in matters where the religious and secular intersect. That's why Rev. Tammy Schmidt of the First Presbyterian Church has organized an interfaith event where local clergy plan to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
In a joint statement, Rev. Matthew Franks of Tahlequah United Methodist Church, Rev. Darell Christopher of First Christian Church in Tahlequah, Rev. Austin Troyer with Tahlequah Church of the Nazarene, and Rev. Schmidt are encouraging the community to get vaccinated when it becomes available.
They have signed up on the Oklahoma Vaccine Portal and have been screened as Phase 2. Oklahoma is currently vaccinating people in Phase 1, but when they are able to receive their shots, they intend to get them together.
Many religious leaders are concerned that others in the faith community are downplaying the advice of the medical community.
"Too often, clergy add to the panic of a pandemic by denying or minimizing that COVID-19 exists. Complaints of religious freedom being curtailed distract and harm our flocks when clergy fail to keep the public's welfare a priority," said Franks.
"We know that many of our colleagues in faith may not see eye-to-eye on this issue. We believe in keeping our congregations safe. Our actions are guided by the Golden Rule's foundational idea to love our neighbor as a precaution to keep the spread of COVID-19 down," said Schmidt.
The pastors said that more than ever, faith leaders need to discern matters of science, specifically in the area of modern medicine, because science is connected to ethical implications. To them, faith in a higher power must be in intertwined with science in all its forms.
"Ambiguous statements, such as 'trust in God' and to 'have faith' are unhelpful in a pandemic where answers must be clearly articulated," they wrote.
"What has been guiding us through the pandemic are the words of Romans 12:2: 'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect'," Troyer said.
He explained that doing God's will means to seek to love God and others in everything, including responses to matters of physical health.
"When we fail to see how our actions harm others, we are stating very loudly our own versions of self-righteous faith and creating a dangerous chasm in the body of Christ," said Austin.